Patent wars gone wild: From silly to sleazy

While Apple and Samsung fight for future of mobile devices, other copyright trolls wage an X-rated battle on innocent users

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"Samsung is not some copyist," Verhoeven said. "Samsung is a major technology company that develops its own innovations." He said Samsung has been in the mobile market since 1991, long before Apple; spent $35 billion in R&D from 2005 to 2010; and employs 20,000 engineers and 1,000 designers. To be sure, much of that investment has nothing to do with the mobile market, but it's hard to deny that Samsung is an innovative company.

Pay the pornographer

Unlike my imaginary videos, here's one you can actually watch. It's a news clip from a TV station in Tucson -- KGUN-TV -- that investigated Jenny Phan's complaint.

Phan told the station that a lawyer for an adult movie outfit called Elegant Angel Productions sent her a letter accusing her of illegally downloading one of its productions. The on-air reporter said the movie has a title "we can't repeat on TV."

It appears that the movie company hired a security firm to find IP addresses associated with pirated content via BitTorrent. It then took those addresses to a judge, who ordered the ISP to turn over the names of the owners of those addresses to Elegant Angel.

"Cases like this, usually involving pornographic content, are very common," Mitch Stoltz, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation told me. At least 250,000 individuals have been named in group lawsuits over the last few years.

There's a very common belief that if someone pirates your Wi-Fi connection or uses your computer without your permission, you are responsible for illegal downloads of copyrighted material. That's not true, says Stoltz; the law is quite clear. However, the lawyers who bring those cases use that misperception to convince innocent people that they had better pay up. Since $3,500 is just a fraction of the money it would take to fight a case in court, most people simply settle.

To be exact, cases like Phan's involve copyrights, not patents. But ultimately patents and copyrights are part of an intellectual property system that no longer works. Oracle sued Google over Java and Android, winning on a technicality, but was not awarded substantial damages; for all practical purposes, Google was the true winner. We'll see if Samsung can do the same in its patent battle with Apple. A real Oracle victory would have been a disaster, and that's equally true if Apple wins this case.

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This article, "Patent wars gone wild: From silly to sleazy," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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