San Diego- It has been an interesting week. Classes are winding down to the semester’s end and students are winding up to finals and final portfolios. It set up to be a normal week. But on Tuesday I received a call from an attorney at local law firm specializing in patent and international trade. At first I thought it was in response to my telling a student who knew an attorney specializing in intellectual property that I’d like to chat with him concerning a possible guest lecture. But it quickly became evident that I was the one being interviewed and about basic camera operations and exposure elements — stuff we cover in our basic classes for both film and digital. I guess I had the right answers because he then said he was certainly talking to the right person and asked if I would have any interest in being an expert witness for a case they had pending.
As many of you know, I have some history with law and a continuing fascination with it. I always am interested in serving on juries just to watch the proceedings but am usually excused because of the law degree. So here was a chance to take part in a real case so of course I said I was interested. He proposed a fee and it was satisfactory to me so I just received their Agreement and Confidentiality agreements to sign and am now apparently “on the case.” Unfortunately those agreements prohibit me from discussing even what little I know about the specifics but the concept boils down to this: one company created and patented a product for which they claimed incredibly broad connections with elements of camera ops that, while related in producing a result, are not inherently connected. In short, there is a correlation but no causality… they are claiming a causality and therefore have sued a number of companies for infringement when there may not have actually been any.
It is standard procedure to aggressively protect one’s products and patents; in fact it is quite proper. But when that “protection” extends to where inherent functionality is claimed that does not exist in order to stifle competition, then it is no longer OK in my opinion. One of the hard lessons learned in law school was that the operation of the law is not concerned about fairness or about justice. So if a suit filed by a large company with an army of lawyers capable of virtually bankrupting a smaller company with costly procedures results in the smaller company backing away from their own products and work then that is seen as OK. I must tell you I do not see it that way because it is using the law to perpetrate a fraud. Apparently the large plaintiff in this case has similarly intimidated other companies into submission but the defendants are standing up to it. Good for them and I will help all that I can.
So besides the sheer fascination for me, it will also give me a glimpse into the underbelly of my industry and also perhaps reveal some of the directions this new technology is headed. To be honest I am excited by it. Of course now, ethically, I am potentially at cross purposes with the law firm. An attorney is sworn to uphold the best interests of their client, but the law firm itself is in business to make money and that is accomplished by generating billable hours. The conversations with me were, of course, billable for the attorney and so he took the time to explain things in minute detail. It is to the advantage of the law firm for this to go all the way to trial because it would be held in Washington D.C. with all the attendant billable items involved in that. On the other hand I think if a good report were created that demonstrated clearly to the other side that their position was technically untenable they might be persuaded to try to make this fade off into the dark and not lose a public case.
But that would diminish the potential returns of the law firm. Therefore, for me, in addition to the revelations about the technology it will be fascinating to see how the firm reacts if, in fact, my preliminary appraisal turn out to be accurate (once I have read the actual material and prepped a report) I could show clearly there is nothing in the defendant’s product that violates the plaintiff’s product’s patent or that the patent actually covers unpatentable issues. Were it me running the firm, I would revel in the plaintiff dropping the case and then i would re-examine the suits against others and see if the same thing occurred there and if so contact them. There are, of course, really good and highly ethical attorneys out there. And there are also ethical firms that would rather best serve their clients than just stack up more billable hours at the client’s expense. I am hoping I am now signed on with one of those really ethical firms… we shall see.
In the continuing mission to get our digital print room fully functional I had run into an inexplicable (to me) problem. We have what is considered the top of the line calibration and profiling device, the ExRite i-1 system. Yet it is producing inaccurate profiles by which I mean the resulting profile it generates is not giving a print with good color and tonality. Finally our new adjunct who is a consultant in color management and associated with that company was in and I showed him the results and asked about it. He quickly noticed that we have the wrong device for our uses. It seems there are two versions, a normal one and one with built in UV-cutoff filter. The concept was that would solve the problem of papers that used a UV brightening agent. The problem was it did not work out quite as hoped and there have been lots of problems with it. When we ordered it we did not have a clue about the difference and since they were the same price ordered the one that seemed to cover more bases. It was a mistake.
So based on his insight I contacted ExRite and asked if we could swap it for the non-UV version. I was responded to as if I were some yokel who simply did not know how to use the system. That was the wrong attitude for me so things went somewhat downhill from there. The upshot is that I have asked the consultant if he would contact them directly and deal with it. /unfortunately that leaves us a problem, until we get the correct device we cannot properly profile all of our printers. His color management class last night tackled the problem so hopefully they were able to get all of the printers properly calibrated so they will be ready for the printing rush of finals.
I know I may be a little to thinned skinned about such things but with all due lack of humility, there are some things that I actually know something about. How to operate the calibration and profiling device is one of them. I did not know about the optional versions of the device but they are operated in an identical manner. A few simple questions would determine quickly if I am over my head or actually know what I am doing: we do that with students all of the time. But simply assuming I was doing it wrong was not a response I am good at handling.
OK, my favorite activity — grading — awaits. Imagine my eager anticipation… I’d best get to it. I’ve another meeting later and would like to have that all done before then.