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Uber Sued for Patent Infringement by Google's Self-Driving Car Division

Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who developed self-driving car technology for Google, has been looking behind him ever since he left the company last year to found a start-up. Now the image in his rear view mirror has suddenly come into focus.

Waymo, the self-driving car division at Google, has filed a lawsuit alleging that Levandowski took its technology and sold it to a competitor. Levandowski, who sold his company to Uber for $680 million seven months after he left Google, knew that it was coming.

When does something constitute a 'substantial portion of the components of a patented invention' under the Patent Act? Not when that thing is only one of many components, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday, in a fun little case involving DNA testing, international supply chains, and patent law.

The case, Life Technologies v. Promega, involves a patent on a genetic testing kit made of five components. The Promega company was the exclusive licensee of that patent and licensed Life Technologies for the manufacture and sale of the kids to law enforcement. All but one of the kits five components, the Taq polymerase, were manufactured in the U.K. Life then shipped the Taq polymerase to the U.K. to be combined. After four years of this, Promega sued, claiming that Life Technologies had infringed the patent. Liability, according to Promega, was trigged by the shipment of the Taq polymerase abroad.

When it comes to technology and the law there are plenty of unanswered questions. Some of these we'll have a long time to ponder. We can debate, for example, the legal implications of robot intelligence for a few years still. Others are more urgent, like who owns the patent on one of the most promising gene editing techniques, or how should the law respond to self-sailing ships. All of them, we think, are interesting.

So, to keep you pondering, and perhaps to provide some insight, here are our top unresolved questions arising from the intersection of law and technology, gathered from the FindLaw archives.

SiriusXM Radio Wins Copyright Battle in NY Appeals Court

If only life were as simple as the songwriters say, like in the hit song from the the Turtles' "Happy Together."

Perhaps one day, when theoretical physicists unravel the mysteries of string theory and the harmonics of the universe, everybody will live in music-like unison. But in the litigious meantime, Flo & Eddie and other musicians from before 1972 will have to be happy with a settlement that is still unsettled.

After a legal setback in a New York case, the class action plaintiffs will be looking forward to payment through another case that settled in California. The settlement amount depends on the results of cases pending in the U.S. Second, Ninth and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeal.

President Trump is an avid Twitter user, but otherwise avoids technology. (The president doesn't own a personal computer and rarely sends email, according to reports.) Justice Scalia once wondered, during oral arguments, whether one could print off text messages and share them with their friends.

Now Trump has nominated Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch to take Scalia's place. Where does Gorsuch stand on technology generally and how might he impact technology and the law if he makes it to the Supreme Court?

The Ninth Circuit hung fast to its volitional conduct rule in copyright claims last week, while making it a bit harder for copyright holders to go after online service providers for copyright infringement. In a dispute over pornography posted on Usenet (yes, apparently Usenet still exists), the Ninth reaffirmed that plaintiffs must show "volitional conduct" by tech services accused of infringing their copyrights. Simply allowing users to exchange infringing works isn't enough.

The Supreme Court's 2014 Aereo ruling, which found a copyright violation when a company rebroadcast TV programs over the internet, doesn't change the Ninth's long-standing rule, the court explained.

Star Trek Fan Fiction Suit Settles

This notable fan fiction case has been pending in federal court for about a year. Paramount, which owns the rights to the Star Trek television and movie franchise, sued a small studio for producing a "fan fiction" film called "Axanar" based on the popular sci-fi enterprise.

According to the recent settlement, the fan-film producers can finish their movie but cannot make money from it, and the movie can only last a total of 30 minutes.

It was a bittersweet resolution for Alec Peters and Axanar Productions, Inc., but they joined in a press release announcing the settlement last week: "Paramount and CBS would like Star Trek fans, with their boundless creativity and passion, to 'Live Long and Prosper.'"

You've written a song -- a successful one, maybe. Long after it has fallen off the charts, it's picked up and sampled in a new hit. Suddenly, it's showing up in commercials, with your vocals highlighted, but without your permission.

Most lawyers would recommend pursuing a copyright claim, but that's not the path being taken by Jerome Lawson, lead singer of The Persuasions, whose 1971 song "Good Times" was sampled in Jaime xx's "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" and subsequently used to advertise the iPhone 6. Lawson, who filed suit against Apple on Tuesday, claims the use violates his right of publicity -- a novel, and unusual, approach to the sampling dispute.

Shiva Ayyadurai wants to be known as the man who created email -- so much so that he once trademarked the phrase "the inventor of email." Ayyadurai says he came up with "the electronic mail system as we know it today," in 1978, when he was a 14-year-old boy in New Jersey. It's an assertion some support. Others, however, have questioned Ayyadurai's claims, stating that email existed well before 1978. Techdirt was just one blog to make that argument, and is currently facing a $15 million libel suit from Ayyadurai as a result.

Here's one interesting wrinkle from this complicated case: Ayyadurai's suit makes the somewhat puzzling claim that the U.S. government has legally recognized him as email's inventor -- because he registered the copyright for email.

If you give 1,000 monkeys 1,000 typewriters, sooner or later they'll get around to writing "Hamlet" -- or so the theory goes. But what if those primates do a little bit more than just stumble across "Alas, poor Yorick"? What if they come up with something wholly novel?

That's not too likely, at least not with typing primates, but it's already happening with creative computers and artificial intelligence. Rather than banging aimlessly until they randomly invent something, some of today's artificial intelligence programs are designed to be creative, giving rise to a new influx of "nonhuman inventors" -- and raising some interesting legal questions in the process.