November 2014
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Patented Cure for Cancer

This patent won EFF’s Stupid Patent of the Month, and rightly so. Perhaps that has given the game away before even starting.
I recall a young researcher finishing proudly reading his paper at a conference. A distinguished academic slowly rose to his feet, and declared, “This is an excellent example of research which should never have been carried out.” So, in a similar vein, should this patent ever have been awarded?
Which patent are we talking about? ‘Diane’s manna’, US 8609158 B2. T o give a flavour of this patent, here is the abstract:
This is a potent drug with narcotic benefits made from distinctly and uniquely combined and processed interchangeable seed and seed derivatives that are so potent that it removes or alleviates depression, mood disorders, Attention Disorder symptoms, thought disorder, mental illness, pain, right lip retardation symptoms, physical problems, Lymph Node cancer and many other illness symptoms. It removes bumps in the neck within a week or two. It is interchangeable in most aspects. It can be combined and processed with Pharmaceuticals and medicines to create new drugs. These Pharmaceuticals are now long lasting. I prefer the daily dose, but this drug can last months. It is extremely strong or potent and can be made weak to make your little Attention deficit child normal. It is an incredible mood stabilizer and reduces psychosis. Use it for cancer patient and for people with pain issues. It works.
And here is what EFF wrote:
August 28, 2014 | By Daniel Nazer

Magical Drug Wins EFF’s Stupid Patent of the Month

 Good news everyone! The Patent Office has granted a patent on a cure for cancer.

Last December, the Patent Office issued Patent No. 8,609,158 on a “potent drug” that “rebukes cancer, cancer cells, and kills cancer.” According to the patent, this drug cures a litany of other maladies. What is this wonderful invention, you ask? It is a combination of “evening primrose oil, rice, sesame seeds, green beans, coffee, meat, cheese, milk, green tea extract, evening primrose seeds, and wine.” As the patent’s abstract says, “it works.”

There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the person who filed this application. But the patent examiner could and should have rejected it on any number of grounds, including enablement, indefiniteness, and utility. Why would the examiner issue the patent despite its clear infirmities? The answer to that question reveals the fundamental imbalance at the heart of the patent system.

This patent’s most obvious flaw is lack of utility – there’s no proof that the invention works. But the system places the burden of proof on the Patent Office, not the person asking for a 20 year monopoly. The examiner likely decided a rejection was not worth the effort – frankly, we wonder whether the examiner even read the application. In a similar case, the Patent Office issued a patent to an applicant whose work was widely known to be fraudulent. (The purported inventor had even spent time in jail for the fraud.) As Professor James Grimmelmann observed at the time: “The USPTO is an armory handing out legal howitzers on the honor system. What could possibly go wrong?”

The patent system also provides inadequate review of the crucial questions of anticipation and obviousness, i.e. is the patent really a new invention? Buried by hundreds of thousands of applications, the Patent Office can preform only a cursory review of each one. Examiners spend an average of only 19 hours per application (assuming that the claimed hours are real) and only a portion of that time is spent on the difficult and time consuming task of searching for prior art. Recent research confirmed that “examiners are more likely to approve marginal inventions when pressed for time.”

Despite this plainly inadequate review, granted patents are powerful litigation weapons. An issued patent, even Patent No. 8,609,158, is presumed valid and can only be invalidated in court with clear and convincing evidence. This is part of the reason why defending a patent suit is so expensive, even when the patent is weak. Patent trolls use this as leverage to extort settlements.

This month’s winning patent may be something of an outlier. But finding other bad patents is not difficult. Our (dis)honorable mentions this month include the recent patents US 8,793,159, US 8,793,178, and US 8,793,183. (Each of these patents, despite being issued after the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, merely ties an abstract business process to a computer.) Whether we consider this month’s stupid patent or the runners-up, it’s clear we need fundamental reform to stop the flood of bad patents.

Legal Aid – legal representation for the needy

Legal aid provides help to people who would otherwise be unable to afford legal representation or to gain access to the courts. Legal aid helps to ensure equality before the law, and to meet the right to counsel and to a fair trial.

The Daily Nation reports today:

Legal aid highly welcome

State-sponsored legal aid for the poor who cannot afford to hire lawyers is not a novelty in many countries. In fact, this kind of welfare activism has been in existence in the West since the mid-1900s, and it has caught on in many emerging democracies since then. But not so in Kenya. Legal aid is the assistance given to the individual if his or her financial circumstances do not allow the hiring of lawyers. Such lawyers are usually hired by the State for a specific purpose.

On Monday, Solicitor-General Njee Muturi announced the introduction of just such a measure through a Bill to be tabled in Parliament. Though it is still too early to speculate on the Bill’s contents, the important thing is that it is aimed at assisting the most vulnerable in society to access justice.

It is a fact that millions of Kenyans cannot afford legal fees. So when they are caught up in situations that require the expertise of lawyers, they lose out in almost all cases. Especially vulnerable are the poor caught up in criminal litigation. It is possible that thousands of Kenyans end up in prison due to ignorance, or because they cannot plead properly. This is justice denied that should not be allowed to continue.

Until such a law is passed, prisoners who cannot afford a lawyer rely on initiatives such as KCLF. As Advocates International puts it, “KCLF stands out as Advocates Africa’s leading example in the area of legal aid programs and legal representation for those in prison awaiting trial.”

It’s patented! (but it just won’t work)

It has been hard not to notice the recent 10 year sentence for a conman selling bomb and drug detectors across the world – which cannot have worked.

Fake bomb detector conman jailed for 10 years. James McCormick, who sold more than £55m worth of fake detectors likely to have caused Iraqi deaths, jailed for 10 years.

Happily the ones bought by the police in Kenya apparently do work; as the Nation reported: “The report contradicts a statement by Nairobi police chief Benson Githinji who told reporters on Friday that “the machines in use are serviceable and don’t fall short… They are in operation and they work.”

However, it seems the case above has not been alone, because the BBC has just reported on 29 May 2013,

Three people have gone on trial at the Old Bailey charged with making and selling fake bomb and drug detectors.

The marketing material for the Alpha 6 Molecular Detector billed it as revolutionary product. It claimed the device could detect explosives and drugs in quantities as tiny as 15 billionths of a gram at a range of 300m (980ft), using static electricity.

Those of us with long IP memories, might start to remember the  DKL LifeGuard patents, as explored by Daniel C. Rislove in his paper in the Wisconsin Law Review:

In 1996, a district court granted the United States a permanent injunction against the Quadro Corporation, enjoining Quadro from selling a class of devices variously called the Quadro Tracker, Golfball Gopher, Trailhook, or Treasure Hunter. The marketing literature for these devices claimed that they could detect unseen objects by directing the bearer of the device in the correct direction, much like a dowsing rod acts to conduct its bearer towards water.
For example, it claimed that the Quadro Tracker was capable of detecting contraband such as illegal drugs and explosives. X-rays of the device determined that it consisted of nothing more than a hollow plastic shell with an attached radio antenna. Thus, like the classic dowsing rod, the Quadro Tracker was incapable of detecting anything. The primary victims of this fraud were law-enforcement agencies, correctional institutions, and school systems.
Enter DKL International, Inc. DKL markets a very expensive, handheld device called the DKL LifeGuard — purported to be capable of detecting living humans at a distance—to government agencies worldwide. Like the Quadro Tracker, the DKL LifeGuard fails to function as claimed. Why then is DKL International allowed to market its detectors while the Quadro Corporation is enjoined from selling similar devices? One possible explanation is that the DKL LifeGuard, unlike the Quadro devices, is covered by no less than eight patents.

It seems Rislove’s full paper, “A Case Study of Inoperable Inventions: Why is the USPTO Patenting Pseudoscience?” is still raising as many questions today as it did in 2006.

Revealed: The Biggest Trademark Bullies

Over at Trademarkia, the big trademark search engine, there is an illuminating section suitable for Friday afternoons. You can look up what they describe as the ‘biggest trademark bullies‘ by class. Or consult the list of biggest victims. Moral of the story? Don’t use ‘Live’ or ‘Strong’ in your mark, or a charity will pursue you – The Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Cory Doctorow and ‘The Copyright Thing’

If you’ve read a book by Cory Doctorow, you may be familiar with what he describes as his “pretty unorthodox views about copyright”. If you haven’t read one, or better several, you’ve been missing out. If you head over to Cory’s site and download a free version of a book from it you will find this viewpoint in it:


The Creative Commons license at the top of this file probably tipped you off to the fact that I’ve got some pretty unorthodox views about copyright. Here’s what I think of it, in a nutshell: a little goes a long way, and more than that is too much.

I like the fact that copyright lets me sell rights to my publishers and film studios and so on. It’s nice that they can’t just take my stuff without permission and get rich on it without cutting me in for a piece of the action. I’m in a pretty good position when it comes to negotiating with these companies: I’ve got a great agent and a decade’s experience with copyright law and licensing (including a stint as a delegate at WIPO, the UN agency that makes the world’s copyright treaties). What’s more, there’s just not that many of these negotiations — even if I sell fifty or a hundred different editions of this book (which would put it in top millionth of a percentile for novels), that’s still only fifty or a hundred negotiations, which I could just about manage.

I /hate/ the fact that fans who want to do what readers have always done are expected to play in the same system as all these hotshot agents and lawyers. It’s just /stupid/ to say that an elementary school classroom should have to talk to a lawyer at a giant global publisher before they put on a play based on one of my books. It’s ridiculous to say that people who want to “loan” their electronic copy of my book to a friend need to get a /license/ to do so. Loaning books has been around longer than any publisher on Earth, and it’s a fine thing.

Copyright laws are increasingly passed without democratic debate or scrutiny. In Great Britain, where I live, Parliament recently passed the Digital Economy Act, a complex copyright law that allows corporate giants to disconnect whole families from the Internet if anyone in the house is accused (without proof) of copyright infringement; it also creates a “Great Firewall of Britain” that is used to censor any site that record companies and movie studios don’t like. This law was passed in 2010 without any serious public debate in Parliament, rushed through using a dirty process through which our elected representatives betrayed the public to give a huge, gift-wrapped present to their corporate pals.

It gets worse: around the world, rich countries like the US, the EU and Canada negotiated secret copyright treaties called “The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement” (ACTA) and “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) that have all the problems that the Digital Economy Act had and then some. The plan was to agree to them in secret, without public debate, and then force the world’s poorest countries to sign up for it by refusing to allow them to sell goods to rich countries unless they do. In America, the plan was to pass it without Congressional debate, using the executive power of the President. ACTA began under Bush, but the Obama administration has pursued it with great enthusiasm, and presided over the creation of TPP. The secret part of the plan failed — ACTA ran into heavy opposition in Congress and has been rejected by Mexico and the European Parliament — but the treaty isn’t dead yet, has supporters on both sides of the house who keep attempting to bring it back under a new name. This is a bipartisan lunacy.

So if you’re not violating copyright law right now, you will be soon. And the penalties are about to get a lot worse. As someone who relies on copyright to earn my living, this makes me sick. If the big entertainment companies set out to destroy copyright’s mission, they couldn’t do any better than they’re doing now. Just as this book is coming into print (February, 2013), the big American ISPs and big American entertainment companies are rolling out “six strikes” — a voluntary plan to harass people accused, without proof, of downloading, and ultimately, to disconnect them from the net. So, basically, /screw that/.

Or, as the singer and American folk hero Woody Guthrie so eloquently put it:

“This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin’ it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.”

Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author, activist, journalist and blogger — the co-editor of Boing Boing and the author of young adult novels like PIRATE CINEMA and LITTLE BROTHER and novels for adults like RAPTURE OF THE NERDS and MAKERS. He is the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group. Born in Toronto, Canada, he now lives in London. So what do you think? Leave a comment below.