links for 2010-02-07
The Washington region was paralyzed by a blizzard that dumped more than two feet of heavy snow on the area by late Saturday, knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of people, toppling trees and reducing many streets to pedestrian pathways. Almost 218,000 homes and business were without power at the outages’ peak, and many had no heat midday Saturday at the height of the storm. By late last night, about 140,000 were still in the dark. Pepco advised customers to seek other lodging, saying it could take days to restore power to everyone. Some residents abandoned their cold, dark houses and checked into hotels. Others were trapped on side streets as snowplows concentrated on keeping major arteries clear.
For a company that makes no products, Acacia Research (ACTG) spends a lot of time fighting over patents in court. Acacia has filed at least 337 patent-related lawsuits in its 18 years. To make money—sales are expected to rise to $68.8 million this year, from $34.8 million in 2006—Acacia acquires patents from inventors and then seeks fees from companies that it says infringe on those patents. Because Acacia licenses technologies it doesn’t design or distribute, it is known as a “nonpracticing entity.” Executives at many tech companies—and their investors—call Acacia and its peers a different name: “patent trolls.”
Utter the term “patent troll” in tech circles and you’re likely to elicit a visceral reaction. Said trolls are companies that acquire patents and seek payment from companies they claim are infringing on those patents. They’re viewed by many as blights on the tech landscape, looking to make money from patents that shouldn’t have been granted in the first place, thereby forcing companies to spend billions of dollars in legal fees and slowing innovation. Even the more polite equivalent—nonpracticing entity (NPE)—suggests a company that fails to produce something of lasting value. Both phrases are [Karl] Rovian in their ability to use emotional appeal to distract from the underlying issues, specifically the reasons why nonpracticing entities exist and may be vital to providing access to innovation.
The US House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a bill aimed at protecting the Internet and vulnerable computer networks by funding cybersecurity research and training. “Securing cyberspace is vitally important to both our safety and our national economy,” Representative David Wu, a Democrat from Oregon, said following passage of the Cybersecurity Enhancement Act. “We cannot stand by and let the most powerful tool for connecting Americans with each other and the world remain the Wild West of technology,” he added. The cybersecurity legislation, which was approved by a vote of 422 to five, allocates funding to improve cybersecurity in the federal government and the public and private sectors.