EFF's Patent Busting Project in danger

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's successful Patent Busting Project may itself be busted by language in "reform" legislation pending before the U.S. Senate.

This "reform" as it stands will instead protect frivolous patents from the EFF and similar watchdogs by limiting to one year after a patent's granting the time in which it could be challenged by anyone other than those suffering direct financial harm.

The head of the EFF project, patent attorney Emily Berger, tells me: "While we generally support patent reform, a bill that does not allow us to continue to file third-party reexamination requests would diminish the quality of existing patents and offer more opportunity to abuse the patent system. This is contrary to the goals of the bill."

EFF last week sent letters of protest to the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Wrote Berger on the EFF blog: "Today EFF submitted a letter to Senators Leahy and Specter calling their attention to a portion of the Draft Judiciary Committee Report of the Patent Reform Act of 2007 which has the potential to kill EFF's Patent Busting Project."

"The public has a right to defend itself against patents that should never have been granted, and organizations like EFF exist to assist in this process," Berger wrote. "Reexamination proceedings are essential for us to continue this work."

By late last week Leahy's office had not replied to the letter or my own requests for comment. (I opted not to contact Specter's office because I didn't want to distract the senator or his staff from the important work of policing National Football League rules enforcement.)

The Patent Busting Project has notched a string of impressive victories.

Last year, the project succeeded in convincing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to revoke a patent held by Clear Channel Communications that covered a system for recording and distributing live musical performances. In December, it was the distance-learning site Test.com wilting under the patent-busting heat, as the PTO rejected all 16 claims upon which its patent rests.

Everyone complains about frivolous patents. The EFF is doing something about them. It would be a shame if that effort were to fall victim to "help" from Washington.

E-mail gaffe leads to billion-dollar news leak

A simple e-mail slip-up is all we're talking about, the kind any one of us could make at any time: A Philadelphia lawyer addresses his electronic missive to an Alex Berenson instead of Bradford Berenson.

But what happens next is anything but routine; it's front-page news in The New York Times. That's because Alex Berenson happens to be a reporter for the Times (Bradford is a colleague of the sender) and the e-mail happens to concern settlement talks between the U.S. government and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly that include the proposed sum of $1 billion.

Writes Portfolio.com, which broke the story behind the story: "Eli Lilly had every reason to want to keep the talks [over marketing practices] under wraps. It was paying the two fancy law firms a small fortune to negotiate deftly and quietly."

That send button isn't always deft.

While not an everyday occurrence, you'd be surprised how often stories of this nature -- if not this magnitude -- simply pop into the in-boxes of ever-grateful news reporters. It has happened here at Network World on a number of occasions, although personally I have never been the recipient of such a gift.

Portfolio.com reached Times reporter Alex Berenson, who said: "I can't say anything. I just can't."

But can't you see the smirk on his face?

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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