It’s behind a pay screen, so I may never find out, but I have a sinking feeling this is not a parody.
In a Times (U.K.) column two and a half years ago, I should note, I scoffed at the idea that suits over technology “addiction” would get anywhere. That piece begins:
“Tech addicts may sue,” read the headline. Thus last month did an academic predict that obsessive devotees of handheld communications devices will at some point begin demanding damages from American employers. As one news account put it, “a corporation handing someone a BlackBerry on his first day of work could be seen as enabling, even accelerating, a serious addiction to technology.” …
[Updated/edited to reflect restoration of previously missing first paragraph in reprinted column]
I’m scheduled to be one of the guests on the popular Washington, D.C. public radio show today, during the 12 to 1 p.m. segment. We’ll be discussing BlackBerry legal issues, in particular, the degree to which employers are at risk of big retroactive wage-hour suits if they issue the communications devices to workers and then require (or even permit) them to use the devices for work purposes outside their normal hours. Our BlackBerry posts from this website can be found here. A while back I dismissed as unlikely, in the Times (U.K.), the notion of suits over BlackBerry “addiction” (truncated version here).
Otherwise, the employer may just be setting itself up for wage-hour suits based on the premise that the after-hours use constitutes uncompensated overtime, says Mitch Danzig, “an attorney in the San Diego office of Boston-based Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. Danzig advises his clients to give BlackBerrys only to employees who are exempt from overtime laws. ‘Plaintiffs’ firms are trolling for this,’ he said. ‘Now what you’re seeing on [plaintiffs'] firms’ Web sites are, “Have you been assigned a BlackBerry or a phone? If so, give us a call.”‘” (Ashby Jones, WSJ law blog, Apr. 22; Tresa Baldas, NLJ, Apr. 28). More: Jeffrey Hirsch, Workplace Prof Blog.
“A state senator from Brooklyn said on Tuesday he plans to introduce legislation that would ban people from using an MP3 player, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while crossing the street in New York City and Buffalo.” (“Ban Proposed On Cell Phones, iPods In Crosswalk”, WNBC, Feb. 7). Comment: TechDirt, Global Nerdy, Bainbridge, Wired blog. A Blog for All rounds up links. Commenter Mike Knowland at Dvorak.org writes, “It won’t be enforced, but when someone gets hit by a car while breaking this law, the driver won’t be 100% at fault anymore.”
Business Week is urging us all to take seriously a lawsuit by IBM employee James Pacenza of East Fishkill, N.Y., sacked for improper internet use at work. Pacenza’s attorney has filed a $5 million wrongful-termination suit and is advancing web-addiction theories/excuses for his client. Business Week quotes various sources who are eager to predict some sort of emergent legal status for internet addiction — maybe as a covered condition under the Americans with Disabilities Act — but it all still seems pretty unlikely to me. (Catherine Holahan, “Virtually Addicted”, Dec. 14). On “BlackBerry addiction”, see Oct. 2, etc.
Notwithstanding our repeated debunking efforts (Aug. 25, Sept. 18) the U.K.’s Independent can still approach this story as if born yesterday. (Sophie Goodchild and Martin Hodgson, “CrackBerry addicts: Why the workers who can’t switch off are suing their employers”, Oct. 1).
I was a guest this morning on the nationally syndicated radio show, discussing rumored BlackBerry lawsuits, wage and hour law, and class actions.
I was a guest on the high-rated Baltimore show this afternoon, discussing my BlackBerry column.
My latest column for the Times Online (U.K.) is now up and deals with one academic’s recent prediction that employers would become targets of lawsuits based on their workers’ BlackBerry addictions. An excerpt:
…it made a perfect hey-Martha-look-at-this story, arriving amid the August silly season. As it happens, media people love to confess to their own BlackBerry addictions, which subtly reflect their own importance (people need to reach me day and night!) and in any case make a more agreeable topic of conversation than their gin, shopping or sex addictions….
All that having been said, it’s very unlikely that employers need worry about BlackBerry-addiction suits. Despite rumors to the contrary, American courts have not in fact been much inclined to let sunken-eyed Jane blame her addictions on deep-pocketed James. Compulsive gamblers’ suits have mostly flopped so far – as have those alleging videogame addiction – while the very modest success enjoyed by plaintiffs in fast-food lawsuits has come on other legal theories, such as ingredient mis-labelling.
(Walter Olson, “BlackBerry suits?”, Sept. 18). For earlier posts on the subject, see Aug. 25 (Ted), Sept. 8 (me)(bumped from mid-morning post).
Notwithstanding Ted’s debunking post of Aug. 25 (see also Sept. 5), the press continues to take this subject seriously, complete with its supposed legal ramifications. (Jay Akasie, “‘Addiction’ to BlackBerries May Bring on Lawsuits”, New York Sun, Sept. 7). Jonathan Adler leads a discussion at Volokh Conspiracy (Sept. 7).
I’m scheduled to be a guest this morning at 11:45 Eastern Time on CNBC’s “Morning Call“, discussing the possibilities that employers will get sued over their employees’ “BlackBerry addiction“. I’ll be arguing that such suits are unlikely to get anywhere if filed.
Having represented patent-holding company NTP Inc. in its lengthy and much-criticized suit against BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (Mar. 4, etc.), the 250-lawyer Washington, D.C. law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding is going to be pocketing a contingency fee of roughly a third of the $612.5 million settlement, or $200 million plus. That exceeds the entire 2004 revenue of WR&F, which has heretofore been better known for its Washington regulatory practice than for plaintiff’s contingency-fee work. (“NTP lawyers laughing all the way to the bank”, Mobile Magazine, Mar. 17; Ashby Jones, Wall Street Journal law blog, Mar. 17).
“Although the U.S. Patent Office recently invalidated most of the patents at issue in the dispute, NTP still had the right to appeal. However, RIM was put in a tough position because [Judge] Spencer didn’t have to wait for a final decision on the validity of the patents before making his decision on the injunction. As a result, RIM was forced to pay up, said Ken Dulaney, a vice president and analyst with Gartner, while NTP was inclined to take what it could get.” (Ryan Kim, “BlackBerry users emerge from the legal briar patch”, San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 4). Earlier coverage on this site: May 2, Oct. 11, Nov. 30, 2005, and Feb. 8, Feb. 25, 2006.
So says Rob Pegoraro in today’s Washington Post.
It’s not that NTP never turned its ideas into a product. The patent system doesn’t reserve success to owners of factories and laboratories; the guy living in his parents’ basement is allowed to sell his idea to people with those resources.
No, the problem here is simpler. There are too many bogus patents getting handed out.
Pegoraro also notes that RIM is hardly an innocent in the patent wars. The potential injunction has gotten loads of press coverage; Howard Bashman has roundups here, here, and here. See also Point of Law, Nov. 25, and Overlawyered’s Blackberry litigation coverage.
Columbia lawprof Tim Wu on patents as “Weapons of Business Destruction”. How easily can patent examiners be prevailed on to grant a patent application?
On Nov. 1, 2005, the PTO issued Boris Volfson of Huntington, Ind., Patent 6,960,975 for his invention of an antigravity space vehicle (according to the application, “the spacetime curvature imbalance … provides for the space vehicle’s propulsion”).
(Slate, Feb. 6). More: Jan. 19, Sept. 16, etc.