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Inventors ripped off in secret undersea phone tap technology

Respect for property rights in America seems to be at a new low these last few years. Just a few months ago we heard the Supreme Court announce that any government can apply Eminent Domain to steal pretty much anything it wants.

Now we have the Federal Government using a technology for ‘secret’ purposes and making sure the inventors cannot sue for fair recompense.

I do not know about you, but I do not find it surprising enough to warrant high secrecy that the US government is using submarines to tap undersea cables. They have been doing this for decades, albiet with copper. They even had a special submarine for it, the USS Halibut.

I can understand sensitivity to which cables and what data… but to pretend that we do not already know what they are doing is much like the 3 year old with a cake smeared face confronted with the empty cake plate proclaiming: “I didn’t do it!”

11 comments to Inventors ripped off in secret undersea phone tap technology

  • guy herbert

    You didn’t know about this Dale? There are analogous provisions in most jurisdictions, and tens of thousands of patents that are held in secret by governments.

  • zmollusc

    That’s some catch, that catch-22!

    It’s the best!

  • @Guy

    I think the point you raise, of secret patents (as in the UK), is different from the particular case quoted.

    In the particular case, the patent has, as I understand it, already been issued with no demarcation as a secret patent.

    The case, as reported, seems more akin to the Matrix Churchill case in the UK, where there was inappropriate use of Public Interest Immunity Certificates to suppress disclosure and so lead to an unfair trial (in the Matrix Churchill case on criminal charges.and in this case on damages for patent infringement etc).

    In so far as the case reported is correct, the intention seems to be to avoid payment of fair patent royalties, and perhaps also to avoid embarrassment to Lucent and the USA Government.

    Best regards

  • Halibut, eh? Sounds fishy to me. They could at least have paid the ripped-off inventors according to scale.

  • Dale Amon

    I’ve added a link to the USS Halibut. Note the addition of sidethrusters for it’s ‘research’ period. Those helped it station keep over the cable.

  • I’d like to see the contract between Lucent and the government. If the government included a fairly standard intellectual property clause from the Federal Acquisition Regs, it’s entirely possible that the procurement contract read along the lines of “all intellectual property developed under this contract is government property” in which case the government would rightly view the materials as government property under something like the “work for hire” doctrine, and not subject to private patent. It would also be nice to know the exact relationship between Lucent and the inventor. Government contractors often do not reveal the nature of their relationship with subcontractors to the government, imposing confidentiality agreements and so forth. It all depends on the precise terms of the contract in question.

    So while the Wired story makes the gubmint look bad – and indeed the gubmint may be completely at fault – there are a lot of facts not in the record that I’d like to be aware of before passing judgment.

  • guy herbert

    Thanks for the clarification, Nigel.

    The analogy that’s appropriate is compulsory licensing, perhaps. It is secret so there’s no notice to the licensor, and no remuneration, but again that’s allowed for in most jurisdictions. (Art.31 of TRIPS internationalises it.)

    As I’ve pointed out before in these comment columns, there’s nothing natural about patent rights. They are privileges created by government, so it should scarecy be a surprise if government grants that privilege against all the world except itself. (C.f. “human rights” legislation.)

  • Dale Amon

    Al: If what you say is true, then Lucent could be held by the government to have made fraudulant claims, as they signed a contract giving away rights which they did not have. So it would indeed be very interesting to see the contract except… its a secret 😉

    Someone is guilty of wrongdoing here and is hiding behind the black cloak.

  • gravid


    Never mind copper I’ve read that they can do it just as easily over fibre too.

  • Dale Amon

    Yes, that is what the article is about. The invention of a reliable coupler for tying into undersea optic fibres.

  • e m butler

    the gov has been taking property since at least the 1950s,but that was just a private observation..
    It also is the observation of a former NYC mayor,Koch,but wadds ya think he knows??
    also the NYT s came out in favor of that interpretation of the SC and wadda ya know,it was done for them in NYC ,when they got a new building to move into..