IT Confidential: Patent Law, Train Wrecks, Shoe Stores - InformationWeek
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06:55 PM
John Soat
John Soat

IT Confidential: Patent Law, Train Wrecks, Shoe Stores

IP WEATHER REPORT. Mark Twain famously observed that everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. The same could be said about the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, of which much has been said recently, almost none of it good. But last week, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced the Patent Reform Act of 2005, legislation intended to "reform certain patent practices that disrupt the operations of high-tech companies and other businesses," according to a statement from the congressman's office. The patent bill is intended to address some of the concerns the technology industry, such as inadequately vetted patents; vague or overly simple patents, especially in terms of Internet-related technology; "patent wars," where deep-pocketed companies pile up patents to use as competitive weapons; and "patent trolls," who buy patents to wring license money from intimidated companies. "The bill will eliminate legal gamesmanship from the current system that rewards lawsuit abuses over creativity," Smith said. The new patent law would address these issues by, among other things, allowing more vetting, making the appeal process easier, and by giving judges less leeway to grant injunctions in patent cases.

TECHNOLOGY TRAIN WRECK. There are legendary, spectacular technology flops--Nike and its supply-chain project comes to mind--but none as spectacular, or as legendary, as the Denver International Airport's automated baggage system, which was finally shut down last week. News photos from the system's premature debut in 1994 of chewed-up and strewn-about baggage told the whole story. The bar-coded, computerized, trolley-based baggage system, designed and implemented by BAE Automated Systems, was intended to be a marvel of late-20th-century technology, but instead became a symbol of poor planning and overexpectation. Denver turned the system over to United Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002. United says it will return to a completely manual baggage-handling system.

DISINTERMEDIATE THIS. Procter & Gamble said last week it's shutting down its E-business venture. The online cosmetic and hair-care retailer debuted with much fanfare in September 1999 (see Reflect, based in San Francisco, exemplified dot-com concepts like "mass customization" (selling to a mass Internet audience as individual consumers) and "disintermediation" (trying not to alienate your third-party retailers). Reflect was launched as a partnership with Silicon Valley venture-capital firm Institutional Venture Partners, with a joint $50 million investment.

OHIO GETS TOUGH. Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro brought a lawsuit against DSW Shoe Warehouse last week to force the Columbus company to contact all 700,000 consumers affected by the recent theft of credit-card data. DSW said in March that consumer data related to transactions at its stores from November through February had been compromised. DSW said it was working with credit-card companies to contact as many customers as possible.

I haven't bought a new pair of shoes in years. But my wife might be in trouble. Then again, credit-card thieves couldn't rack up more transactions than she does--just kidding! If you've got a spouse joke, or an industry tip, send it to or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about patents, train wrecks, or customer data, meet me at the Listening Post:

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

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