No foolin‘—the 2010s were a crazy decade for tech

Here are the trends and tales that defined the last ten years of tech in the eyes of Ars. Treasure them in your hearts, for one day you might be called upon to retell the Legend of Prenda Law or to let your grandchildren know what it was like to believe in social media as a force for good.

And lo, verily, they shall gaze upon you with wide eyes and ask, “No foolin’?” And you can nod sagely and stare off into the far distance and say: “No foolin’, kids. I it.”

Those crazy court cases

It’s hard to look back at any decade in science and technology without a few cameos from the legal system. The 2010s, of course, were no different: Apple v. Samsung just ended a battle over smartphone feature patents that impacted the marketplace (and company pocketbooks). And Oracle v. Google is about to spill into the 2020s and potentially reverse a disastrous decision regarding software APIs.

But they weren’t the most cases. That honor goes to these four, which turned courtroom filings into high drama:

US v Ulbricht: Perhaps the court case most likely to inspire a dramatic series or a true crime podcast, Ross Ulbricht was convinced to a life sentence for his role in creating and maintaining the Silk Road online drug marketplace. The saga had dirty cops, copious amounts of drugs and cash, an alleged murder-for-hire attempt, and a dramatic library arrest—with Ulbricht’s laptop open and accessible.

US v. Hansmeier: For any longtime reader of Ars, the name “Prenda Law” is immediately recognizable. The Prenda firm specialized in a new form of porn trolling—they produced porn, then uploaded it to file-sharing sites, then sued the downloaders. Once they unmasked a downloader, Prenda would offer to settle the case outside for less than a lawyer would cost. Masterminds—and we use the term loosely—Paul Hansmeier and John Steele tried long and hard to cover their tracks, but in the end, both ended up with prison sentences.

Funny Junk v. The OatmealThis one started when Tuscon lawyer Charles Carreon demanded that Matt Inman, the creator of popular webcomic The Oatmeal, “deliver to me a check in the amount of $20,000” as payment for some things Inman had said about a site called FunnyJunk. Inman then responded by drawing a picture of a woman (possibly Carreon’s mom) seducing a bear. Inman also offered to take a photo of $200,000 he raised online for charities and to send that to Carreon. It all culminated in Carreon attempting to sue Inman, the National Wildlife Federation, the American Cancer Society, and 100 anonymous “Does” who had allegedly mocked or bullied Carreon online. Carreon ending up having to pay $46,100 in legal fees.

“We basically took a look at this situation and said, ‘This is bullshit,’” Newegg’s Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng told Ars when we asked about his company taking on Soverain Software and its “shopping cart” patent, covering (literally) online shopping carts. But after Soverain had sued more than 50 big retailers, they picked the wrong one with Cheng and Newegg—the lawsuit ended with the “shopping cart” patent being invalidated. It had been a robust decade for so-called patent trolls, but in 2017 the Supreme Court limited where patent holders could file their lawsuits, and the East Texas “rocket docket” patent pipeline dried up.

Nathan Mattise Nathan is an Austin-based Features Editor at Ars Technica. He edits and contributes posts on a variety of topics like lost short films that ran before , how NASA kept the Shuttle program going against Hurricane Katrina, and why Apple no longer loves indie bands. He also hosts and produces multimedia, like the Decrypted podcast season on or the new Tech on TV video series.
Email[email protected]//Twitter@nathanmattise

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