Canada Post claims monopoly over postal codes & sues geocoding service provider for IP infringement

Over a year ago, Canada Post (a Crown corp.) launched a lawsuit against Geocoder.ca, a company that collects postal codes on a voluntary basis in order to provide geocoding services.  Canada Post’s statement of claim, which was amended on March 9th, alleges that Geocoder is infringing on its intellectual property.

The Crown corporation claims to own copyright in its postal code database, and that any party seeking to use such data without its permission is infringing its rights.  For copyright to subsist in the database, it would have to meet certain requirements including the exercise of skill and judgment.  Needless to say, it will be interesting to see Canada Post try to argue that the creation of its database met this requirement given that there is really only one way to organize postal codes…

And even if copyright in the database is made out, copyright law – unlike patent law – does not provide protection from independent creation.  In practice, what this means is that if Geocoder developed its database through compiling voluntary user queries, there would be no infringement.

The case has been filed with the Federal Court.  If Canada Post succeeds in stretching the copyright framework, it will be granted a monopoly in selling postal code information (which it does for a minimum of $5,000).

If you would like to see what others have written about Canada Post’s actions and to contribute your comments, Geocoder provides a space to do so here.

On the occasion of the U.S.’s upcoming switch to the first-to-file patent system

On March 16th, 2013 the U.S. will be joining the ranks of the majority of countries by switching from the first-to-invent to the first-to-file patent system.  The change is part of a broader set of patent system reforms comprising the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act that was signed into law in 2011.

Under the outgoing first-to-invent system, patent protection is awarded to the party that first conceives of the invention and reduces it to practice (by filing a patent application or building a working prototype).  If one party (Inventor A) comes up with an invention but a second party (Inventor B) reduces it to practice before Inventor A does so, then Inventor A is still awarded the patent so long as reasonable diligence is exercised in reducing the invention to practice up to the date when Inventor B achieves reduction.

Under the new first-to-file system, patent rights are awarded to the party that is first to file a patent application.  In our earlier example, if Inventor B files a patent application for an invention that was earlier conceived of by Inventor A, then Inventor B will get the patent.

The first-to-file system reflects the bargain that the patent system is intended to strike by requiring public disclosure through the filing of a patent application in exchange for granting exclusive monopoly rights over the invention.  In contrast, under the first-to-invent system, it is possible for an inventor to develop an invention and sit on it until someone else comes along and files a patent application, and then come forward and receive patent rights based on the prior invention date.

All this is by way of saying, inventors get ready to start your engines and join the rest of the world in the race to the patent office.  U.S., welcome to the first-to-file system… What took you so long?