Patent Troll Is Bankrupt After Victims Fight Back

(p. B5) Shipping & Transit LLC sued more than 100 mostly small companies in 2016, making it the largest filer of patent lawsuits that year. But when the Florida company recently declared bankruptcy, it valued its U.S. patents at just $1.
Its demise followed three cases where companies fought back and were awarded legal fees after Shipping & Transit decided not to pursue the patent claims against them. Judges in the cases awarded a total of more than $245,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to businesses in 2017.
Shipping & Transit doesn’t sell tracking systems or anything else. Instead, it claims to own patents “for providing status messages for cargo, shipments and people,” according to court filings. The company typically demanded licensing fees of $25,000 to $45,000 from companies it said were infringing on its patents. Most agree to pay small amounts to avoid costly litigation.
. . .
In one ruling, a U.S. district judge in Santa Ana, Calif., called Shipping & Transit’s patent claims “objectively unreasonable” in light of a 2014 Supreme Court decision that held that certain kinds of abstract ideas weren’t patentable.
. . .
Patent assertions by companies that don’t make products and are primarily focused on making money off of patents have declined since the Supreme Court decision, but still “remain extremely high,” said Shawn Ambwani, chief operating officer of Unified Patents, which specializes in challenging these types of assertions.
In another of the cases from 2017, a federal magistrate judge in West Palm Beach, Fla., said Shipping & Transit’s actions suggest that the company’s “strategy is predatory and aimed at reaping financial advantage from defendants who are unwilling or unable to engage in the expense of patent litigation.”.

For the full commentary, see:
Ruth Simon. “Company That Filed Patent Suits Derails.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Dec. 17, 2018): B5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 16, 2018, and has the title “Pushback Derails Company That Thrived on Patent Lawsuits.”)

Only Presidents with Their Names on Patents Are Lincoln and Trump

(p. A15) Fostering patentable innovation should appeal to President Trump. He is the only U.S. president other than Abraham Lincoln to have his name on a U.S. patent header. Though he wasn’t the inventor, Trump Taj Mahal Associates’ 1996 patent for a “Proportional payout method for progressive linked gaming machines” makes Mr. Trump, at least indirectly, the second presidential patenter.
But unlike Lincoln’s invention, a method of lifting boats over shoals that was cited only 10 times as prior art by subsequent inventors, the Trump Taj Mahal patent has accrued an incredible 1,066 citations. These citations are a key metric for judging economic significance and downstream impact. For someone who loves ratings, Mr. Trump must surely be pleased that his patent topped the charts.

For the full commentary, see:
Mike Kalutkiewicz and Richard L. Ehman. “A Government Agency That Produces Real Innovation; What does Trump have in common with the National Institutes of Health? Patents.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 23, 2017): A15.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 22, 2017.)

Ridiculed Nathan Myhrvold Perseveres on Asteroids and Is Vindicated

Nathan Myhrvold has also been ridiculed on his entrepreneurial patent clearinghouse (called Intellectual Ventures), and on his geoengineering solution to global warming.

(p. D1) Thousands of asteroids are passing through Earth’s neighborhood all the time. Although the odds of a direct hit on the planet any time soon are slim, even a small asteroid the size of a house could explode with as much energy as an atomic bomb.

So scientists at NASA are charged with scanning the skies for such dangerous space rocks. If one were on a collision course with our planet, information about how big it is and what it’s made of would be essential for deflecting it, or calculating the destruction if it hits.
For the last couple of years, Nathan P. Myhrvold, a former chief technologist at Microsoft with a physics doctorate from Princeton, has roiled the small, congenial community of asteroid scientists by saying they know less than they think about these near-Earth objects. He argues that a trove of data from NASA they rely on is flawed and unreliable.
. . .
(p. D4) Dr. Myhrvold’s findings pose a challenge to a proposed NASA asteroid-finding mission called Neocam, short for Near-Earth Object Camera, which would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars. A congressional committee that controls NASA’s purse strings just included $10 million more in a budget bill for the development of Neocam.
. . .
When Dr. Myhrvold made his initial claims, the Neowise scientists made fun of a few errors like an equation that mixed up radius and diameter.
“It is too bad Myhrvold doesn’t have Google’s bug-finding bounty policy,” Dr. Wright told Scientific American. “If he did, I’d be rich.”
Dr. Mainzer also said at the time, “We believe at this point it’s best to allow the process of peer review — the foundation of the scientific process — to move forward.”
. . .
Earlier this year, Icarus published Dr. Myhrvold’s first paper on how reflected sunlight affects measurements of asteroids at the shorter infrared wavelengths measured by WISE. It has now accepted and posted a second paper last month containing Dr. Myhrvold’s criticisms of the NASA asteroid data.
. . .
When the scientists reported their findings, they did not include the estimates produced by their models, which would have given a sense of how good the model is. Instead they included the earlier measurements.
Other astronomers agreed that the Neowise scientists were not clear about what numbers they were reporting.
“They did some kind of dumb things,” said Alan W. Harris, a retired NASA asteroid expert who was one of the reviewers of Dr. Myhrvold’s second paper.
Dr. Myhrvold has accused the Neowise scientists of going into a NASA archive of planetary results, changing some of the copied numbers and deleting others without giving notice.
“They went back and rewrote history,” he said. “What it shows is even this far in, they’re still lying. They haven’t come clean.”
Dr. Harris said he did not see nefarious behavior by the Neowise scientists, but agreed, “That’s still weird.”
. . .
Dr. Myhrvold said NASA and Congress should put planning for the proposed Neocam spacecraft on hold, because it could suffer from the same shortfalls as Neowise. “Why does it get to avoid further scrutiny and just get money directly from Congress?” he asked.

For the full story, see:
Kenneth Chang. “A Collision Over Asteroids.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 19, 2018): D1 & D4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 14, 2018, and has the title “Asteroids and Adversaries: Challenging What NASA Knows About Space Rocks.”)

China’s “Double Whammy for Prospective Entrepreneurs”

(p. B12) China’s past attempts to stoke indigenous innovation have a checkered history. A flood of cheap capital and high, state-set solar power rates in the mid-2000s secured China’s place as the world’s number one solar cell manufacturer. But it also led to enormous overcapacity, which sank prices and pushed debt burdens higher, making investment in real R&D more difficult. For investors, China’s solar champions have been a losing proposition–American depositary receipts of top firms such as JinkoSolar are worth less than half of their peak in 2010. Robotics, a key element of Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan to dominate high-tech manufacturing, is exhibiting similar tendencies.
The state-centric nature of China’s financial system–and its weak intellectual property protection–represents a double whammy for prospective entrepreneurs. Small private-sector firms often only have access to capital through expensive shadow banking channels, and face the risk that some better connected, state-backed firm will make off with their designs–with very little recourse.

For the full story, see:
Nour Malas and Paul Overberg. “‘Chinese Innovation Won’t Come Easily Without U.S. Tech.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, March 23, 2018): B12.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2018, and has the title “Can China’s Red Capital Really Innovate?”)

Silicon Valley Firm Defies Disruption

(p. A1) LOS GATOS, Calif.–Companies that resist change don’t tend to last long in the caldron of innovation called Silicon Valley.
Then there’s the Z.A. Macabee Gopher Trap Co.
Founded in 1900 by local barber and inventor Zephyr Albert Macabee to manufacture his patented metal gopher traps, the company is a stickler for tradition.
The traps’ design has remained exactly the same, including their forest green color–despite complaints that the hue makes them hard to spot. Some customers gripe of hitting them with mowers, and have repainted them bright red or other colors. Still, the company doesn’t waver.
Macabee operates out of the same small Victorian house where “Zeph” Macabee started it all on a quiet residential street. Even the packaging—Spartan white boxes of 24–remain unchanged since the postearthquake edition of 1906.
“We have a strong product identity,” says Ronald Fink, the company’s cheerful septuagenarian general manager, who grew up on a nearby apricot farm.
But existential questions loom. The company’s patent expired in 1917. The threat of cheap Asian knockoffs led the company in (p. A10) 2008 to shift all production to China and lay off the eight Cambodian refugees who built traps in the basement on decades-old machines.
Another new competitor has popped up: a pest exterminator named Steve Albano, founder of Trapline Products in Redwood City, who used and studied Macabee traps and came up with what he considers a better design. “I think they just work better,” says Mr. Albano.
. . .
As the owners sort out their differences, copycat traps are flooding the market. Most retail for about a third less than the roughly $9 a Macabee commands, including several that even mimic the forest color.
“But people still buy us, because they know they’re getting quality,” says Mr. Fink.

For the full story, see:
Timothy Aeppel. “Old Time Rodent-Trap Company Doesn’t Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years.” The New York Times (Fri., June 19, 2015): A1 & A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the title “Macabee, an Old Time Maker of Rodent Traps, Doesn’t Gopher Change; At one firm in Silicon Valley, disruption is a dirty word; existential fears after 100 years.”)

94-Year-Old Applies for Patent on Slow-Hunch Solid State Battery

(p. 7) In 1946, a 23-year-old Army veteran named John Goodenough headed to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics. When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.
Recently, Dr. Goodenough recounted that story for me and then laughed uproariously. He ignored the professor’s advice and today, at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles. His announcement has caused a stir, in part, because Dr. Goodenough has done it before. In 1980, at age 57, he coinvented the lithium-ion battery that shrank power into a tiny package.
We tend to assume that creativity wanes with age. But Dr. Goodenough’s story suggests that some people actually become more creative as they grow older. Unfortunately, those late-blooming geniuses have to contend with powerful biases against them.
. . .
Years ago, he decided to create a solid battery that would be safer. Of course, in a perfect world, the “solid-state” battery would also be low-cost and lightweight. Then, two years ago, he discovered the work of Maria Helena Braga, a Portuguese physicist who, with the help of a colleague, had created a kind of glass that can replace liquid electrolytes inside batteries.
Dr. Goodenough persuaded Dr. Braga to move to Austin and join his lab. “We did some experiments to make sure the glass was dry. Then we were off to the races,” he said.
Some of his colleagues were dubious that he could pull it off. But Dr. Goodenough was not dissuaded. “I’m old enough to know you can’t close your mind to new ideas. You have to test out every possibility if you want something new.”
When I asked him about his late-life success, he said: “Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven’t maybe figured it out by the time we’re 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking.” This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together,” he said.

For the full commentary, see:
Kennedy, Pagan. “To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., APRIL 9, 2017): 7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date APRIL 7, 2017.)

Jewish Medical Inventor Invested in Human Capital Because That “Could Never Be Taken from Me”

Louis Sokoloff’s son Kenneth authored, or co-authored, important papers on how patents aided invention in the 1800s.

(p. A21) Dr. Louis Sokoloff, who pioneered the PET scan technique for measuring human brain function and diagnosing disorders, died on July 30 [2015] in Washington.
. . .
. . . he leapt at the opportunity when he won a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania, guided by his grandfather’s advice.
“He advised me to choose a profession, any one,” he wrote, “in which all my significant possessions would reside in my mind because, being Jewish, sooner or later I would be persecuted and I would lose all my material possessions; what was contained in my mind, however, could never be taken from me and would accompany me everywhere to be used again.”
. . .
Dr. Sokoloff’s wife, the former Betty Kaiser, died in 2003, and his son, Kenneth, an economic historian, died in 2007.

For the full obituary, see:
SAM ROBERTS. “Louis Sokoloff, Pioneer of PET Scan, Dies at 93.” The New York Times (Thurs., AUG. 6, 2015): A21.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date AUG. 5, 2015.)