"Crimes against the public domain, willful ignorance of prior art, and egregious display of obviousness," are all words the San Francisco-based civil liberties organization is using in its recent campaign against bad patents.
After launching a "Patent Busting Project" in April, the EFF has set its sights on keeping the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) on its toes and more alert to patent submissions that have chilling effects on Internet innovation and free expression.
The EFF announced Wednesday the ten most "wanted" patents that the organization will target first in its campaign to rid the world of "frivolous" software and Internet patent infringement lawsuits.
In some cases, EFF's patent-busting process involves pinpointing certain patents that have been approved by the PTO and then requesting a reexamination. The process first entails a formal letter submitted to the PTO regarding a particular patent. Then the patent holder gets a chance to respond to the request for reexamination. The EFF gets another rebuttal after that, and then it is up to the PTO to review the patent and make another determination regarding its validity.
In Acacia's case, the EFF will include all mentions of prior art in a formal letter requesting reexamination and then send it to the PTO, with no back and forth between EFF and Acacia.
"What we want to see is an end to these threats," Jason Schultz, the attorney who heads up the project, told XBiz. "If that same result happens as a result of the lawsuit, then we're done. If it doesn't, then we will continue to pursue our project to try and achieve the same goal."
According to Schultz, every single one of the patents on EFF's target list is held by a business or individual that has threatened or brought lawsuits against small businesses or nonprofits in an effort to enforce their patents.
"Patents are meant to protect companies against giant competitors, not to help them prey on folks who can barely afford a lawyer," Schultz continued. "We hope our project will not only assist the victims of these abusive patents but also help make the case for global reform of the patent system."
Patent holders on the list include: Acacia, owner of five U.S. patents that the company claims control all streaming audio and video over the Internet, cable, and satellite channels; Acceris, which claims that its patents cover Voice over Internet Protocol technology; Clear Channel Entertainment, which claims to own a system and method of creating digital recordings of live performances; and Sheldon F. Goldberg, patent holder for a system and method for playing games on a network.
Other "wanted" patents include Ideaflood, patent holder for a system apparatus and method for hosting and assigning domain names on a wide area network; Neomedia Technologies, which claims to own a system and method for automatic access of a remote computer over a network; Testcom; Ninetendo; Seer Systems; and Firepond, which holds patents on a system that uses natural language processing to respond to customers' online inquiries by email.
According to Schultz, the timeline for bringing the patents' validity to light is not known, but in Acacia's case, EFF is watching the Acacia vs. New Destiny Internet Group lawsuit very closely.
"We're watching the lawsuits that are going on and we are going to see what the judge does and then formulate our strategy from there," said Schultz. "As far as a timeline is concerned, it depends on how quickly we gather prior art and pull everything together."
As the patent-busting project moves forward, Schultz and the team at EFF expect to continue to pursue other patents that are generally thought to be overly broad and frivolous.