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Meet the Lawyer Suing Anyone Who Uses SSL 347

Sparrowvsrevolution writes "Since 2008, Dallas, Texas attorney Erich Spangenberg and his company TQP have been launching suits against hundreds of firms, claiming that merely by using SSL, they've violated a patent TQP acquired in 2006. Nevermind that the patent was actually filed in 1989, long before the World Wide Web was even invented. So far Spangenberg's targets have included Apple, Google, Intel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, every major bank and credit card company, and scores of web startups and online retailers, practically anyone who encrypts pages of a web sites to protect users' privacy. And while most of those lawsuits are ongoing, many companies have already settled with TQP rather than take the case to trial, including Apple, Amazon, Dell, and Exxon Mobil. The patent has expired now, but Spangenberg can continue to sue users of SSL for six more years and seems determined to do so as much as possible. 'When the government grants you the right to a patent, they grant you the right to exclude others from using it,' says Spangenberg. 'I don't understand why just because [SSL is] prevalent, it should be free.'"
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Meet the Lawyer Suing Anyone Who Uses SSL

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  • by Stachybotris ( 936861 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:00AM (#41955799)
    All it would take is Google or one other company with adequately deep pockets to actually take this guy to court and that would be the last we'd hear of Mr. Spangenberg or his trollish little company.
  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:08AM (#41955851)

    Personally I think the point there is that if someone files a patent, and doesn't enforce anything about it, then someone else buys it 17 years later by which time due to lack of enforcement around it such that everyone has used it it's become part of essential every day tools, then some dick shouldn't then be able to start suing over it.

    In this respect patents should act like trademarks - if you don't defend against illegal use of it at or near the time of infringement and as a result everyone starts using tools built upon it, then it should be invalidated.

    This idea that you can file a patent, sit quietly on it, and wait until something related to it has become massively widely used and THEN you sue everyone left, right and centre, is fucking absurd.

    The other point is that patent terms are supposed to expire after 20 years. As such can anyone tell me why this guy has another 6 years to sue? Is this about legal limits and he is effectively suing for past infringement even though the patent should've expired 3 years ago? If so then that's another change that needs making to the law - you either sue when the patent is valid, or you don't sue at all.

  • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <> on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:10AM (#41955863) Homepage

    He may be on the correct side of the law as far as current patent law goes, but I'm of the opinion that, at least sometimes, the fact that it's prevalent means that it should be free. Particularly when it comes to computer software, and particularly when it comes to communications and the exchange of information. File formats should be able to be written and read without a license. You should be able to make your software communicate with others using network protocols that are unencumbered.

    I don't know that I have an objection to software patents per se, but when it comes to file format standards and network communications standards, you should not have to pay in order to participate.

  • Re:So (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mSparks43 ( 757109 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:13AM (#41955895) Homepage Journal

    What's the point?

    Its a patent for a symmetric key algorithm done in hardware.

    Just tell them you'll see them in court.

  • Re:So (Score:5, Insightful)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:17AM (#41955927) Journal

    Who's up for forming a lynch mob?

    Depends. Who are you going to lynch? The scumbag lawyer? The patent official(s) who granted this patent? The politicians who have been dragging their feet on patent reform? I mean, are we out to change the system, or just to vent on a shrewd individual who is exploiting it?

  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:18AM (#41955941) Homepage

    You should have some minimum time to file a suit against someone for using your patent or it should be invalidated. I see this all the time. Sony used a game controller for 3 years on their playstation and then somebody comes along saying they have a patent that Sony is infringing on. Why wasn't it brought up a couple months after the release? It's not like the playstation was some unknown product in some very small market that the patent holder couldn't have been expected to know about. If you have too many patents that you can't keep track of them, and don't even realize that somebody is infringing on them until years later, then it should be invalidated.
  • Re:So... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:33AM (#41956041)

    Because most inventors have other things to do with their time then comb through every new technological application, and because your suggestion would make big time manufacturers stop caring about patents of small guys and just obfuscate their technology to stop identification of patented features for long enough.

    Let's not forget, patent laws aren't made to allow big incumbents to rape small inventors. They're made to allow small inventors to get money from their inventions. Just because laws have been perverted doesn't mean that it will help to demolish the original reason for existence of patents and essentially empower the party that is already the biggest abuser of the current legislation - the large incumbent tech companies.

  • Re:So (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pieroxy ( 222434 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:50AM (#41956141) Homepage

    What's the point?

    Its a patent for a symmetric key algorithm done in hardware.

    Just tell them you'll see them in court.

    That's if you can afford to go to court. They may be asking very reasonable fees to make the ROI of such a case overly in favor of settling. By going to court you would have to advance large amounts of money where settling might be cheaper. So even if you win the lawsuit, you might end up losing money in the end.

    Of course, you'd have done "the right thing" (patent pending) but who cares in the 21st century?

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @10:57AM (#41956191) Homepage
    You're right. Instead of letting the small inventors who maybe own 1 to 5 patents take a little responsibility and keep track of how their patents are being used, we should make the people/organizations producing products (big and small) be responsible for wading through millions of patents to ensure they don't infringe on these patents before they release a product. Even if said patent is just sitting in a filing cabinet, and no product has ever been realized.

    I'm not saying that all patents should be invalidated after some set period after some product has been released and no complaint has been filed. But there should be some expectation so thousands of companies can't go about using your "patented techology" for over a decade before you decide you are going to start complaining that they are violating your patent.
  • Send in the SEALs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @11:15AM (#41956329) Homepage Journal

    Double-tap to the forehead, then exfil with the tango wrapped in a carpet. In unmarked ocean, give him a burial at sea.

    This guy probably has a legitimate patent on handshaking that has the capacity to switch encryption keys. However, he's generating massive collateral damage in exchange for his personal profit, at the expense of industry.

    That in itself is not an efficient solution, and means he's essentially taking from each of us each time he unnecessarily raises costs...

    Which brings me back to the SEALs. Hoo-rah!

  • Re:So (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swalve ( 1980968 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @11:16AM (#41956333)
    And acorns are oak trees. Imprison all women who have had miscarriages!
  • Re:So (Score:4, Insightful)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @11:19AM (#41956383) Homepage Journal


  • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) <> on Monday November 12, 2012 @11:22AM (#41956407) Homepage Journal

    Let's not forget, patent laws aren't made to allow big incumbents to rape small inventors. They're made to allow small inventors to get money from their inventions.

    Both views are wrong, at least in the United States. The purpose of patents isn't to favor big or small or to enable collection of money by anyone. Money is the mechanism, not the goal. The purpose of patents is to advance science and the useful arts by providing inventors with a motive to publish the details of their inventions, so that other inventors can learn from them, and either license them or explore new possibilities.

    Like copyright, the intended beneficiary of our IP laws (at least in their original intent and form) isn't the owner of the temporary monopoly, it's society as a whole. The benefit to the owner is just the tool we use to encourage them to act in society's best interest, by spreading their ideas/expressions.

    There are a lot of implications of this viewpoint, and if everyone (especially Congress) could keep it straight, our IP laws would be a lot more sane -- and would tend to achieve rather than undermine the underlying goal. In the case of patent law, one implication of the real goal is that we can measure the effectiveness of the system by how often inventors search the patent database looking for solutions to problems, or for ideas to spark new inventions.

  • by tibit ( 1762298 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @11:24AM (#41956435)

    You're treating those businesses like sentient beings. Stop with that. A business does no more and no less than what the people in charge of the business want done. If you're a money-at-all costs scumbag, sure, that's how your business will operate. It's not a law of any sort that a business has to be run that way. And stop spreading the fiduciary-duty-to-shareholders bullshit, because it's tired and old and not true at all. Shareholders who invest in a business decide for themselves if their investment goals are aligned with those of the business. Nobody forces them to invest in a business that is not all about maximizing shareholder ROI.

  • Re:So... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @11:33AM (#41956529)

    "Because most inventors have other things to do with their time then comb through every new technological application"

    As I see it it's quite simple. If you don't feel you have time to protect your patent then you obviously don't put enough value in it to believe it's worth protecting.

    Look, either your patent is such a unique and cutting edge innovation that you want to protect it and want to make money from it, or it's not. You can't just patent some trivial little turd of an idea that others have/will come up with independently and expect the money come flowing through to you for it.

    The "I don't have time" argument is bollocks, the time you invest in protecting your patent should be relative to the value you place in that patent. If you think it's a super patent then spend your life protecting it and milking money from it, if you think it's marginally useful then go after uses as soon as they're obviously there - i.e. PS3 controllers. If you don't value it at all then don't enforce it and let people use it how they want by letting it expire as trademarks do. That's how it should work. The patenting of turds and just sitting around waiting for them to mature and then attacking has to stop. Patents shouldn't be a license to cash in left and right 17 years after a patent was filed for some arbitrary idea no matter how little effort went into it, they should be worth bothering to protect and if they're not, they shouldn't be patentable ideas in the first place.

    Besides, the test for trademark genericisation is if your trademark has entered common usage, if your patent has come close to entering common usage across a wide range of users like SSL has and you haven't noticed and bothered to defend it then laziness has nothing to do with it. That's apathy towards enforcement, and apathy shouldn't be an excuse to be able to turn around many years later and suddenly decide to cash in either.

  • Re:So (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hoi Polloi ( 522990 ) on Monday November 12, 2012 @11:34AM (#41956533) Journal

    Plus they still let them request the venue which always ends up in a region in east Texas that seems to populated solely by patent lawyers.

  • by samwhite_y ( 557562 ) * <icrewps@yah o o . c om> on Monday November 12, 2012 @01:05PM (#41957689)
    This is just another in a long series of slashdot articles that have pointed out the broken nature of our patent system. What I have not seen is any serious proposals for fixing the issues beyond "throw it all out". I have to agree that making software (even software running in specific hardwire specifications) something that you cannot patent is superior to the current patenting solution. Something similar could be said about some of the pharmaceutical patenting that is going on as well (make it last "seven days" instead of "one", get to extend my patent).

    What if we made patents peer reviewed by a group of high profile experts in the field in which the patent is filed. So notable software professionals would be consulted for software patents. This group would use a high bar on the "obviousness" and "prior art" test so that rewriting prior art into a different language and giving a slightly different spin would not make it past this group. The group would be paid based by on the (likely to be substantial) fees charged to the person filing the patent. This is how research articles are handled for the best scientific journals. If a patent is laughably far from being publish worthy for a reputable scientific journal, why are we letting it control millions (or billions) of dollars of commerce? Currently, we are forcing our higher courts to learn all types of arcana before they are able to kill a patent based on prior art and obviousness. Using a group of true experts (not the underpaid and overworked staff at the patent office) would do a lot to improve the situation. Patent lawyers are not a sufficient substitute.

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis