From ZDnet Asia:
Long story short, Singapore-based Vuestar Technologies has hit the town with a stern message that any company that uses photos and graphics to link to other Web sites or Web pages, must obtain a "license of use" from Vuestar. It has begun sending out notification letters to selected companies, urging them to sign a licensing agreement in order to continue using image linking, legally.VueStar -- www.vuestar.biz -- a Singapore-registered company (not Singaporean per se) has asked companies and individuals to pay up in order to use its technology for ‘locating Web pages by utilising visual images’.
As I understand it, VueStar is not bringing people to court. Yet.
They are telling individuals to pay them.
Because Vuestar holds the patent to what it says is the technology whereby websites "use visual images to hyperlink to parts of the worldwide web":
Meaning, if you access a webpage by clicking on any of the images in this blog, you're using their technology. Since Google owns Blogger.com, then VueStar has a case against Google.
Or so it seems.
My instant gut-reaction was that VueStar is using the threat of law, not the actual law itself, to scare individuals into compliance.
But my post isn't only about Vuestar's claims.
It's about a Singaporean who decided create a website for the purpose of refuting VueStar patent claims, aptly named "Refute VueStar Patent".
It's poetic that a Singaporean has initiated this against a Singapore-registered company.
Initially her site was named "SueVueStar.biz" but I suggested to her that "Refute VueStar" might be a better term. Less acrimonious.
Alice explains why she set up the site, here.
Clearly, it's active citizenry in action.
Alice also tells me the matter is quite complicated.
She adds that in VueStar's case, there are 39 claims to the patent. The defendent has to refute all 39 claims.
It seems that patents rights will always be enforced until the patent is invalidated. Or at least till there is an application for re-examination.
Kevin points me to Lawrence Lessig's 1999 article on "The Problem with Patents", and now I can better appreciate why Lessig feels there's a problem. Here's a quote:
On average it takes $1.2 million to challenge the validity of a patent, which means it is often cheaper simply to pay the royalties than to establish that the patent isn't deserved.That's USD $1.2 million, at 1999 dollars.
I can believe how some companies in the US can make it their business to just file patents and claim payments or damages.
To me, the sad part is that the whole issue is less about Intellectual Property rights, but more about attrition, i.e. whoever cannot afford the legal fees (and loss of time) may choose to pay up rather than go to court.
It reminds me of gangsters extorting money from commoners, who choose to pay "protection fees" rather than fight the gangsters.
I suppose every business has its risks.
And educated bullies.
I feel an impotent rage right now.
But I take comfort in knowing at least one Singaporean is doing what she can to be constructive about it.
[Update: I shared this case with some web developers I know, like Divya. I was interested in how the Singapore web developer community would react. At first, Divya was ambivalent towards it. But after further discussion, she thought it might be prudent to think further about the implications of this case.
I think we need to do that -- discuss and raise awareness. While we cannot directly effect a change in US patent law, the least we can do is to raise awareness among those who might be affected.]
Some related posts:
- Simply Jean: Imaging linking is patented, websites and blogs affected, Advertlets, Nuffnang and Blog2U may have to call it a day, 27 May 2008
- Hong Kiat: You breached our patent by using images as links - says Vuestar, 27 May 2008 (check out the comments in the post)
- Alice Cheong: Analysis of a prior art refuting patent troll VueStar claims, 2 June 2008
Next: Part 2 - "Why you might want to care"