The Patent Troll of Tyler
Tyler, Texas, a city with less than half the population of Scottsdale, was recently the unlikely location of a legal battle that had threatened the very foundation of the Internet as we know it. It was here that an obscure biologist from Chicago, Dr. Michael Doyle of Eolas Technologies, filed suit challenging ownership of what is termed the “interactive web,” or the ability to interact with a web page allowing the user to play video, rotate a picture, and other interactive features we use online every day.
The legal battle stems from what many consider to be obsolete and overly lax software patent laws in the United States that allow a patent on computer software. While software code is “written” and can be copyrighted to protect unlawful duplication, a patent can protect an idea or broadly defined functionality of software, even if the technology itself is obsolete. According to the Eolas website, in 1993 Dr. Doyle, working at the University of California – San Francisco, “led a research team that developed fundamental web technologies that resulted in the patent, which enabled Web browsers for the first time to act as platforms for fully-interactive embedded applications.” The problem is that he never actually produced any commercially successful technology and instead created Eolas Technologies much later for the express purpose of engaging in litigation on this and other obscure patents they had collected. The popular term for a business established to engage in predatory litigation in this manner is patent troll. Typically, patent trolls engage smaller businesses that can’t afford the resources to oppose litigation in court and are forced to settle for a more reasonable amount.
Eolas, which moved its address from Chicago to Texas by maintaining a very small office in Tyler, presumably reasoned they had a better chance of successful litigation from jurors in Tyler rather than Silicon Valley or Chicago. The Eastern District of Texas had become a hotspot for aggressive litigation by patent trolls. In any case, the eight person jury took only a few hours to deliberate and ruled in favor of the various big name player such as Google, Yahoo, JCPenny, and others who went to Tyler to stand up and fight rather than roll over and settle for what was a crucial and pivotal threat to internet commerce. The decision is based more on details over a timeline rather than the patent laws themselves so while the case is important, it may not set the precedent needed to stop other patent trolls.
Eolas Technologies, which had previously been successful with a suit against Microsoft, was outgunned this time and it’s likely they’ll be down for at least the short term. Although Eolas will likely appeal this decision it may be years before we hear from them again. In the meantime, patent trolls will continue to exploit outdated laws and attempt to bully smaller, less powerful businesses that often are forced to settle under threats rather than deal with the costly litigation they simply can’t afford.
In most divorce cases, there are three (four if there are children involved) components addressed as divorcing couples find a resolution they can both live with. The pieces include legal, emotional, financial and co-parenting (if applicable). Often the areas with the shortest lifespan gain the most attention, while the areas with the greatest potential for negative consequences are ignored or assumed addressed by professionals working outside their area of expertise. This is a mistake with potential long lasting consequences.
The initial filing and the final signing of the decree often mark the beginning and end of the legal process. Whether self-representing with the help of a support group or completing the legal piece with a legal advocate, most couples gain professional assistance with this portion of their divorce. The legal pieces of the divorce puzzle ends (hopefully) with the signing of the decree. The legal component has a finite life (again, hopefully).
The emotional piece of the divorce puzzle may be the most important aspect of divorce. People tend to make bad decisions in an emotional state. Fear, greed, anger, betrayal and many other emotions are common place during the divorce process. Making decisions while in an emotional state provides opportunity for negative consequences as the couple enters post divorce life. Most divorce participants seek support in this area. Whether from qualified professionals, friends, family, support groups or religious organizations, divorce participants typically gain support. Time may not heal all wounds, but it arguably dampens them.
Financial decisions are often based on emotions and made without an understanding of long term consequences for one or both participants. The financial goal of divorce should be to provide a solution in which BOTH participants move forward during their post divorce life (from a financial perspective). A financial divorce plan allows the couple to review the expected (based on assumptions) outcome of their proposed settlement. This plan addresses the typical questions of “will I have enough money to live?” and the opposing question “why am I paying this amount?” Understanding the expected outcome provides peace of mind for both participants. The benefit of this knowledge provides a lower likelihood of returning to court (or other option) post divorce – for financial reasons. Another benefit includes shortening the overall process as many divorce proceedings are extended (increasing the cost) while couples “fight” over what they “deserve” or are “entitled to”. Unfortunately, time does not dampen bad financial decisions; time tends to increase the costs of bad decisions.
When children are involved, couples will create a co-parenting plan. The plan should include input from the children when applicable (which is most of the time). The couple may create a plan based on what is best for them, rather than what is best for the family in whole (with an emphasis on the children). Monday and Tuesday at dad’s, Wednesday and Thursday at moms with alternating weekends (insert other proposals) may sound reasonable for the adults, but may not be what is best for the children. When children are involved, the couple will be a family for a lifetime. The decisions made during the divorce process will determine the couple’s post divorce relationship and help shape the child’s life. Co-parenting plans need to address so much more than just which days are spent at which residence. Bad decisions can create negative outcomes for not only the couple’s lifetime, but the children’s as well.
It is crucial that couples understand how decisions made today will set the stage for their life – post divorce. Unfortunately, the decisions with the longest potential impact – money and children – are often given the least amount of time and resources or handed to professionals practicing outside their area of expertise. Both participants in the divorce process should understand each component listed above and any other areas specific to their situation. When the couple addresses all the key components of divorce, the potential for future costs – emotional and financial – are lessened. Ignoring one or more crucial considerations can lead to heavy future costs.
If you were to inform me that you (or someone you care about) are planning to divorce, my first question would be, “How do you plan to divorce?” This question catches most people by surprise. Too often, the couple lacks the knowledge of the various choices available and therefore the corresponding costs and benefits of each option. Deciding how to divorce is a critical step in this often difficult process. This choice has a direct impact on your post-divorce life. Some questions you could consider when determining the solution that is best for you include:
Do you understand the long-term impact of the financial, legal and parental decisions stated in your final agreement?
Would you benefit from voluntary full-disclosure of information?
Would you prefer to keep your divorce private?
Should you make the financial, legal, emotional and parenting decisions or should those decisions be left to the court?
Would you benefit from professional guidance by experts in their areas of expertise?
What is the long-term cost (emotionally and financially) of coming to a resolution that one or both participants CAN’T live with?
A divorce can be one of the most costly – emotionally and financially – periods in your life. If you or someone you care about is getting divorced, take the time to understand all your options before proceeding. Reviewing the important aspects of divorce may “cost” more today. Yet, knowing you came to an informed decision, one that you and your soon-to-be ex spouse can live with, will undoubtedly minimize the costs in the long run.
- Where will you live?It’s an obvious question that many people fail to consider. It is very rare for couples to successfully live in the same home while a divorce is pending. Two households are more expensive than one, so you need to figure out how to pay the extra expenses ahead of time. One’s standard of living usually drops somewhat during a divorce but it’s always best to have a plan.
- What bills will each of you pay?Divorcing couples often sever their financial ties soon after filing for divorce – separate bank accounts and separate bills. While you may be able to cancel some joint financial obligations, you will likely have mortgage payments, insurance, car payments, etc. that both of you are obligated to pay. Leaving it to for a judge will cost you additional time and expense so it’s always best to find solutions on your own.
- If you own a home, will you keep it or sell it?Traditionally, if one spouse is going to keep the house they must refinance it to get the other’s name off the mortgage and pay half the equity to the other spouse. The other option is to simply sell the home and split the proceeds. One result of the housing crisis has been that many people are upside down on their homes, which changes things considerably. You must look at your individual circumstances to decide what is best.
- How are you going to divide personal property?Generally, divorcing couples are able to divide their personal belongings but occasionally emotional attachments interfere with rational decision-making. First, identify those items that are most important to you. Prioritizing is important because odds are that your spouse’s high priority items aren’t the same as yours. This allows you to offer lower-priority items in exchange for higher ones. It often works out better for both parties.
- Do you have access to short-term funds?Divorce is expensive. You double the number of households you support without increasing your income and will likely have attorney’s fees as well. This is especially difficult if you are unemployed or your spouse was the primary source of your family’s income. You need to have access to a source of available funds to get you through this transitional time. Eventually, you may be able to get child support and/or spousal maintenance, but you cannot count on that to provide all of your needs. Use your savings, seek help from family members if possible. If absolutely necessary, use credit cards for cash advances or remove funds from retirement accounts to get through this difficult time.
- What is your plan for long-term income?If you work full time, you will probably continue working as usual, although if you will be paying child support and/or spousal support, you may need to look for ways to increase your income through a promotion, a new job, or a new career. If you are unemployed, are working part time, or have a low-paying job, you may need to explore your options. If you expect to receive spousal support, consider going back to school – it will be much more difficult once child support or spousal maintenance expires.