A Tangled Web

Journalists Intend to Sue Hewlett-Packard Over Surveillance

In an unusual step for the news media, three journalists whose private phone records were scrutinized by investigators working for Hewlett-Packard intend to sue the company for invasion of privacy.

The dispute stems from an investigation of Hewlett-Packard’s directors initiated under the company’s former chairwoman, Patricia C. Dunn. To try to uncover leaks from board members, private investigators examined the phone records of nine journalists who covered the company, as well as the records of some of their relatives.

While the dispute revolves around the issue of how the journalists’ careers may have been damaged by having their phone records examined, the threat to sue also raises the question whether it is proper for a news organization or its reporters to sue a company they cover. It is certainly not common.

More on the Supreme Court’s Recent Patent Rulings

As usual, there are many ways to spin the outcome: Patently obviouspdf

Last week, ruling in a dispute over the design of a gas pedal, the Supreme Court jolted the American patent system. The case, KSR International Co. v. Teleflex Inc., dealt with the placement of an electronic sensor in an accelerator that could be adjusted according to a driver’s height — not in itself a matter of national concern. But the court used its decision to issue a broad rebuke of the way in which American patent cases are decided. In the process, some patent lawyers say, it may also have added a new level of uncertainty to an area of the law that is vital to the nation’s economy and our ability to protect and encourage innovation.

[…] To correct this, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for patent applicants to claim that they’ve actually invented something, while also making it easier for older patents to be challenged.

Suddenly, according to patent attorneys and legal scholars, much that seemed settled law may be up for grabs. […]

[…] According to Dan Ravicher, patent attorney and founder of the Public Patent Foundation, such concerns are overblown. Difficulties with subjectivity, he points out, are hardly unique to obviousness, or to patent law. “There’s no objective test for ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,'” he points out. “The law is full of subjective elements.”

Potato, potahto

A Look What Bikram Yoga’s Landgrab Says About Global Trade

A Big Stretch

I GREW up watching my father stand on his head every morning. He was doing sirsasana, a yoga pose that accounts for his youthful looks well into his 60s. Now he might have to pay a royalty to an American patent holder if he teaches the secrets of his good health to others. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has issued 150 yoga-related copyrights, 134 patents on yoga accessories and 2,315 yoga trademarks. There’s big money in those pretzel twists and contortions — $3 billion a year in America alone.

It’s a mystery to most Indians that anybody can make that much money from the teaching of a knowledge that is not supposed to be bought or sold like sausages. Should an Indian, in retaliation, patent the Heimlich maneuver, so that he can collect every time a waiter saves a customer from choking on a fishbone?

The Indian government is not laughing. It has set up a task force that is cataloging traditional knowledge, including ayurvedic remedies and hundreds of yoga poses, to protect them from being pirated and copyrighted by foreign hucksters. The data will be translated from ancient Sanskrit and Tamil texts, stored digitally and available in five international languages, so that patent offices in other countries can see that yoga didn’t originate in a San Francisco commune.

[…] Still, Indians get upset every time they hear reports — often overblown — of Westerners’ stealing their age-old wisdom, through the mechanism of copyright law. They were outraged by a story last year of some Americans trying to copyright the sacred Hindu syllable “om” — which would be like trade-marking “amen.”

The fears may be exaggerated, but they are widespread and reflect India’s mixed experience with globalization. […]

[…] If the copying of Western drugs is illegal, so should be the patenting of yoga. It is also intellectual piracy, stood on its head.

Promotion? Or Creative Content?

And how to tell the difference. Hollywood Loves the Tiny Screen. Advertisers Don’t. – and not just advertisers:

Where studios could get into trouble, though, is if mobile phone episodes like these are viewed less as promotional material and more as pure entertainment. Unionized actors, directors and writers have already balked at creating videos and other material for the Web, saying they should be paid for the extra work. (Unionized workers are not paid extra to create promotional materials.)

One way to get around the situation is by creating animated episodes or hiring look-alike actresses instead. That is what Fox did early on. But the issue is expected to be a sticking point in the planned talks with the unions. Some unions are already monitoring how much advertising revenue studios are making.

Not surprising, studios are bracing for tough negotiations.