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The Story Behind the BlackBerry Case

A single filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 1991 has caused one of the largest patent disputes in recent memory, threatening to sever more than 3 million BlackBerry subscribers from their wireless e-mail service

9 min read

In 1991, 164 306 patent applications were filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). One was filed by Thomas Campana Jr. It, and the additional patents he ultimately received, would threaten the wireless e-mail industry 11 years later, when the BlackBerry system would be found to infringe Campana's patents. The ensuing tumult got so bad that at one point the U.S. Department of Justice intervened in court. The DOJ warned that disabling the service would harm the public, particularly since federal employees and even members of congress regularly use the wireless e-mailers, especially in emergencies.

Along the way were false reports of settlement, a second look at the Campana patents by the PTO, court decisions regarding whether that reexamination should have an effect on the pending litigation and the threat of an injunction, a first take on how certain aspects of U.S. patents affect activities conducted outside the United States, a decision regarding an important difference between patents for methods or processes and apparatuses or systems, and a hard lesson in the consequences of not adequately investigating a patent threat.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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