EFF Asks Justices to Consider Critical Free-Speech Implications

San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the United States Supreme Court Thursday, asking justices to overturn a court ruling in a patent case with dangerous implications for free speech and consumers' rights. The Public Patent Foundation, the American Library Association, the American Association of Law Libraries, and the Special Library Association joined EFF on the brief.

At issue is a case involving online auctioneer eBay and a company called MercExchange. Last year, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that eBay violated MercExchange's online auction patents and that eBay could be permanently enjoined, or prohibited, from using the patented technology. But as part of the ruling, the court came to a perilous conclusion, holding that patentees who prove their case have a right to permanent injunctions under all but "exceptional circumstances," like a major public health crisis. This radical rule created an "automatic injunction" standard that ignored the traditional balancing and discretion used by judges to consider how such a decision might affect other public interests--including free speech online.

"As more and more people use software and Internet technology to express themselves online, the battle over software patents has grave implications for online speech," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "Courts must work harder than ever to ensure that technologies like blogs, email, online video, and instant messaging remain free and available to the public."

The lower court's ruling stems in part from a misperception that patents are just like other forms of property, with the same rights and remedies. However, Supreme Court rulings have repeatedly emphasized that patents are a unique form of property, designed to achieve a specific public purpose: the promotion of scientific and industrial progress.

"Part of the court's duty in patent cases is to make sure that the system helps the public's right to free speech instead of hurting it," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "If this ruling is allowed to stand, courts won't be able to do what's right."

For the full brief:

For more on patents and how bad law can hurt the public:


Corynne McSherry
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

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