Customs raids tech trade show
Armed agents search for patent infringers
IFA An intrepid Register Hardware hack was this morning stopped from looking around MSI's stand at the consumer electronics show IFA, in Berlin.
The uniformed gents he mistook for overly officious security guards were in fact German Customs officers investigating claims of patent infringement.
Nothing to see here, move on
Our man said he was removed from the stand by the men who would not tell him what was going on. It transpires that several stands were targeted by about 200 armed German Customs bods, reportedly after complaints from patent firm Sisvel. They seized equipment which will now be checked for evidence of patent breaches.
A spokesman for German Customs told us: "We've raided 69 companies today. We have seized equipment including flatscreen TVs, CD players, set-top boxes and MP3 players."
Customs raids at trade shows are nothing new - in March several stands at monster show CeBit were raided by German police and customs. They were acting on complaints from patent firm Sisvel which suspected that its intellectual property, or that of its clients, had been infringed.
Thanks to the commenters on the original story who pointed this out. ®
IFA 2008 complete coverage
Think they're just there to score free tat at the booth owner's expense, using "copyright infringement" as a convienent excuse?
Mine's the one with the SPIE's Defense & Security Synopsium exhibit pass on the security officer's jacket...
trade show raid
While German patent law apparently allows this, it's hard to fathom why.
@ Iain's 'Acthung!' comment
"If you haff done notting wrong, you haff notting to fear."
I find that very offensive, your stereotype is all wrong. My wife is German.
If you're going to take the piss it goes like this...
"If you haff done nussing wrong, you haff nussing to fear. Ja?"
(and yes my tongue is wedged in my cheek at the expense of my wife!)
Another power is gained by the Minister
If I were the organiser or promoter for for IFA and - especially - for CeBit, I'd be suing Sisvel and ZollAmt for every last penny. Because it would *be* my last penny: barring some serious high-profile apology and a statement of policy from the Chancellor's office, this latest raid on a major tech trade fair is probably the end of the line for CeBit.
At the very least, CeBit's no longer permitted to be a cutting-edge technology showcase with the movers and the shakers in attendance: I doubt that any such thing will ever be hosted in Germany again.
Trouble is, German law (and English law, for that matter) offers very little scope for compensation for losses, direct and indirect, incurred when your property is seized as part of a Police or Customs investigation. And they've only got to find one or two *arguable* patent violations in order to demonstrate that the search and seizure was 'reasonable'.
I could be wrong - it should be noted that I am not a lawyer and that you would be wise to seek advice from a qualified legal practitioner in your own jurisdiction - but it looks like trade shows and exhibitions cannot be protected against this kind of thing at all. Particularly in a federal nation-state: CeBit and IFA's organisers are locally influential, and would have an effective veto over such an action by local police, but *this* act of sabotage reflects political lobbying at the level of national policy, and the skilful cultivation of public officials at Federal level.
Or so a cynic might think. ZollAmt officials and the judicial office-holders who issued the warrants are, of course, dedicated and impartial professionals acting to uphold the law by their own best judgement. They gave - and will continue to give - the proper weight, no more and no less, to the advice of trustworthy experts in industry. I am certain, and I am sure that you will all take care to agree with me *explicitly* in your comments, that they did not give undue weight to the advice or information of any one particular company or special-interest group in this or any other case. I am equally certain that no individual or company influenced them unduly, that there is absolutely no question whatsoever that any individual or company sought to do so improperly, and I have every confidence that your published comments will be entirely in agreement with me on this particular point.
Organisers of similar events in the USA would be well advised to take note: there are lobbyists in Washington and legal advisors with a presence in all the competent courts in the individual states, who will maintain a watching brief for this kind of thing: but they are expensive, far beyond the reach of all but the largest companies. You have, at least, the consolation of knowing that the TSA and Homeland Security have shown themselves to be commercially-impartial in their overbearing offensive and occasionally- thuggish assaults on commerce, technology and the free exchange of ideas. Patent trolls backed up by federal marshals might be another matter. And yes, it *is* a federal matter if the infringement crosses state lines, or the trolls get a ruling that one or more of the (alleged) infringements involves a 'dual-use' technology with armaments and aerospace applications.
Who else will take note?
Far Eastern companies will view this whole affair with alarm: for some, it will have a familiar ring, a sense that the Minister, the Party Secretary and Chief of Police should be consulted advised and assisted in the usual way... They will also see our talk of 'impartial' and 'incorruptible' public administration as the sham it has clearly (in their eyes) been shown to be. And, as they haven't established a reliable way of getting people un-arrested over here, they will only ever send expendable junior employees out to exhibitions and trade fairs in Europe. Worse, there is absolutely nothing, bar common sense, to stop them 'advising' their own officials that *our* stands on trade fairs in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and - especially - China are now fair game.
You might want to take note of this, too: try telling a customs official or a district court that the economically-dominant Work Unit, Chaebol or Zaibatsu that owns everything and everyone in the host city isn't the victim of a patent infringement. Or that they shouldn't lock you up forever, declare all forty containers of your products contraband and extinguish your copyrights and patents - locally, at least - unless you pay the fines in full right now.
Closer to home, it would be nice to think that the proprietors of Kensington Olympia, the NEC and EdExcel would take note, too: hosting CeBit in the UK would be a major commercial coup. Trouble is, we've got patent trolls in the UK, too: technology fairs are now subject to an effective veto-by-decree as no-one will commit the money without an explicit and *public* ministerial guarantee that the show will be permitted to open and operate without being raided.
At least they don't take bribes here... But ministers and senior civil servants can be briefed, and frequently are, by people whose interests do do not correspond at all closely with the common good, and their ignorance of the consequences of their actions occasionally frightens me. And, as I've hinted in the title, we've taken the second big step in Rule by Fiat: not only does the minister have the power to forbid an assembly, he must now be petitioned in advance for an assurance that his minions won't shut it down after all the money's been committed.
So far, this is hypothetical: raids on trade shows are only happening in Germany... Aren't they?
Move the show to another country
This show should be moved to another country which doesn't pander to the needs of some patent hungry company..