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BLOG: Top 5 technology failures of the US government

Paul Venezia | Feb. 11, 2014
The United States faces difficult problems, but these five threaten to derail the nation's technological and economic leadership

Failure No 3: Frivolous software patents 
It's a tumultuous time to be a patent troll, but it's still paying dividends. Until patent trolling is stopped, we'll be under the constant threat that vague and invalid patents can jeopardize innovation and progress. Just look at what online retailer NewEgg has gone through in the past year.

NewEgg lost a court battle against patent troll Erich Spangenberg, who claimed that NewEgg's use of encryption violated a patent controlled by Spangenberg. Even though legendary cryptographer Whitfield Diffie testified in favor of NewEgg at the trial, the jury awarded damages to Spangenberg on the order of $2.3 million. Conversely, NewEgg won a patent case brought by Soverain Software, wherein the complaint alleged that NewEgg and 50 other online retailers violated Soverain's patent on shopping cart software. Soverain sued several dozen companies for similar reasons, but lost to NewEgg when Soverain lost on appeal in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, which ruled that the patent was too general. Soverain appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

We need to put a stop to this process, where an overwhelmed and overmatched patent office rubber stamps apparently any collection of technical terms assembled into a patent application. Once approved, those patents turn into ammunition in shotgun-style lawsuits that drag down everyone involved.

Failure No 4: Abysmal data security 
As I discussed here last week, we live in a time in which data about us is being collected almost everywhere we go and whatever it is we do -- shopping at any store with credit or debit cards, driving down the road, walking through a mall, browsing websites. Databases are being populated with all manner of information on us, although we have never been given the option of refusing that data collection. In many cases, the companies collecting that data have never disclosed that it's occurring.

Many people consider this to be a non-issue, because they believe they have no reason to fear such data collection. That, however, implies that they trust the companies collecting that data won't do any harm. Some of those companies may indeed not wish to do harm, but once their security has been breached they are complicit in the use of that data for illegal purposes.

Target's breach highlights that fact. Simply by shopping at Target before last Christmas, people put their financial security at great risk because of Target's lack of security -- yet Target won't suffer any significant consequences for it. We need to be able to opt out of such data collection and be free to pursue significant relief against damages caused by the failure of companies to secure data that was collected against our will and without our knowledge. Target's breach won't be the last. It probably won't even be the biggest.

 

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