Posts with «business» label

UK appeals court rules AI cannot be listed as a patent inventor

Add the United Kingdom to the list of countries that says an artificial intelligence can’t be legally credited as an inventor. Per the BBC, the UK Court of Appeal recently ruled against Dr Stephen Thaler in a case involving the country’s Intellectual Property Office. In 2018, Thaler filed two patent applications in which he didn’t list himself as the creator of the inventions mentioned in the documents. Instead, he put down his AI DABUS and said the patent should go to him “by ownership of the creativity machine.”

The Intellectual Property Office told Thaler he had to list a real person on the application. When he didn’t do that, the agency decided he had withdrawn from the process. Thaler took the case to the UK’s High Court. The body ruled against him, leading to the eventual appeal. "Only a person can have rights. A machine cannot," Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing of the Appeal Court wrote in her judgment. "A patent is a statutory right and it can only be granted to a person."

Thaler has filed similar legal challenges in other countries, and the results so far have been mixed. In August, a judge in Australia ruled inventions created by an AI can qualify for a patent. However, only earlier this month, US District Judge Leonie M Brinkema upheld a decision by the US Patent and Trademark Office that said “only natural persons may be named as an inventor in a patent application." Judge Brinkema said there may eventually be a time when AI becomes sophisticated enough to satisfy the accepted definitions of inventorship, but noted, “that time has not yet arrived, and, if it does, it will be up to Congress to decide how, if at all, it wants to expand the scope of patent law.”

Shareholders claim Facebook overpaid an FTC settlement to protect Zuckerberg

Facebook shareholders have filed a lawsuit alleging that board members overpaid on a $5 billion FTC fine to protect CEO Mark Zuckerberg from an individual lawsuit, Politico has reported. "Zuckerberg, Sandberg, and other Facebook directors agreed to authorize a multi-billion settlement with the FTC as an express quid pro quo to protect Zuckerberg from being named in the FTC’s complaint, made subject to personal liability, or even required to sit for a deposition," according to one of the two suits filed.

The two lawsuits, filed in a Delaware court last month, cite internal discussion among Facebook's board members. In February of 2019, the FTC named both Facebook and Zuckerberg personally as defendants in a draft complaint sent to company lawyers, according to the shareholders (the FTC has never revealed any such plans). Two Democrats voted against the settlement, saying that Zuckerberg should have been held personally responsible. 

"The FTC has never disclosed that it originally planned to name Zuckerberg personally in the lawsuit, and the agency's two Democrats at the time voted against the settlement in part because of the lack of personal liability for the CEO," one group of shareholders alleged. 

The $5 billion settlement was the result of an FTC complaint filed over Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal. Democratic commissioners said the settlement wouldn't have the desired outcome, which was to force Facebook to improve privacy and other issues. Since then, privacy has continued to be an issue across Facebook and its other platforms, along with areas like misinformation, harassment and double standards for elite users, according to a recent WSJ series

“The Board has never provided a serious check on Zuckerberg’s unfettered authority,” one set of shareholders said. “Instead, it has enabled him, defended him, and paid billions of dollars from Facebook’s corporate coffers to make his problems go away." Engadget has reached out to Facebook for comment. 

Activision Blizzard says it's cooperating with investigations into workplace practices

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick says the company is working with regulators who are looking into its workplace practices, despite allegations it attempted to stymie investigations. “While we continue to work in good faith with regulators to address and resolve past workplace issues, we also continue to move ahead with our own initiatives to ensure that we are the very best place to work," Kotick said in a press release. "We remain committed to addressing all workplace issues in a forthright and prompt manner.”

Kotick claimed that the company is "deeply committed to making Activision Blizzard one of the best, most inclusive places to work anywhere." He said there's no room for "discrimination, harassment or unequal treatment," while touting Activision Blizzard's "extraordinary track record of delivering superior shareholder returns for over 30 years."

The CEO noted that Activision Blizzard is working with regulators including the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). It's also cooperating with a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation.

The DFEH filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard in July. It claimed there was widespread harassment and discrimination at the company and that it had a sexist "frat boy" culture. In an updated filing in August, the DFEH accused the company of interfering with its investigation, claiming that human resources personnel shredded "documents related to investigations and complaints."

Activision Blizzard workers filed a complaint with the NLRB last week. They accused the company of violating labor law by allegedly intimidating staff out of discussing forced arbitration, which is used to manage disputes. On Monday, the SEC confirmed it's investigating Activision Blizzard's workplace practices — Kotick is among those who the agency has subpoenaed.

Meanwhile, Blizzard's chief legal officer Claire Hart has departed the company. In a LinkedIn post spotted by Game Developer, Hart said she left on Friday after holding the post for over three years. Her departure came just days before the SEC said it's looking into Blizzard's parent company.

SEC opens investigation into Activision Blizzard's workplace practices

The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened a “wide-ranging” investigation into Activision Blizzard, per The Wall Street Journal. The outlet reports the SEC recently subpoenaed the company and several executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick. The agency has asked the publisher to share a variety of documents, including correspondence Kotick wrote related to complaints of sexual harassment tied to Activision employees and contractors.

Helaine Klasky, a spokesperson for Activision Blizzard, told The Journal the SEC’s investigation involves disclosures the company made regarding “employment matters and related issues.” The agency reportedly hopes to find out whether Activision properly disclosed those problems, as well as whether those disclosures should have been shared earlier.

An SEC investigation adds significantly more regulatory pressure on Activision Blizzard. In July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) sued the company, accusing its executives of fostering a “frat boy” workplace culture. According to the initial complaint, only 20 percent of all employees at Activision’s Blizzard Entertainment unit are women, and they’re consistently paid less and overlooked for promotions. One month later, DFEH expanded the scope of the lawsuit to include both workers and employees. It also accused the company of using non-disclosure agreements to interfere with its ability to address the workplace violations that had happened at the studio.

Amazon has banned over 600 Chinese brands as part of review fraud crackdown

Have you noticed some well-known tech accessory makers disappearing from Amazon? Those aren't just rare incidents — they're part of a larger campaign. In a response to The Verge, Amazon has confirmed a South China Morning Postreport that the internet giant has banned over 600 Chinese brands (spread across 3,000 seller accounts) over review fraud incidents. These firms intentionally and repeatedly violated review policies banning incentivized reviews, Amazon said.

The online retailer first broke word of the figure in an interview with VP Cindy Tai on the state-controlled network China Central Television. It had previously kept relatively quiet on the broader effort.

The crackdown began in earnest five months earlier, but it received wider attention when Amazon banned Aukey and Mpow. The venders were caught offering rewards, including gift cards, for customers leaving reviews. Amazon later booted RAVPower, Vava and other relatively well-known brands for similar behavior. It's not clear how many non-Chinese brands have faced bans.

There are signs these vendors are either dodging bans or have otherwise escaped some detection, such as Aukey earbuds under the Key Series brand. However, it's safe to say the wider anti-fraud strategy has significantly changed Amazon's marketplace — much to the chagrin of banned companies that heavily depended on Amazon-based sales.

India says Google abused Android dominance

Google stifled competition and prevented the development of Android rivals in India, the country's antitrust regulator has decided in a report seen by Reuters. In 2019, Competition Commission of India opened a probe into whether Google abused Android's dominance in the market where devices powered by the OS are prevalent. In its report on the probe's findings, the regulator wrote that Google flexed its "huge financial muscle" to reduce manufacturers' ability to develop and sell devices running Android forks. 

In addition, the commission said that Google requiring manufacturers to pre-install Android apps is an unfair condition to make in exchange for access to its mobile OS. It violates India's competition laws, the report reads. The regulator also found Play Store policies to be "one-sided, ambiguous, vague, biased and arbitrary." In a statement sent to Reuters, Google said it's looking forward to working with the CCI to "demonstrate how Android has led to more competition and innovation, not less."

The tech giant reportedly responded to the probe 24 times to defend itself, and other tech companies including Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi also responded to questions from the commission. While CCI still decided that Google illegally stifled competition in the country, the company will have another chance to defend itself before the CCI issues its final decision along with penalties, if any.

Just a few days ago, South Korean regulators also came to the decision that Google used its dominant position in the market to hamper the development of Android rivals. They slapped the tech giant with a $177 million fine. They also banned the company from requiring manufacturing partners to sign anti-fragmentation agreements, which prohibit the creation and installation of alternative versions of the Android OS. 

Quibi will transfer its video tech to another company to settle lawsuit

The ghost of Quibi is giving up the Turnstyle rotating video tech that let users watch its short-form content in either landscape or portrait mode on phones. A company called Eko filed a lawsuit over the feature a month before Quibi's ill-fated launch. Eko accused Quibi of patent infringement and claimed it used stolen trade secrets to build the tech.

The companies have settled their legal claims against each other, and Quibi is transferring the Turnstyle tech and intellectual property to Eko. The financial terms of their settlement haven't been disclosed, as Variety notes. Eko sought over $100 million in damages from Quibi.

“We are satisfied with the outcome of this litigation, and proud of the independently created contributions of Quibi and its engineering team to content presentation technology,” Quibi founder Jeffrey Katzenberg said.

Eko filed its suit in March 2020. That July, a court ruled that Quibi could keep using Turnstyle pending the outcome of the lawsuit. As it turns out, the case lasted far longer than Quibi's streaming service — the app shut down last December, less than eight months after it debuted.

Quibi sold its content library to Roku, which won an Emmy for one of those series this past weekend. After selling its shows, a Quibi holding company called QBI Holdings was formed as the legal battle played out.

The settlement is another nail in the coffin for a big, expensive, failure of a bet on mobile streaming. Quibi was designed for on-the-go viewing, but it launched in the midst of a pandemic, when most people weren't moving around. Still, at least we'll always have memories of "The Golden Arm."

Activision Blizzard workers accuse company of violating federal labor law

Activision Blizzard is facing still more legal action over its labor practices. As Game Developerreports, Activision Blizzard workers and the Communication Workers of America have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the game developer of using coercion (such as threats) and interrogation. While the filing doesn't detail the behavior, the employee group ABetterABK claimed Activision Blizzard tried to intimidate staff talking about forced arbitration for disputes.

Companies sometimes include employment clauses requiring arbitration in place of lawsuits. The approach typically favors businesses as arbitrations are often quicker than lawsuits, deny access to class actions and, most importantly, keep matters private. Work disputes are less likely to reach the public eye and prompt systemic change. Tech firms like Microsoft have ended arbitration for sexual harassment claims precisely to make sure those disputes are transparent and prevent harassers from going unchecked.

It's not clear how Activision Blizzard intends to respond. We've asked the company about the complaint. The NLRB has yet to say if it will take up the case.

The gaming giant has taken some action in response to California's sexual harassment lawsuit, dismissing three senior designers and a Blizzard president after they were referenced in the case. It has so far been reluctant to discuss structural changes, though. The NLRB complaint might intensify the pressure for reform, and certainly won't help Activision Blizzard's image.

If the NLRB rules in our favor, the ruling will be retroactive and we will set a precedent that no worker in the US can be intimidated out of talking about forced arbitration.

— ABetterABK (@ABetterABK) September 14, 2021

Apple fires Ashley Gjøvik, senior employee who alleged sexism at work

Apple has fired Ashley Gjøvik, a senior engineering program manager who's been outspoken about her experiences working for the tech giant. Gjøvik said she has experienced sexism and a hostile work environment while working for Apple and spent months talking to the company about it. According to tweets from Gizmodo's Dell Cameron, Apple asked Gjøvik for a talk this afternoon. When she asked for the conversation to take place via email so there would be a written record, though, Apple replied that she had "chosen not to participate in the discussion." She was then fired hours later.

Emails shared w/ @Gizmodo show Apple asking to speak w/ Gjøvik this afternoon. Gjøvik agreed but asked the convo take place via email so there'd be a written record. Apple then replied saying Gjøvik had "chosen not to participate in the discussion." Within hours she was fired.

— Dell Cameron (@dellcam) September 10, 2021

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Amazon complains Elon Musk's companies don't play by the rules

Amazon's response to SpaceX's FCC filing, which accused the e-commerce giant of trying to delay proposals for its Starlink internet service on purpose, is just as scathing. In an FCC filing of its own, Amazon told the regulator that SpaceX chief Elon Musk tends to ignore rules and government-imposed regulations. The company also said that SpaceX often accuses any company "that dares point out its flouting of laws and regulations" as "anticompetitive."

Part of Amazon's filing reads:

"Try to hold a Musk-led company to flight rules? You"re "fundamentally broken." Try to hold a Musk-led company to health and safety rules? You're "unelected & ignorant." Try to hold a Musk-led company to US securities laws? You'll be called many names, some too crude to repeat...

Whether it is launching satellites with unlicensed antennas, launching rockets without approval, building an unapproved launch tower, or re-opening a factory in violation of a shelter-in-place order, the conduct of SpaceX and other Musk-led companies makes their view plain: rules are for other people, and those who insist upon or even simply request compliance are deserving of derision and ad hominem attacks."

As Ars Technica notes, Amazon urged the FCC a couple of weeks ago to reject a proposal from SpaceX regarding the future of its Starlink internet service. Back then, Amazon claimed that SpaceX was proposing "two mutually exclusive configurations" with "very different orbital parameters," which goes against regulations. SpaceX responded that it only proposed two possible configurations in case the one it actually prefers doesn't work out. The Elon Musk-led company then told the FCC that the move is "only the latest in [Amazon's] continuing efforts to slow down competition."

If you'll recall, Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin also filed a complaint against NASA with the US Court of Federal Claims over the lunar lander contract it awarded to SpaceX. Blue Origin expected the space agency to award two contracts instead of just one and argued that the selection process was unfair, because it wasn't given the opportunity to revise its bid in the face of a smaller budget than expected. The litigation forced the space agency to put the $2.9 billion project on hold for the second time. 

When Amazon asked the FCC to reject SpaceX's Starlink proposal, the latter suggested that Amazon, "as it falls behind competitors ... is more than willing to use regulatory and legal processes to create obstacles designed to delay those competitors from leaving [it] even further behind."