The News – 04/05/01
Court Decision Limits Patent Rights
Late last November, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the Federal Circuit set aside the “doctrine of equivalents,” which grants broader
protection and rights to patent holders.
The decision in Festo v. Shoketsu Kinzoku Koygo Kabushiki
trims a legal principle that once let inventors claim rights to ideas
beyond the scope of their patents.
Patent holders were able to claim patent violation against any
product that performed an equivalent function of the patented product. As a
result of the decision, however, any changes or additions to the initial
filing would not be protected under the doctrine of equivalents. The ruling
is retroactive, throwing open the whole body of patent legal decisions to
Critics of the decision say it could encourage a rash
of copycat products and mean millions of dollars of lost revenue for patent
holders. Especially hurt could be the high tech industry, which relies
heavily on patent protection to maintain competitive edge.
The decision’s supports claim it will force companies
to be more precise in patent claims by closing one of the loopholes in
Festo has hired former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth
Starr to represent them in a Supreme Court appeal. But plenty of damage
could be done by the time the High Court agrees to hear the case. Already
the decision is being cited as precedent, and a least one patent claim has
been overturned as a result.
Business owners who rely on patents to protect their
products and processes need to be aware of this decision and consider
amending their patents to specifically rule out copycat products.
Get an MIT Education on the Web – Free!
One of my sayings is: “On the Internet, everything
devolves to free.” This story proves this maxim, and how! Thanks to OpenCourseWare,
a new plan out of MIT, over the next decade you’ll be able to go to MIT
over the Web. Well, you may say, plenty of schools offer distance learning;
what’s the big deal? The big deal is, MIT will make all of their course
material, including class lectures, reading lists, exams and videos, available
on Web for free. You will be able to essentially audit an MIT education. It’s
going to cost MIT about $100 million to do this, and it will be voluntary:
up to each professor’s discretion. Of course, you won’t get college credit
or a degree, but, hey, it’s not the letters that count, right?
According to President Charles M. Vest, the
university's president, MIT is not worried about students opting to avoid
the $26,000 in tuition. “Our central value is people and the human
experience of faculty working with students in classrooms and laboratories,
and students learning from each other, and the kind of intensive
environment we create in our residential university. . . This is a natural
fit to what the Web is really all about. We've learned this lesson over and
over again. You can't have tight, closed-up systems. We've tried to open up
software infrastructure in a variety of ways and that's what unleashed the
creativity of software developers; I think the same thing can happen in
As laudable as MIT’s effort is, one wonders about the
various intellectual property challenges, and the possible “MIT aftermarket”
that might spring up, repackaging the courseware. In any event, any
business whose core purpose is online learning must be quaking in its boots
at the possibility that this sort of thing might catch on.
Times (registration required)
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