Co-authored by Brian Gross 

Wikipedia SOPA BlackoutIf you’re like me (and 375 million others), then you use Google as your primary search engine, and like most Google users, we are accustomed to seeing the occasional “Doodle” in place of the familiar Google logo. In case you didn’t know, Doodles are the spontaneous and fun changes that Google makes to its logo to celebrate holidays, anniversaries and other historic milestones. But on January 18th, Google users did not find a colorful Doodle, instead the familiar Google logo was shrouded in black. The reason? Well, there are two actually; SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act, Senate Bill 968). These twin bills are currently before the House and Senate, and if passed would provide prosecutors of the Justice Department greater powers to combat foreign-based websites that facilitate pirated content to users in the United States. On its face, this goal appears righteous enough. However, opponents of the these bills, including internet powerhouses like Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and Google claim that if passed these laws will “jeopardize freedom and shift power of the independent web into the hands of corporations.” 

Wednesday’s internet SOPA Black Out, which included not only Google’s grim logo but a complete block of the Wikipedia website was the first coordinated effort by the aforementioned opponents in an effort to promote public awareness and understanding of exactly what these bills will do to inhibit people’s access to online information; and it may have actually worked to some degree, on Wednesday United States Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) tweeted “Anti- #PIPA, #SOPA traffic has temporarily shut down our website.” That wasn’t the only fallout from the blackout, it appears that many of the politicians who originally supported these bills are now publically announcing their opposition. A recent article posted by Time Magazine’s online blog Techland reported that after the blackout

at least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members have announced their opposition.

However, proponents of the bills still remain, and while there are already laws in place to help combat online piracy such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) of 1998, these proponents are claiming that these new bills will target the “rogue” websites that avoid US copyright law and are currently out of DCMA’s reach.  So what does all this mean for law abiding citizens who don’t engage in online pirating? Plenty actually.

Consider the following:

  • Because the wording contained in these bills is vague and the penalties steep for any site accused of “enabling or facilitating piracy”, there exists the very real potential for abuse – even being associated with a “rogue” site may be enough to land you in trouble with Uncle Sam.
  • Taken one step further, it is possible that blogs or sites where you can post ideas – even kitchen recipes – could land you in jail for a maximum of 5 years under the current versions of these laws!
  • SOPA and PIPA build a framework for future restrictions and suppression,


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patent reform billOn September 16, 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law the America Invents Act, a statute which may bring about the most comprehensive overhaul to our nation’s patent system since 1836.  The America Invents Act promises to bring United States patent law into conformity with international patent law (a necessity in a global-market).  One of the ways in which it will do so is by effectuating a change from a “first to invent” to a “first to file” system.  In addition, the Act restricts the way defendants may be joined in patent litigation.  The White House maintains that the changes in the patent system brought about by this Act will spur the creation of jobs, cut red tape, and reduce unnecessary patent-related litigation between competing innovators.  There are numerous critics, however, who believe the Act will, in fact, kill jobs, deter innovation, and harm small business at the expense of large corporations.

A patent is a set of rights furnished an inventor relative to a new object, process or design.   The patent system is intended to protect the inventor from competitors by providing the inventor the exclusive rights to market, manufacture, and sell the invention for the term of the patent.  This right is bestowed upon the inventor by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), in exchange for making the invention available to the public.  In order to obtain a patent, the inventor must submit an application to the USPTO, and provide a list of “prior art” from which their invention was derived.   In order to receive a patent, an invention must be “novel” or take the “non-obvious” next step of a prior invention.

Although the America Invents Act touches on virtually every aspect of patent law, perhaps the most significant change in U.S. patent law will result from the enactment of a “first to invent” system of patent registration, a system currently employed internationally.   Under the current U.S. system, when there are rival patent applicants, the patent is awarded to the applicant who was first to invent the subject of the underlying patent, regardless of who filed their patent application first.  Although this system seems fair, it often leads to lengthy and expensive litigation, as both applicants attempt to prove that they first conceived the subject idea.   Moreover, the current system allows an inventor who conceived an idea, but who is not taking steps to realize their innovation, to stand in the way of other inventors who invest time and money to bring a similar idea to fruition.  In other words, many times the current system employed in the United States stands in the way of innovation rather than promoting it.  Under the “first to file” system, however, a patent is awarded to whomever first files their patent application.  The new system should provide a bright line rule which is expected to reduce litigation between competing applicants and diminish the backlog of applications, which currently stands at roughly 750,000.  In addition, by forcing inventors
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