' Legal/Tech News | MTTLR

Technology Companies Fight Back Against Government Requests For User Data

In response to privacy concerns surrounding data transmission and disclosure of information, the federal government has enacted a couple of laws, most notably the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”), in order to safeguard individuals’ private information. The Privacy Act of 1974 was enacted in reaction to the dawning age of information and was an attempt by the federal government to protect individuals’ privacy rights. The Act requires governmental agencies to do four things regarding the information they collect and store about private US citizens: 1) to, upon request, tell an individual what information they’ve collected about him or her, 2) to allow individuals to correct or amend that information, 3) to use certain principles when handling and using the information, and 4) to follow certain guidelines restricting how the individual’s information is shared with other agencies and people. HIPAA provides similar protections, specific to disclosures of personally identifiable information in the healthcare setting. However, despite the enactment of such federal laws, people like Steven Rambam, CEO of Pallorium, an international investigative agency, deliver lectures titled “Privacy is Dead – Get Over It”. The feeling that federal laws don’t protect individuals from unauthorized disclosures of private information is probably due in large part to the fact that neither the Privacy Act nor HIPAA, adequately protect consumers from US law enforcement agency requests for user information, such as requests from the National Security Agency.  Instead, providing safeguards from excessive government surveillance falls to the technology companies in possession of private individuals’ information. There has been a lot of push back from technology companies...

Apple’s Canary Fails to Chirp

Recently, Apple updated the privacy section on its website. While this was likely part of their response to privacy concerns due to the recent iCloud controversy, and fortuitously timed with the release of the newest batch of phones from the company, it also contains the latest edition of their transparency report. This report is a collection of the requests made by governments around the world for information about Apple device users and account holders. Curiously though, the most controversial aspect of the report may be what is not included. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported Apple was one of the first major companies to make use of the device known as a warrant canary. A warrant canary is one of the methods that a company may use to alert the public of otherwise secret demands made by US government. Following the passage of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, the availability of secret subpoenas has been dramatically expanded, and may be used against anyone who may have information which the authorities consider relevant to their intelligence or terrorism investigations. Because of the nature of these subpoenas, criminal penalties may be assessed against individuals who reveal even the existence of the requests for information. To get around this, a company may publish a public statement that they have not received such a request. If that is no longer true, removing the statement, or refusing to make it again, signals the public that the government has asked for data. In the transparency report covering early 2013 Apple stated that it “has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA...

Appellate Review of Markman Hearings

In Markman, the Supreme Court declared that determining the meaning of patent claims, i.e. “claim construction,” is a question to be decided by the court; the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial does not apply. Markman v. Westview Instruments, Inc., 517 U.S. 370, 372 (1996). Shortly thereafter, in Cybor, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that de novo review applied when results from these newly-created ‘Markman hearings’ are appealed. Cybor Corp. v. FAS Technologies, Inc., 138 F.3d 1448, 1451 (Fed. Cir. 1998) (en banc).   Earlier this year, the Federal Circuit granted a rehearing en banc to determine if Cybor should be overruled, and what, if any, deference should be given to a District Court’s claim construction. Lighting Ballast Control LLC v. Philips Electronics N. Am. Corp., ___F.3d___, WL 667499 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 21, 2014) (en banc). The court considered three options: (1) reaffirm Cybor and maintain de novo review, (2) overrule Cybor and declare claim construction a question of fact, or (3) adopt a “hybrid” standard of review that affords deference to the District Court’s factual determinations but preserves de novo review of the “ultimate” conclusion. Amici from industrial and technological companies advocated reaffirming Cybor. Academics and practitioners generally favored either the hybrid approach or the overruling of Cybor. Relying on stare decisis, a 6-4 majority reaffirmed Cybor.   The majority pointed out that since Cybor was decided, Congress has not acted to overturn it while enacting other patent legislation during that time. They further explained that predictability and consistency favor maintaining the status quo. Consistency is a concern particularly relevant in patent law...

Akamai and the Question on Joint Infringement on Method Claims in the Supreme Court

On April 30, 2014, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear opening arguments [1] for a landmark case found in patent law casebooks, Akamai Technologies, Inc. v. Limelight Networks, Inc., whereby the Federal Circuit, sitting en banc, held in a 6-5 ruling that a defendant may be held liable for inducing patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b) when no direct infringement occurred under 35 U.S.C. § 271(a). [2] 35 U.S.C. § 271 states: “(a) … whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent. (b) Whoever actively induces infringement of a patent shall be liable as an infringer…” The Federal Circuit overruled its own precedence set in BMC Resources, Inc. v. Paymentech, L.P., which had previously held that induced infringement requires a single party to commit all steps of a method constituting direct infringement under § 271(a).  In Akamai, neither Limelight nor its customers performed all of the steps, but nevertheless Limelight was found liable because Akamai and its customers jointly performed all steps.  The court reasoned that a party who actually participates in performing the infringing method should be “more culpable than another one who does not perform any steps” but instead induces another to do so. [3] Arguments supporting Judge Newman’s 35-page dissent include imposing an unfair obligation on businesses to speculate on potential future uses by a third-party buyer or user, the increased discovery costs to an already expensive procedure, and the potential for erroneously imposing liability on supplying non-infringing products and services. [4] ...

IRS Ruling Declares Bitcoin Will Be Taxed As Property

On March 25, 2014, the Internal Revenue Service issued a ruling declaring that it will tax virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, as property. This ruling could have significant effects on the way that consumers use Bitcoin. The implication of the ruling is that Bitcoin can no longer operate as an alternative form of currency because any transaction using Bitcoin as consideration will lead to a capital gain or loss for the person paying with Bitcoin. Bitcoin fluctuates drastically in value, which means that almost every transaction using Bitcoin will result in some sort of gain or loss which will now be taxable at capital gains rates. So, for example, if a person buys a Bitcoin for $10 and uses it to purchase an item for $15, he or she will be required to pay capital gains tax on the $5 increase in value. The extreme value fluctuation, however, also explains why the IRS’s ruling may not be as extreme as some commentators suggest. It is, in fact, this value fluctuation which has led consumers to use Bitcoin primarily as an investment medium, like gold, silver, and other commodities, rather than as actual currency. The rapidly changing value of Bitcoin provides plenty of room for investors to try to maximize value by betting on the increase or decrease of the technological commodity. There are also significant administrative restrictions which will make the IRS’s ruling difficult, if not impossible, to enforce, at least with respect to the average individual. In order to determine the amount of capital gains tax an individual owes to the U.S. government, he or she will have...

Keurig Walls Off the Garden by Shutting Out Third Party K-cups

Keurig, the single serve coffee machine produced by Green Mountain, is nearly ubiquitous in offices, homes, and schools around the country. The device rose to popularity on the back of the K-cup, the single serve pods produced by Green Mountain that allowed a single cup of hundreds of different coffee, tea, and chocolate drinks to be brewed in a matter of seconds. Green Mountain made $3.9 billion in sales in 2012, with 2.7 billion coming from K-cup sales. Keurig was able to maintain strong sales of its K-cups because of several patents on the design and features of the K-cup. However, in September 2012, U.S. Patent Nos. 5,353,765 and 5,840,189 expired. These two patents covered the original K-cup design. Their expiry has opened the door for generic knockoff K-cups to flood the market. Green Mountain claims that the design covered by these patents is outdated and has been superseded by new and improved designs covered under patents that are still in force, including, U.S. Patent Nos. 6,645,537 and the still pending Application No. 20050051478. However, many generic K-cups are already on the market and work in Keurig’s brewing machines. While Keurig claims that generic K-cups will continue to make up less than 15% of the total K-cup market and stress that their current design is superior to any competing product, Green Mountain is clearly worried about the generic threat. In early March of this year Green Mountain announced “Keurig 2.0,” an improved brewing device that would be launching as early as the fall of 2014. Among other changes over previous models, the new Keurig brewer will contain technology that...