Report from the NuSphere v. MySQL AB Court Hearing

Hi All:

I just returned from the hearing for a preliminary injunction on the NuSphere/MySQL case. Here are some initial reactions, many of which are not original to me.

First, the headline: There was nothing to suggest that the GPL itself or free software is in danger, although the judge is unlikely to rule in MySQL’s favor on this preliminary injunction.

The details: Judge Saris was surprised by the number of people attending the hearing (around 20 to 30). I suspect she didn’t know this was being seen as the first test case of the GPL in court. She threw both sides off balance by announcing, before any arguments, that she had more or less made up her mind.

She said she was inclined to grant the defendant’s (MySQL AB) motion for a preliminary injunction with respect to the trademark issue (enjoining NuSphere from using MySQL’s registered trademark against MySQL’s wishes after their “temporary agreement” broke down) but was not inclined to grant the preliminary injunction against NuSphere from using the GPL’ed code at all. There followed about two hours of arguments, and when the Judge adjourned the hearing it seems she held the same views.

The judge did not want to get into issues of fact beyond their most minimally necessary. Although her technical knowledge was limited, she realized that it could take several hours and probably several days to fully explore the technical side of things, and she wanted to make her decision today after this hearing, particularly since people had traveled great distances to attend the hearing (including the two MySQL AB developers from Sweden).

Like most judges, Judge Saris was hoping this could be settled between the parties, particularly since the Court is not particularly well equipped to deal with the more technical issues of ‘statically and dynamically linked code’, etc. She urged the parties to use the remainder of their time in the courtroom to talk, and was trying to set up some mediation with a professional mediator or magistrate judge. One analysis is that she will grant one motion but not the other so as not to put either party in too powerful a position in an out-of-court settlement.

Although the court clearly didn’t understand the specifics of open source (she seemed to think “linking” code was analogous to hyperlinks on the web, and that a single package was like a single icon you would click on on the desktop), she did pretty clearly understand what the GPL is about, and said nothing to suggest she didn’t think it would be enforceable. The issue at hand was whether the facts required immediate injunctive relief. For preliminary injunctive relief, the Judge looks at:

  1. likelihood of prevailing on the merits
  2. immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage
  3. balance of harm to moving party vs. harm to non-moving party lies in moving party favor

It seemed like she might be convinced on (1), but she had trouble seeing how (2) was the case, so she was not particularly interested in hearing a lot of argument about whether or not the case would eventually prevail on the merits. She also was concerned that the injunction from using MySQL code at all would essentially destroy NuSphere’s entire business (despite the fact that they are a subsidiary of a $300M company), and thus found it hard to believe that the balance of harms would lie in MySQL AB’s favor.

It is thus likely that she will not actually address the terms of the GPL itself in her decision, which is a good thing, since there was so little expert testimony about it (Eben Moglen was present but was not given a chance to testify). Instead, I expect she will focus on the lack of proof of irreparable harm in a short opinion denying the motion.

The trademark issue was more clear cut. Under copyright law, non-permitted use of a trademark is presumptively irreparable harm. MySQL AB and NuSphere had previously had a provisionaly contract granting NuSphere the right to use MySQL’s trademark; however, the court found it convincing that that contract terminated (1) because it had a horizon date, after which further arrangements would need to be made, and (2) because NuSphere ceased making payments to MySQL AB. NuSphere wanted to argue that MySQL AB should be stopped from the claim because they took 18 months to bring suit about it (therefore, in NuSphere’s view, “acquiescing” to the continuation of the contract) but MySQL AB was in good faith negotiations for most of that time; once things did break down and MySQL AB learned that NuSphere had distributed MySQL along with proprietary software, then they did file suit fairly promptly.

I’d be happy to answer any questions about the proceedings for those who couldn’t make it.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. NuSphere probably figured they could probably violate the GPL and MySQL would not have the resources to sue them. This is probably true of most free software developers who have not assigned their copyrights to the FSF. After watching this hearing, it seems to me imperative that developers assign their copyrights to some party that will have the resources to enforce it (whether the FSF or some other organization). These violations can only become more common as GPL software becomes more powerful and widespread, and it is quite expensive to litigate against them.
  2. The GPL termination clause (section 4) is going to cause problems. Does the person who violates the GPL permanently lose their license until the licenser re-grants it, even if they bring their use back into compliance with the GPL? Can they not redownload the GPL’ed software and become a ‘fresh’ licensee? What if the original licenser can’t be located? Does this mean there is a “special class” of people in the world who can’t distribute GPL software for the rest of their lives because of some past action that has been cured? How are courts likely to view this interpretation? Is it good policy? These issues were quite present because it appears that NuSphere has substantially cured their prior violation (although there was a dispute of fact over whether they actually had fully cured it).

That’s it for now. The parties were given until August for discovery, although the judge urged them again to settle before that. It appears that a preliminary injunction against NuSphere to stop them from using the trademark (they will probably change the software name to something like “NuSphere Enhanced for MySQL”) will likely give them something on the order of three months to implement.

Why They’re Wrong About Critical Mass

Published in Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration [Powell’s Books], printed by AK Press.

“I have no problem with waving and smiling. I have no problem if the entire flow of traffic is going the speed of the Mass. I take offense at the times you run red lights, the times there are open spaces in front of the Mass and you still take up four lanes. I take offense at the claim you are celebrating biking, when you’re really trying to take revenge on what you perceive to be wrongs visited upon bikers by motorists.”

Mr. Hat, Frequent Pseudonymous Poster to the Boston Critical Mass E-mail List

“The reason I didn’t like it is because many cyclists did not follow respectful share the road rules. They were out to harrass cars. If i were in a car, I’d be really pissed. … They went against all the Effective Cycling rules.”

Rebecca Kushner, 4/11/00 (Public Posting to CM E-mail List)

“Their act is violence perpetrated upon the community. If their intent is to [resist by non-violent means], I invite them to join an advocacy group such as the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin which is working daily to eliminate the barriers and reduce the frustration felt by all cyclists and lots of motorists.”
Charles Gandy, Executive Director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition.

“The Critical Mass rides […] are misdirected, childish efforts at bicyclist advocacy.”
Kenneth O’Brien, Maine Area Effective Cyclist Advocate

“But which unjust laws are CM riders fighting against?”
Paul Schimek, Effective Cycling Instructor #422

A robust Critical Mass movement inevitably bumps up against fairly vocal folks who would prefer we stay off the streets at rush hour and not ruin the meager gains that have been won for bicyclists over the past few years. Disapproval is particularly acute when Critical Mass is just getting started in a city, where the staunchest CM critics are often the most dedicated bicycle advocates. After a while, some of the grumbling dies down and these advocates begin to accept CM’s presence, if not actively encourage it.

These criticisms present a useful gateway into how and why CM works. They bring to the forefront contrasting models of social change and particularly highlight the difference between so-called “liberal” or “reformist” modes of change and “radical” or “revolutionary” modes. I will discuss how CM brings out distinctions between these modes while at the same time encompassing them.

First, I’d like to make the usual apology that this is just my take on things. Anyone who claims to know the one true nature of Critical Mass is probably missing the point.

There is, in my view, a widespread misunderstanding, reflected in some of the quotes above, that a Critical Mass ride is trying to ‘demonstrate’ something to someone or convince people to change their minds about things, as if it were a novel form of reasoned argument. If we were to accept this view of the ‘purpose’ of Critical Mass, we would indeed be fair targets for a lot of criticism. If we’re trying to change people’s minds, why do we get in their way? Shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to make everybody like bicyclists? Sure, we hand out flowers and hold up funny signs during the ride, but wouldn’t it just be nicer if we would keep to one lane and refrain from impeding the ‘regular flow’ of rush hour traffic? We could still ‘make our point’ but at the same time broadcast ‘a more positive message’.

From the point of view of an urban bicycling advocate, the ride event itself has an overall neutral effect on the state of infrastructure, education, and enforcement favorable to bicyclists. There are numerous positive effects: people see a lot of bicyclists having fun, who hand out informative flyers that do influence people’s opinions, and so forth. Maybe a few pro-bicycle politicians jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of the opportunity for publicity about a sustainable transportation initiative. There are also, of course, some negative effects in terms of traditional bicycling advocacy, which are described in great detail elsewhere. In my view, these positive and negative effects balance each other out.

If your main concern is bicycle advocacy, the main difference CM makes emerges in the time between rides, when otherwise depoliticized cyclists are inspired to take action; to write letters to their representatives and city councillors; to argue with their neighbors, families, and friends; to become increasingly aware of the primary role that auto-centric transportation and land-use policy plays in setting foreign and domestic priorities, in separating out rich from poor and black from white, in causing more deaths, injuries, and illnesses than all of our other major epidemics combined. If the point is to advocate for better policies via widely accepted democratic channels, Critical Mass contributes to this mode of change by building an army of better advocates.

I’ve spent a great deal of time at meetings of regulatory agencies, planning and zoning boards, and other decision-making bodies that determine what our environment is going to look like, which in turn has enormous impacts on our daily lives and social interactions. It is absolutely clear to me that these organizations do not make their decisions based on reasonable arguments, on trying to do the right thing ‘for the citizens of the city’, whether environmentally, socially, or economically. Zoning, development, traffic planning—all are politically driven. This means they are reflective of the underlying distribution of power in society. And I can assure you that bicycles as a mode of transportation are totally off the radar (at the very best, a token afterthought). Until bicyclists are organized—and I believe Critical Mass is a powerful tool for organizing and politicizing otherwise disenfranchised bicyclists—there will be no sea change. We will celebrate excruciatingly small victories. But we can do much better.

Advocacy alone, however, is not how social change—or collective determination of uses of public resources—occurs. Few historical examples come to mind of an oppressed class of people winning over the general public on the basis of their likeability. Nor does progressive change occur as a result of convincing, well-reasoned arguments and good-natured debate. The labor movement was not built by a concerted effort to convince capitalists that the workers were friendly people who deserved better pay. De jure racial discrimination did not end because of an effective public relations campaign highlighting the merits of African-Americans. Struggles for democracy and human rights under dictatorial regimes have never been won because the underdog rationally convinced the dictator to abdicate power.

Why should the situation be any different for the Critical Mass community? Although our interests are varied—bicycling seems to be only one small but essential part of what unites our movement—our situation is clearly that of an interest group that traditionally has been poorly represented in the American political system. Our success is linked to our numbers, our strength, our power, and ultimately our unity, but it is not particularly dependent on good public relations and a non-threatening demeanor.

Even some in the mainstream acknowledge the critical, more radical, role the Mass plays in effecting change. A highly respected professor of urban planning at UC Berkeley recently published an article in which he said that the prospects of achieving bicycling advancements in the US are specifically tied to the ability of grassroots political pressure brought on by such groups/movements as Critical Mass (Martin Wachs, Transportation Quarterly, “Discussion of ‘Bicycling Boom in Germany: A Revival Engineered by Public Policy’ by John Pucher”, Fall 1997).

Social progress—whether in civil rights, environmental protection, economic justice—never occurs without a group that pushes harder, that reframes the questions and recenters the debate, that occasionally acts ‘as if’ what they wanted to be true were true. This is the more radical role Critical Mass plays in social change. I do not ride with Critical Mass (necessarily) to make a good impression on people, to convince drivers of anything in particular, to ‘advocate’. I ride because I find the mass creates a temporary autonomous zone (to borrow a slogan from Hakim Bey); a place where bicycles do have the right of way—and not just on paper; a non-imaginary safe, quiet, clean, and fun use of the public good, the streets which we all pay for and the air which we all breath; a place where the streets are designed for bicycles, not cars. Critical Mass does not ask the question of whether bicyclists should have ‘equal rights’ to the streets, where ‘equal rights’ means ‘just like cars’, instead it presumes that the public space should be for us, the people, and then gives the cars a chance to figure out how to fit in.

The transformation that occurs on the streets during Critical Mass rides is not the result of more bike lanes or bike racks, traffic calmed streets or better signage, nor does it come from better laws on the books or better enforcement of existing laws, nor does it even come from increased respect for bicycles from those operating motorized vehicles. Instead it emerges from the fact that we are present in large numbers, and we have made a collective decision that this is how we want things to be.

Activists often refer to ‘direct action’ as a means of accomplishing political goals. In fact, this can mean two different things: in one sense, direct action is ‘taking to the streets’, demonstrating and protesting. In its more powerful sense, however, it is the action of taking control over the conditions that we live in. Inasmuch as the mainstream media has provided positive coverage of the recent wave of anti-globalism actions initiated in Seattle in 1999, it has focused exclusively on the first sense: large numbers of people demonstrating their beliefs and protesting against the powers that be. Participants in these demonstrations, however, often return with a much more profound sense of empowerment from the decentralized consensus decision-making processes that have evolved around these events. They realize that the world we envision may be possible on a large scale; not only that, but that this world exists on large scale, in various pockets at various times. CM is powerful as these protests are powerful, not simply because it demonstrates some idea, but because it enacts that idea.

CM’s radical nature lies in its process. It is a means of moving, not a particular destination. It claims, first and foremost, that we do things ourselves, and that this way of doing things is fundamental to liberty. Effecting change ourselves, rather than urging the duly-elected representatives to do something about it, is a very dangerous way to do things, and has certainly met with a good deal of resistance from the police. Some would argue that it less democratic: isn’t this the few imposing their will on the many? Others predict that legitimization of this mode of social change will inevitably lead to anarchy, where everyone who wants to accomplish anything will take to the streets, break windows, and set fires.

It’s important to remember, however, that democracy is not necessarily premised on majoritarian rule. Sometimes extraordinary counter-majoritarian actions are essential to protect the very mechanisms upon which democracy depends. It is quite clear that the Supreme Court, in ordering the desegregation of Southern public schools in Brown v. Board of Education, was not enacting the will of the majority. Even though the body politic would not have voted to eliminate segregation, the action was essential to the furthering of democracy, something that even the most conservative have finally come to admit. Similarly, even if we live in a society that is predominantly based on auto-centric and environmentally unsustainable patterns of development, where we might even vote for the policies we get, doesn’t mean it’s not more democratic for a small, determined group of people to make a difference for positive change, even if it happens to go against the will of the majority. As Margaret Mead says, “[i]ndeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

CM’s critics often focus nearly pathologically on the degree to which CM does or does not follow ‘the law’. They claim they would support and even participate in CM, if only we stopped at all red lights, kept in one lane, and followed the rules set out for us. Of course, it’s not the occasional misdemeanor or traffic violation that causes all the tumult: it’s the fact that there are hundreds of bicyclists riding together in what is traditionally car territory, having fun. Although we might be able to get some sanctimonious reward out of reminding the drivers that we are just following the rules of the road, I doubt it would make any difference in making the ride less controversial, nor even in reducing the incidences of conflict with the police.

There is a deeper issue at stake here, though. Laws are only as powerful as we allow them to be. The decisions as to what rules we are to live by are not passed down, engraved in stone, from the gilded halls of the legislature. They are fluid; we make them every day by deciding which rules to respect and which to ignore. For example, a local religious group recently attempted to press charges against a movie theater screening an allegedly blasphemous film. The court clerk asked the group several times if they really wanted to pay the filing fee. Because they believed the law to be what was contained in the officially published state statutes, they paid the fee and eagerly approached the Judge with their argument. They were sent promptly out the doors, minus their filing fee. Why wouldn’t the Court enforce the Law? Because the people had stopped believing in it a century ago.

When CM is attacked as leading to anarchy, we might at some level have to agree. CM does not delegate decision making power to duly-elected officials; it is not always entirely law-abiding; and the unplanned, spontaneous nature of the rides might accurately be described as ‘anarchistic’. But anarchy is much more of a method than an ideology, a way of experiencing the world rather than a political system. Most importantly, it realizes that the force which stops us from breaking windows and setting fires is not the threat of violent police retaliation but rather mutual respect and voluntary adhesion to practical norms of behavior. In my experience, CM has only become ‘anarchistic’ in the negative sense when faced with extraordinary violence from the police, which is much more the exception than the rule. If we learn anything about the potential of large scale anarchistic movements from CM, it is that they are predominantly non-violent, and do a much better job at self-policing than any group depending on outside forces to keep them in line.

Environmentalists are often accused of being motivated by a ‘social agenda’. They will deny the accusation, claiming that their arguments are based in scentific fact, are in fact grounded in demonstrable ‘truths’. But I think we would do better to admit the accusation. It is precisely our ‘social agenda’ that can make the movement appealing and powerful. What good is saving the world, if you don’t first create a world worth saving? CM grasps this reality and engages in it, by pulling the social agenda in the forefront. Sure, we want cleaner air and more efficient transportation, but we only want it if we can radically restructure our relationships and our work in the process.

Of course, the critics are welcome to disagree with anything I’ve said here. If they want to shift the direction of Critical Mass in a more ‘positive’ sense, they can bring more of the type of people they’d like to see riding, the last Friday of every month wherever their local mass convenes. Fundamentally, CM organically adopts the character of those who contribute most to it. It is powerful not because of the message it sends or the image it conveys, but because it engages and empowers its participants, welcoming anyone who wants to chip in.


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Particular Car

 blue moss covered night sky seen through my fiber liquid window smooth bright moss and I capitalize! and I tremble without reason to impress my friends that i am a tortured soul and realize, too harshly now be born without rhythm! the gift of pure ignorance, racism, speed limits the sky again, long blue moss, rolls gently by? is gone then. 

Statement of Purpose

On January 15, 2003, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in the Eldred v. Ashcroft case. In a 7-2 decision, the Court upheld the Constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998. CTEA retroactively extended the duration of copyright from the life of the author plus fifty years, to the life of the author plus seventy years, thereby guaranteeing a handful of multinational corporations another 20 years of proprietary ownership of cultural icons such as Mickey Mouse and Robert Frost.

Three months earlier, on the eve of the oral arguments for the Eldred case, I was on coop in Washington, DC, attending an evening party for the plaintiffs. I sat across from Eldred himself at dinner. Counsel Larry Lessig even made a brief appearance. People had come from all over the world to celebrate the possibility of a renewed public domain. One group drove from California in a “bookmobile”, an old van with several laptops connected to the Internet through a satellite dish. The bookmobile stopped at public schools along the way, particularly in poorer urban areas, and students could request any book in the public domain that would then be beamed down, printed out, bound, and distributed for free. We were giddy; we were witnessing the birth of a movement.

The Court’s decision against Eldred did not shock anyone. The Act in question was passed in 1998 by unanimous consent in the Senate and a voice vote in the House, in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Kosovo war. Few activists outside of certain narrow interest groups organized against the law, and those groups did a poor job of reaching out to the broader social justice movement that was taking root across the country and would burst into the national consciousness at the WTO meeting in Seattle a year later. Although the social discourse surrounding intellectual property has changed dramatically since the passage of the Sonny Bono Act, many people working in the labor, environmental, and anti-globalization movements have yet to see the profound connections between intellectual property law and the struggle for global justice.

My decision to come to law school arose out of an unexpected collision with intellectual property law while working in the labor movement. Part of my job, prior to law school, involved creating websites for a local union’s corporate campaigns. When an employer attempted to bust the union, we responded by targeting other stakeholders of the company in order to build leverage for the workers. In one campaign, we were organizing independent insurance agents suffering from rapidly escalating premiums imposed by a subsidiary of the parent company of a particularly anti-union employer.

About a week after the website went up, we received a cease and desist letter from the company’s lawyers, claiming trademark infringement. While the website provided only accurate information and explicitly disclaimed any connection with the company, the company’s trademarked initials appeared in our domain name. Fortunately, the union’s legal representation was familiar with these sorts of silencing tactics, and after a few letters back and forth, the company relented in their threats. Meanwhile, the pressure created by the website allowed us to make significant gains at the bargaining table, and ultimately the employer recognized the union.

Many others are not as fortunate. Various areas of intellectual property law, originally conceived to provide incentives for creativity, are increasingly used to silence criticism and destroy potential competition. Several other laws enacted in the past five years have given multinational conglomerates potent tools to restrict access to information and culture to the elite. The consequences of these laws go far beyond the chilling effect on speech: strong international patent protection denies essential medication to hundreds of millions of people around the world, particularly with respect to the AIDS pandemic; small filmmakers find themselves deprived of raw materials as exorbitant licensing fees are required for any copyrighted work that might even appear in the background of a scene; rap artists are hauled into court because the essence of their music, like all other music, is to draw from our popular culture and make new creations from it; finally, the software copyright system has created robber barons that make the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts look like small business owners.

Disruptive technologies have a tendency to threaten entrenched interests. The Internet is now a powerful communicative and organizing tool for movements ranging from the Zapatista revolution in Mexico to the anti-globalization protests in the United States. The enormous potential for the free flow of scientific, medical, and cultural information is under attack by those who profit from denying access. I will use my legal and technical skills to work for free speech, civil liberties, and equal access to these emerging technologies.

Report from the Verizon v. RIAA Court Hearing

Judge John D. Bates heard arguments this morning in RIAA v. Verizon, the “test case” for the subpoena provisions of the DMCA (section 512(h)). Both parties were given upwards of 45 minutes to develop their arguments and rebuttals, and the Judge permitted amicus Motion Picture Association of America to make a brief argument which for the most part said that the Motion Picture Industry had a large financial stake in DMCA enforcement.

Both parties and the Judge seemed to agree that the critical issue was one of statutory interpretation. They also agreed that the statute was poorly worded and there was a paucity of legislative history to answer the question unambiguously. Specifically at issue is whether the subpoena provisions apply equally to 512(a) service providers (where the provider is a “conduit” for user communications) as to 512(b), (c), and (d) providers. Verizon argued that the subpoena provision was specifically targeted at 512(c) providers, where the allegedly infringing material actually resides on the provider’s servers (e.g., pirate website hosted by provider) and does not apply to 512(a) providers; which is the function they are serving when peer-to-peer applications use their network. The RIAA argued that this distinction didn’t make any sense, and in fact they were unable to tell the Judge how many 512(h) subpoenas they had issued on 512(a) providers vs. 512(c) providers. No one could really clarify the status of 512(b) or (d) providers.

The Judge was particularly interested in the “constitutional avoidance” issue; that is, when in doubt, a statute should not be interpreted in a way that raises constitutional concerns. The RIAA argued with the Judge as to what the constitutional avoidance doctrine actually was; they insisted that it would only be raised with a facial challenge to the statute, not a challenge to the statute as applied. Of course, it seems more likely that Judge Bates will agree with his own interpretation of the doctrine.

The Judge questioned the parties repeatedly about the distinction between 512(a), (b), (c), and (d) providers with respect to the Constitutional issues. If a subpoena of 512(a) provider raises significant First Amendment privacy/anonymous speech concerns, why wouldn’t this apply equally to a 512(c)? In fact, it appears the Judge was looking for a Constitutional challenge to the entire subpoena process but Verizon wanted to focus on potential Constitutional issues with subpoenas of a 512(a) provider.

It didn’t seem to me that there was a clear winner today, and the Judge didn’t clearly indicate which way he was leaning, although he was quite solicitous to the Constitutional arguments. He does seem to have a very good grasp on the underlying issues and the technology involved, and promised to issue a decision quickly. I’m sure we’ll see some news reports and press releases later today.”

Alternative Dispute Resolution in International Intellectual Property

Commercial and Public Interest Issues


Intellectual property (IP), a broad category encompassing several forms of legally protected creative works, has come to occupy an increasingly pivotal role in the domestic economy and international trade over the past several decades. Although the various areas of intellectual property law—patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secret protection—are based in different doctrinal frameworks and constitutional foundations, they share important commonalities within the legal system. The dynamic growth of technology and innovation has largely outpaced the development of relevant law, and intellectual property’s global reach only exacerbates shortcomings in traditional nationally-based dispute resolution methods.

In the absence of reform from the court system or legislatures, international intellectual property interests are increasingly embracing alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods rather than litigation for commercial disputes. Mediation and arbitration offer significant benefits in this domain; the usual advantages of ADR are amplified in the complex, fast-moving world of commercial intellectual property rights. Since the public interest is nearly always implicated in IP disputes, however, this trend must be examined critically. This paper will discuss some of the commercial benefits and public interest concerns of ADR in international intellectual property disputes, and describe some of the specific institutional resources currently available in this realm.

Commercial Advantages

ADR comprises a spectrum of dispute resolution techniques, ranging from direct negotiation between the disputing parties to a legally binding arbitration proceeding. In the former case, the parties control the process entirely and are free to negotiate any settlement they want, or can choose to not settle at all. In the latter, parties hand over decision-making power to a neutral third-party, and are often prohibited from unilaterally withdrawing from the process. In some cases, parties are barred from judicial appeal from an arbitrator’s decision except under very limited circumstances (e.g., misconduct or incompetence on the part of the arbitrator). Mediation lies somewhere in the middle: a third-party is employed to help the parties resolve their dispute and potentially make non-binding recommendations, but the parties themselves ultimately determine whether or not a settlement is reached. Frequently cited benefits of ADR techniques over litigation include savings of time and money, increased confidentiality, more flexible and effective solutions, continued positive relations between the parties when they need to work together in the future, the ability to pick a process and a decision-maker specifically suited to the parties’ needs, and conservation of judicial resources.

International intellectual property litigation is extremely expensive and time-consuming, even relative to other large-scale commercial litigation. Due to the highly technical and fact-based nature of many IP disputes, discovery costs are elevated, and the need for highly-paid expert witnesses and detailed reports exceeds many other types of disputes. Furthermore, since the judge and jury are generally lay people, parties go to significant lengths simply to educate the fact-finder as to the basic nature of the relevant technology. Studies have found that the median cost of patent litigation through discovery is nearly $500,000, and the median cost of a full trial is $750,000. Costs for patent cases routinely reach over $1,000,000 per party, and legal fees have occasionally risen into the hundreds of millions of dollars.1 Travel costs in international disputes further increase the costs, particularly because the process can drag on for several years and proceed simultaneously in several different jurisdictions.

While mediator and arbitrator fees for intellectual property disputes are not cheap, they almost always represent a significantly more economical option. Even though the parties will still need to pay experts, they can select a mediator or arbitrator who is already knowledgeable in the field, thus obviating the need to educate a judge or jury from “square one”. They may also be able to rely on scientists and engineers from within their respective companies to explain the technical details particular to the dispute, rather than having to retain outsiders who will appear unbiased in laying out the foundational technical background for a case.

The advantages of an expedited process are particularly salient in IP disputes. Since patents constitute a time-limited entitlement (20 years from the time of filing in most cases), their value is significantly diminished when tied up in litigation. Complex IP cases routinely take years to litigate, and overworked federal courts with a statutory mandate to grant speedy trials to criminal defendants are unlikely to prioritize this sort of litigation on their dockets. Furthermore, the nature of technological innovation often renders the dispute moot with the passage of time. If the parties chose to engage in ADR, they can set their own time-table and not be at the mercy of a court system to resolve the dispute. Furthermore, potentially infringing activity becomes increasingly risky when the duration of the dispute is unknown, since damages and attorney’s fees are often awarded to victorious plaintiffs. If a defendant knows the matter will be settled one way or another within six months, she can decide whether to continue production and risk an injunction and damages for profits during that period, or to suspend production until the legality of her activity has been established. When the time line and potential costs are made more certain for all parties, they can make rational decisions that would be unavailable if they were subject to the vicissitudes of litigation. Matters are made even more certain when the parties have a pre-agreement not to appeal the resolution in court.

Another advantage of ADR that is crucial to intellectual property disputes is the confidential nature of the process. In a mediation, the parties and the mediator usually agree to strict confidentiality, with the understanding that only the settlement agreement itself will become public. Mediation confidentiality agreements are usually enforced by courts. Furthermore, in the international context, an ADR process allows the parties to avoid dealing with different rules surrounding confidentiality in multiple legal systems.

Since intellectual property and particularly trade secrets tend to lose their value when they become public information, the privileged nature of ADR proceedings often represents an invaluable benefit to the parties to the dispute. The common concern about bad publicity arising from any lawsuit is also addressed by the privacy available under ADR. In some situations, parties are prevented entirely from litigating because the business risks of exposing their trade secrets are too high. ADR provides an effective way to resolve these disputes when other options are unavailable.

Parties frequently will choose ADR when they want or need to have a continuing relationship past the dispute. Since IP disputes frequently involve joint research ventures, long-term licensing agreements, and other arrangements that may only bear fruit over extended periods of time, the ability to preserve a working relationship may be more important in these disputes. Technology can rarely be developed today without the involvement of numerous distinct entities; thus, the availability of ADR may be increasingly indispensable to scientific progress and collaboration.

The Public Interest

Alternative dispute resolution techniques for international intellectual property matters are not without shortcomings, however. In fact, many of the strengths described above raise significant public policy concerns. While one could argue that the public has some interest in every legal dispute, this interest is intensified when intellectual property matters are involved. Intellectual property protection is premised on a delicate balance between an inventor’s need to be compensated for her work and the public’s interest in accessing that work. As intellectual property rules are harmonized worldwide under organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organization (discussed below), the World Trade Organization, and the like, the framework for resolving these disputes is increasingly a global issue.

The Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution grants Congress the power to establish limited monopolies to establish incentives to promote creative work. The essence of this balance is struck in the judiciary, where a court is called upon to weigh various statutory and judicially-defined factors to determine whether or not the state will enforce this monopoly. While this legal framework underlies ADR as well as traditional litigation, the need for public access is likely to be weighed less heavily when ADR is used. In a mediation, all that is required is that the parties come to a mutually satisfactory solution within the bounds of the law. They are not required to consider the public interest in the same way a court of law would.

Patent disputes provide a salient example of the different role of the public interest in litigation and ADR. The Supreme Court has spoken about the importance of the public interest in patent cases:

A patent by its very nature is affected with a public interest …. [It] is an exception to the general rule against monopolies and to the right to access to a free and open market. The far-reaching social and economic consequences of a patent, therefore, give the public a paramount interest in seeing that patent monopolies spring from backgrounds free from fraud or other inequitable conduct and that such monopolies are kept within their legitimate scope.2

Ordinarily, the first requirement in the prima facie case for patent infringement is to establish ownership of the patent on the part of the plaintiff, and secondly to establish that the patent is valid. Patents are found invalid for a variety of reasons, including lack of novelty, an overly vague patent description, abandonment of the invention, obviousness, etc..3 When a patent is found invalid in a court of law, this finding is frequently the result of an extensive discovery process. Once the patent is found invalid, the plaintiff no longer has exclusive rights to the invention, and the public can benefit from competition amongst various producers. This benefit is particularly acute when the invention involves medical technology, where society as a whole bears a large burden in paying monopoly prices for patented medicines, and many suffer from lack of access.

If parties decide to mediate a patent dispute, however, the discovery process can be cut off and a patent’s invalidity may never be revealed. Furthermore, the parties may find a mutually beneficial arrangement that preserves the patent even if it would have been invalidated by a court. They may find that they can earn more profits by entering into a licensing agreement so that both can produce the invention, thereby preserving a duopoly, rather than losing exclusive rights altogether, which might be the result of litigation.

Congress has taken some steps to mitigate this problem, for example by requiring public disclosure of settlements involving patent disputes. Furthermore, as in most other types of litigation, the great majority of patent dispute cases never even reach a full trial. Even in the Patent and Trademark Office, 80% of interference (contested patent) proceedings settle before a final judgment is reached.4 These disputes most commonly result in a license agreement between the parties. Since we can’t force the parties to go through with litigation once they’ve reached a satisfactory conclusion (although usually the court will have to approve a consent decree), it may be preferable to have a mediator or an arbitrator who can at least nominally insure that the public interest be considered by the parties to the dispute, rather than leaving the issue entirely in the hands of the parties’ negotiators.

ADR proponents often identify the ability to retain an expert mediator or arbitrator as a key advantage over litigation, where the finder of fact is either a judge or a jury, neither of whom is likely to have the specialized knowledge required to comprehend the technical details of the matter in question. An expert fact-finder, however, may introduce certain biases in the process that work against the public interest. Contract law, for example, has evolved over hundreds of years, and is grounded in equitable common law principles that ostensibly serve important public policy ends. In intellectual property litigation, a non-specialized judge may reframe the dispute within these well-established principles. The parties may argue that their dispute ought to be treated differently because it involves a new technology, but a court is unlikely to create new exceptions in the law simply because a new invention is involved. An expert mediator or arbitrator, on the other hand, is more likely to see the dispute from the parties’ perspectives, possibly resulting in a process skewed away from legal principles that serve the public interest. Furthermore, while a jury may not possess expert knowledge, it does represent the conscience of the community, which is an important voice to be heard in resolving disputes.

Another public interest question is whether the shift towards ADR in intellectual property disputes actually encourages disinvestment in our legal system. For example, Canada has only recently embraced ADR, lagging behind the US and Western Europe. This is because, in the words of one commentator, “until recently, the Canadian system was sufficiently funded to ensure speedy access.”5 Although the federal court system backlog is frequently cited as a reason to engage in alternative dispute resolution, it is possible that the increasingly widespread availability of ADR could encourage Congress further to reduce funding for the judiciary, leaving the court system as a “worst case” option for those who do not have access to ADR for various reasons. As the backlog lengthens, parties can strategically refuse to mediate, and rely on the slowness of the courts to outlast their adversary. Perhaps the solution to an overworked judiciary isn’t necessarily to push parties towards ADR, but rather to provide sufficient resources for the courts to resolve disputes in a timely manner.

If the growing importance of ADR reflects a trend towards “privatizing” the judiciary, we should take stock of the long-term ramifications of this trend before public law loses its relevance entirely. It may be possible in institute safeguards to prevent ADR decisions from moving too far away from what a court would decide. For example, if contracts waiving the right to judicial appeal were found to be unenforceable as a matter of public policy, an arbitrated or mediated resolution would be more likely to hold closely to established law, since a significant departure would be overruled by a court.

International Intellectual Property Mediation in the Real World

An institutional basis for international intellectual property protection has been evolving since the late 19th century. Arising out of the Paris Convention of 1883 and the Berne Convention of 1886, the United International Bureaux for the Protection of Intellectual Property (BIRPI) was established to help nationals of treaty member States obtain international protection of their right to control, and receive payment for, the use of their creative works. In 1970, BIRPI became the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which today comprises 179 member states, has a staff of over 850 and a yearly budget of nearly half a billion dollars. Among other activities, WIPO facilitates the coordination and enforcement of treaties for the protection of intellectual property amongst all its members.

WIPO provides alternative dispute resolution services specifically tailored towards international intellectual property matters. Numerous other organizations exist which can also handle these sorts of disputes, including the International Chamber of Commerce Court of Arbitration, American Arbitration Association, and the London Court of International Arbitration; however, only the WIPO Arbitration and Meditation Center specializes in international IP disputes. The WIPO Center was only established in 1994, however, so potential clients have to decide between more well established but general ADR entities like the AAA and the intellectual property-specific Center.

Since confidentiality frequently weighs heavily in the decision to use ADR for IP disputes, the WIPO Arbitration Rules contain provisions for strong confidentiality. Furthermore, parties to the dispute have the option of having a confidentiality advisor appointed to their case. This advisor is an expert to whom trade secrets can be disclosed without fear that the information will be exposed to the other party. In some cases, the confidentiality advisor will even receive information that is kept secret from the arbitrator himself.

For mediation, the WIPO Center provides the parties with an option between a “facilitative” mediator who will focus on the process of helping the parties understand each other’s interests and bringing them to consensus, and an “evaluative” mediator who will take a more active role in resolving the dispute and make specific recommendations based on an expert background. In the latter case, the mediator’s recommendations are not binding but can help frame the mediation process.

Several other factors distinguish the WIPO Center from other ADR options. The Center provides specific rules for the introduction of technical and experimental evidence to serve the needs of their clients. It is located in Geneva, which may be seen as more “neutral” territory for international disputants than other locales. The Center’s staff, arbitrators, and mediators, come from dozens of nations, and the Center actively promotes its experience in working with situations that include cultural, linguistic, and institutional diversity. Some international companies view organizations like the American Arbitration Association as being more closely linked with the American legal system and the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris as being closely linked with European law, while the WIPO Center is not necessarily perceived as favoring one legal system over another.

The WIPO program provides meeting space free of charge to parties who want to engage in ADR at the Center in Geneva; alternatively, WIPO mediators and arbitrators are available throughout the world. Parties can choose to mediate in any country, in any language, and under any law. This flexibility is a great advantage to the WIPO ADR process, where technical disputes may involve many interdependent parties located in many different countries.

Finally, the WIPO Center can be somewhat less expensive than other ADR options for large commercial clients at the low end of its fee scale. The Center charges a registration fee equal to 0.10% of the amount in dispute, up to $10,000, and either an hourly or daily fee for the mediator’s services, based on a number of factors including the complexity and economic importance of the dispute, as well as the experience of the mediator. Hourly fees range from $300 to $600, and daily fees range from $1,500 to $3,500. By default, the parties share the cost of the mediation equally, although they are free to negotiate alternative arrangements.

The Center has had a fairly slow start in gaining acceptance in the commercial world. Although it was founded in 1994, by mid-1997 it had not yet handled any disputes. The Center attributed this slow start to the fact that ADR is most commonly entered as a result of a contract clause requiring it in the event of a dispute. Since the Center was only founded in 1994, one would expect several years to pass before contracts would be formed specifying the Center as the dispute resolution forum, and for those disputes to arise.

Today, the Center has found a niche in resolving international Internet Domain Name disputes, which frequently implicate trademark law. In 2001, the Center received 1,506 domain name dispute cases involving 94 countries. The entire procedure is conducted on-line, and usually results in an enforceable decision within two months. The Center’s process is based on the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy promulgated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which handles the technical aspects of the Internet “root server” system and ultimately has the power to enforce domain name assignments.

It is clear from the Center’s promotional materials, however, that its process is intended to favor trademark holders over the general public. They claim to be “the leading dispute resolution service provider for challenges related to abusive registration and use of Internet domain names, commonly known as ‘cybersquatting’.”6 Trademark holders come to the WIPO Center in order to claim domain names in a cheap and expedited fashion. In many cases, it might not be worth the trouble for a trademark holder to bring an alleged infringer to court, particularly given the expense and jurisdictional issues when the parties are in disparate countries and the infringement claim itself may be dubious. Providing a quick and inexpensive alternative, while theoretically in a “neutral” forum, may constitute an inherent bias for large corporate trademark holders over lone individuals. ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy has been criticized on similar grounds.7


ADR’s rapid growth in the world of dispute resolution over the past decades has paralleled that of intellectual property in the global economy. Given the increasingly complex and international nature of intellectual property creation, ADR solves a number of important problems with traditional nationally-based litigation. Some of ADR’s greatest strengths in intellectual property disputes, however, also raise serious public policy concerns. Institutions like the World Intellectual Property Organization Arbitration and Mediation Center provide valuable resources in the field of ADR, but too little attention is paid to the fundamental right of the public to access creative works in return for the benefits accrued to creators when they are granted limited monopolies. Increasing dependence on ADR in these disputes is probably inevitable, so national and international governments should take care to insure that the public interest is not foreclosed from this process.


Blackmand, Scott H. Alternative Dispute Resolution in Commercial Intellectual Property Disputes. 47 Am. U. L. Rev. 1709. 1998.

Elleman, Steven J. Problems in Patent Litigation: Mandatory Mediation May Provide Settlement and Solutions. 12 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. 759. 1997.

Electronic Frontier Foundation website. (8/1/02).

Electronic Privacy Information Center website. (8/1/02).

Martin, Julia A. Arbitrating in the Alps Rather Than Litigating in Los Angeles: The Advantages of International Intellectual Property-Specific Alternative Dispute Resolution. 49 Stan. L. Rev. 917. 1997.

World Intellectual Property Organization Arbitration and Mediation Center Guide to Mediation. 8/1/2002. See also World Intellectual Property Organization website.

Zisk, Matthew B. Mediation and Settlement of Patent Disputes in the Shadow of the Public Interest. 14 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. 481. 1999.


1 Martin, Julia A. “Arbitrating in the Alps rather than Litigating in Los Angeles: The Advantages of International Intellectual Property-Specific Alternative Dispute Resolution.” 49 Stan. L. Rev. 917, 925.

2 Precision Instrument Mfg. Co. v. Automotive Maintenance Machinery Co., 324 U.S. 806 (1945).

3 35 U.S.C. §§ 100-112 (2001) (patent act).

4 Zisk, Matthew B. “Mediation and Settlement of Patent Disputes in the Shadow of the Public Interest.” 14 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. 481, 486.

5 Supra 1 at 962.

7 See e.g. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, 8/24/99).

Netiquette No Nos

Taken from, which seems to be offline from time to time.

Netiquette No Nos

Hi! This page exists so I don’t have to keep sending the same advice to my naughty friends. If you’re reading this, either because I’ve sent you the URL or because a search engine guided you here, then you may also be interested in Basic Online Security.

1. HTML formatted email
2. (Word) .DOC attachments
3. Huge / Unsolicited attachments
4. “Please forward this message to everyone”
5. “Visit this URL (and save the World!)”
6. Sending To: more than 1 person

1. Sending HTML formatted email

HTML e-mail is always uneconomic, sometimes unreceivable and/or unreadable and it can occasionally be unsafe. There really is no good argument for sending e-mail in HTML format. If you want your audience to see an HTML formatted page, put it on your website and send them the URL. Do you really want to know what I think? HTML email is EVIL!

To stop sending (evil) HTML e-mail from Outlook Express
1. Click Tools > Options > Send and under ‘Sending’ make sure that ‘Reply to messages using the format in which they were sent’ is UNchecked and under ‘Mail Sending Format’ CHECK the ‘Plain Text’ box.

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2. Sending (Word) .DOC attachments

Like HTML-formatted email, Word .doc files are unecessarily large for the message they contain and they can also carry viruses. In 90% of cases the contents of a Word .doc could be put in a plain text file. In 90% of the remaining 10%, where the layout of a document is important, the file should be (more safely) formatted as a Rich Text File (.rtf) which will not only be considerably smaller, but can be read by more programs on more platforms. (Word .doc files which have embedded drawing or picture objects, however, may end up larger on conversion to .rtf).
As well as the virus risk and large file size, there are 3 other reasons for NOT sending Word documents: 1) double-clicking to open them fires up the full WORD app, which may affect performance on (or even crash) slower machines or systems used for heavy multitasking 2) some users may not have the right version of WORD to open the file anyway (esp Mac or Lotus users) 3) because of the way WORD uses templates (and also fonts) the document may not lay out properly or even open at all on someone else’s machine, even if they have got the right version of WORD.
Part of the bloat in a Word .doc is is accounted for by the header. Some of it is font information but a lot of it is created when you edit a Word file. All the edits are saved as additions to the original, so Word .doc files are always much bigger than they need to be and may even be considered a security risk (as you may not wish the recipient to be able to see your earlier versions). – A neat trick is to save Word files as .rtf then open the rtf file in Word (or Wordpad) and save it again as .doc. This will remove any unnecessary bloating such as undos or font info in Word 7 files and can drastically reduce the file size, without affecting (and sometimes even improving) its appearance.

If you want to send a WORD .doc, ask yourself does the layout matter? If the answer is NO, choose ‘Save as’ and select ‘Text only (.txt)’ or simply copying and pasting the text into a (plain text formatted) e-mail message. If the layout does matter, choose ‘Save as’ and select’Rich text Format (.rtf)’.

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3. Sending Huge / Unsolicited attachments

It would seem like a basic courtesy not to block up someone else’s in-box with stuff they haven’t asked for and probably don’t want but have to download before they can use their email again, but some people just don’t think. In recent months I’ve been sent a 2 Mb .jpg of a theatre company’s poster for inclusion on Steven Berkoff’s website (when the only listing they were ever going to get required no more than a plain text message) and a 3 Mb .mpg after a dear friend had unwisely announced the birth of his daughter by putting several addresses including my own in the To: line (another netiquette sin – see Sending To: more than 1 person) and two months later one of the other recipients got bored on Zimbabwe’s day of bank strikes and decided to mail me a Kung Fu movie.

2. If you have to send large attachments, it is better to post the file to a website (http or better still ftp) and then send your friend the URL. Web pages download faster than email and ftp sites are faster still. Also with http or ftp your recipient can choose when to download your monster and they can use a download manager, so if the connection is broken during a long download they don’t have to start again from the beginning.
3. If you ARE going to send a large attachment by email, it’s courtesy to send a small (plain text) message first, saying that that’s what you’re about to do (and better still to ask if it’s OK by them), so the monster is not so unexpected. The small file will get through first and allow the recipient to take appropriate steps in anticipation of your in-box stuffer.
4. If you have been on the receiving end of unwanted, unsolicted mega attachments, and you’re not using an email client with a download-headers-only option (such as Eudora), then get the freeware Email remover which will allow you to download just the headers first and even read the first 100 lines of a message’s source, and delete any unwanted messages BEFORE you download them using your default email program.

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4. “Please forward this message to everyone” – NOT!

The net is choked with traffic as it is. Much of it is unwanted spam. But there’s also the net version of the chain letter – send a copy of this to everyone you know – usually with some sob story attached and an implausible (or more likely impossible) promise that the message is somehow being tracked and that everytime it is forwarded a child will be saved of dying from cancer and the world will be made a better place.
These are all bogus. At best they are benign wastes of bandwidth. At worst they may carry a virus.

In short the netiquette is: Do not ever forward anything unless you know for sure who it is from, who wrote it and that the recipient is either expecting it or will be pleased to receive it.

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5. “Visit this URL (and save the World!)” – NOT!

“Simply by visiting you’ll save a child/animal/the-whole-World. Every time you visit – their corporate sponsors/advertisers will donate a certain amount to whatever good cause you’re a sucker for…” Yeah, right! And that ‘certain amount’ is 0.000000001¢ if it’s anything at all. And I bet a DNS look-up on that domain name will show it to be an elaborate scheme, operated entirely by and in the interests of its ‘corporate sponsors/advertisers’. The fact is, if Mammon-incorporated gave a damn about anything, they wouldn’t make their contributions to good causes dependent on your swallowing their advertising. These click-for-charity schemes are always a sick, exploitative scam. At best the site owner has been suckered by the advertisers. At worst the entire thing is a fraud.

Treat any message about any such charitable site as spam. Delete it, and forget it! And to save you rebuking them directly, you might want to cut and paste the following URL and advise whoever sent you the sob-story-spam to read this page:-

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6. Sending To: more than 1 person

If you send one message to a lot of people by putting all their names/addresses in the To: or Cc: line the result is that everyone in the list can see everyone else’s address. Not only might some people not want this (considering their address to be ‘ex-directory’ and not wishing to be ‘replied to’ by 50 or more strangers) but there is a much more serious security issue which you should heed, especially if you care about those to whom you’re mailing your circular. Most viruses replicate by scanning address books and messages which are stored in in-folders for addresses to which they silently forward themselves from any infected machine. In other words, by putting all those names in the To: line you are exposing everyone to a greater risk of receiving a virus from someone else on the list.

Use BCC! If you insist on mass emailing you should put one address – (probably your own) in the To: line and use the ‘blind copy’ or ‘Bcc:’ line for all the rest. That way no-one gets to see the list of recipients (and not only is this safer, but everyone is made to feel a bit more special, since they cannot see how many people have received the message).


Long ago, in a galaxy in New Jersey, the 2D Mens Club used to meet regularly to discuss issues of great importance. This is the only remaining record of that historic institution.

The Silence of Angels

(after Rilke)

Angels are whispering:
(slumbering darkness hides them)
But sleep vows to reveal phantom eyes.
They whisper louder, now.

I see, in the torn pages of a book
fallen from high atop the shelf,
a distant lake filled with skeleton tears.
They whisper nearer, now.

A gnarled red oak towers over
faithful throngs of worshipers shouting aloud:
“Hallelujah!” And only the leaves remember.
They whisper everywhere, now.

Discovering the coolness of the sinking ocean,
the sun demands no explanation.
My bed is cold, the window ajar.
They whisper terror, now.

And you awaken,
the light of dawn has not yet begun.

Written Spring, 1998 |