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Texas Judge Sets Chilling Tone for Patent Trolls

If there is one term in the legal community that generates widespread disdain, it's "patent troll." The term isn't exactly what we would call objective. But an ironic ruling by a US District Judge in Texas can be celebrated as a small victory against those who make a business out of filing bogus claims.

"The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them." Isaiah 11:6.

Are the end times upon us? Surely some revelation is at hand. Because only cosmic intervention can explain the announcement yesterday from eternal rivals Google and Microsoft: the two tech giants have come to "an agreement on patent issues" and will dismiss all pending patent litigation -- about 20 lawsuits in total.

If you wanted to know how your Model T was working, you would open the hood. If you want to see what's going on in your car today, you can still look under the hood -- but you can't look into the dozens of software programs that make you automobile go vroom. That private, encrypted software is protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it illegal to circumvent measures meant to keep proprietary software private.

Now, those IP protections are coming under fire, following revelations that Volkswagen installed secret software to evade emissions tests and violate pollution regulations. Had inspectors been able to peak under the digital hood, they may have spotted the deception earlier.

You know about patent trolls -- owners of questionable patents who file frequent frivolous lawsuits, often looking for a quick settlement from their corporate targets. We've seen patent trolls go after hapless wankers, giant companies like Apple and AT&T, and everyone who's ever used a firewall.

Now, Patexia, an intellectual property company that relies on crowdsourced subject matter expertise, is looking to help companies fight back. Patexia recently launched a "Coalition Funding Initiative" to help companies threatened by frivolous patent litigation share costs and knock out potential threats through inter partes review.

The technology world is full of hackers and they're not all identity thieves, anti-adultery activists, or Chinese saboteurs. Instead, many are so-called "white hat" hackers, computer security experts who specialize in finding flaws in others' systems. These white hat hackers are an important, respected part of the computer security ecosystem.

Which is what makes a recent dispute between computer security companies so surprising. FireEye is a security firm that reports on flaws in Adobe, Apple, and Google, and provides its own malware protection products. And now it's suing a German security firm to keep it from doing essentially the same thing that FireEye does -- reporting dangerous flaws in FireEye's own products.

Machine learning is becoming ever more common. Artificial intelligence programs like IBM's Watson can gobble up huge corpuses of knowledge, attempting to recreate human cognitive processes. These self-teaching machines can learn how to create novel recipes, master Jeopardy, or answer legal questions.

The technology poses major questions, not just for lawyers but for the law itself. Take, for example, automatic sales pricing algorithms, the type that are already common in online trading and travel booking. A machine learning program, applied to such algorithms, could possibly learn the benefits of price fixing, according to a recent scholarly article from the Oxford Centre for Competition Law and Policy, raising significant antitrust concerns.

You might remember Aereo, the Internet startup that allowed individuals to watch broadcast T.V., including local programming, online. Traditional broadcasters and cable companies hated it and sued. The case eventually ended up before the Supreme Court, where Aereo lost. The company filed for bankruptcy just a few months later.

But the dream of Internet-based television didn't die with Aereo. Other companies, including FilmOn X, are picking up Aereo's model and are surviving court challenges, at least for now.

Remember back in the early days of the Internet, when websites came in three simple sizes and no one talked back to their elders? Once upon a time all you had to know was .com, .org, and .edu -- maybe a if you were worldly. Those days have long gone.

Today, there's domain suffixes for every whim and fancy, from .ninja to .xxx. Soon, there will be .law. Here's how you can become a dot law'er, along with a quick look at the shadowy Internet bureaucracy that controls dot everything.

Michelle Lee took over as head of the United States Patent and Trademark Office three months ago and has already started to effect changes. Lee, who was the first woman to hold the position of USPTO Director, promised to use her experience in tech, science, and the law to change the way the Office operates.

Some of those changes are starting to go into effect, as the patent office begins to update its technology, implement open data initiatives, and to reach out beyond Washington, D.C.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has made a name for itself as a watchdog of online privacy, defender against government surveillance, and strong critic of intellectual property abuses. The nonprofit, self described as "defending civil liberties in the digital world," is no stranger to litigation. It often acts as plaintiff or amici in strategic litigation. But it seems like it may be a defendant, as the group has been sued for the very first time.

A lawyer who was the subject of an EFF "Stupid Patent of the Month" blog post has sued the group, claiming it defamed him as both an attorney and an inventor. EFF's monthly shaming called out the attorney-inventor, Scott Horstemeyer, for not only making stupid patents, but being connected to a notorious patent troll. The post caused Horstemeyer to cry foul -- and defamation.