Results tagged “Tech” from Bill's Words

Ω Well, this explains a lot...


I know, I know… Correlation is not causation. But do you really think Adobe engineers weren’t fried when they designed their installers?

Dan Frommer points out on SplatF that Time Warner Cable has an app for its own subscribers which allows you to stream TWC onto your TV for the cost of a Roku (about $50). He makes a couple of good observations:

It’s now technically plausible to watch hundreds of channels of TV using Internet Protocol (IP)…

It’s a Big Cable attitude change: Now permitting, not fighting, the idea of streaming TV channels to an actual TV.

But I think he misses the biggest point: how long will it be before competing cable providers begin offering their content to non-subscribers and what will the monopoly carrier be able to do about it? Currently, both Dish and DirecTV provide TV service into monopoly areas, so why couldn’t the cable companies do the same thing?

On Software Patents


Mother Nature is a royal pain to work with, but hold that thought for just a moment.

I started drafting this entry with a huge treatise on how our patent system got to be where it is, with software patents making a tremendous mess. After about 1,000 words, I realized that I was wasting my time and yours—I wasn’t telling you anything you probably already didn’t know, so the novelty (ahem) and usefulness (ahem, ahem) of the post was lost. We are where we are, and it’s a wreck.

Instead I ask: What is it that makes a software patent so darned bad and other patents (“Method of Swinging on a Swing” notwithstanding) so good?

After much thought and consideration, I realized that the crux of the matter can be summarized by (Lookout! Language alert!): “Mother Nature is a bitch.”

To me, inventing something and implementing something worthy of patenting should be inherently difficult because the rules you’re working against are real, hard and fast rules—until you find a way to break them, that is. Though software itself is not easy (Have you ever tried writing a simple database? It’s harder than it looks…) it does not have the restrictions surrounding it that Mother Nature imposes on the physical world. Amazon’s famous “1-Click” patent, for example, doesn’t offer a solution in the real world that Mother Nature herself is struggling against. The laws of physics, chemistry and biology are not challenged in the remotest way by this patent.

Indeed, in the Canadian examination of 1-Click, the Patent Commissioner cited in her rejection a Canadian case, Lawson, as cited in by Wilson J. in Shell Oil at page 555:

An art or operation is an act or series of acts performed by some physical agent upon some physical object and producing in such object some change either of character or condition…It is concrete in that it consists in the application of physical agents to physical objects and then is apparent to the senses in connection with some tangible object or instrument.

Ah, so something that is tangible, and not virtual seems to be worthy of patenting according to this examiner. The European Patent Convention, Article 52, agrees, saying

(1) European patents shall be granted for any inventions which are susceptible of industrial application, which are new and which involve an inventive step.

(2) The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions within the meaning of paragraph 1: (a) discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods; (b) aesthetic creations; (c) schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers; (d) presentations of information.

In short, at least two other jurisdictions think the abstract shouldn’t be patentable, and yet here we have just that: a patent which doesn’t do anything in the “real world.” This patent and all of its ilk feel wrong to me because there aren’t any laws of nature in the abstract, virtual world of computer bits and bytes. There aren’t any restrictions on what you can and can’t do—you have seen The Matrix, haven’t you? There’s just no challenge in accepting a click and making a transaction.

So should software patents be granted? No, simply because the limits imposed upon them are nonexistent.

But… are there special cases for software patents which should be granted? Well… sorta’, but they bend the rules of Mother Nature, so they aren’t purely software. For example, the MP3 patents demonstrate technology which reconstructs music and other sounds in such a way as to break the theorems of Shannon and Nyquist, both players for Mother Nature’s team. (Although strictly speaking, we only perceive that the rules are being broken, but again, it’s something that is, in a manner of speaking, tangible.) Even lossless compression algorithms deserve patents because they push Mother Nature’s buttons, the physical result of these being reduced consumption of storage or bandwidth.

This type of patent, though, is a tricky gray area, and one worthy of the courts and worthy of the time and effort that patent examiners put into their caseloads. If we kept their work clear of ludicrous patents such as this one for the linked list, then perhaps they would have time to examine these situations which are not quite as clear-cut.

The bottom line for me is that if I can’t patent a mathematical formula (nobody can), but I can patent a device which implements the formula in such a way as to be “apparent to the senses in connection with some tangible object or instrument,” then I don’t believe that software which does nothing tangible should be patentable, either.

Because Mother Nature is one tough cookie, and I should get some props when I crumble that cookie.

John Gruber’s guess is pretty good.

But the saddest part of all of this—to me, anyway—is that Hewlett-Packard, a name synonymous with world-class test equipment, is now going to be, of all things, an enterprise information management company, the test equipment company having been spun off as Agilent in the 90’s.

I give HP, the enterprise information management company, less than a decade before Agilent could snap up the HP name from the ashes.

I. They. Calculators. Don’t stop making. Just hope.

Facebook gets a patent for photo tagging, and I know somebody’s going to say, “But iPhoto did that a long time ago!”

To head off this one at the pass, the patent’s claims specifically describe (in spite of the use of the word “may” in the abstract) the tagging feature as part of a collaborative environment, i.e., part of the social network, and not just as a standalone feature of a single-user program. The ability to tag someone and have another user review the tag and accept or reject it appears to be the majority of claim 1.

I didn’t bother reading the rest of the independent claims. Doing so just makes me sad for people who have to invent real stuff for a living, like me.


The quick rundown: A company called Lodsys is threatening a handful of small developers with legal action for their supposed infringement of a Lodsys-owned patent by the developers’ use of Apple’s in-app purchasing system. Some developers are trying to get Apple to step in and help by boycotting the in-app purchasing system. The full story is here on ars technica.

Others in the community have opined that the patent in question is overly broad and would likely be invalidated at trial, but getting to trial and conducting individual trials is well beyond the budgets of these small developers. And so what we have here is reasonably similar to a protection racket, only it’s entirely legal.

In this particular case, it would be entirely reasonable for Apple to step in and attempt to invalidate the patent on behalf of the developers because, after all, part of Apple’s revenue stream is at risk. If developers choose not to use the in-app purchasing system because of the threat of being sued, then Apple doesn’t gain the revenues from that purchasing stream.

But let’s assume for a moment that Apple can’t or won’t get involved for some reason. Perhaps Apple legal thinks it’s a slippery slope and they will only end up shelling out many more millions than they stand to make on this revenue stream. Or let’s assume that another patent troll and patent were involved and it didn’t directly affect Apple’s revenue stream somehow, though it does affect the individual developers.

What then?

There aren’t a whole lot of options to developers. Unfortunately, unlike a criminal trial where the government is required to provide a defense to the accused, civil defendants have no such protections afforded them—they’re left to defend themselves at their own costs. At best, they might find someone who is willing to take the case pro bono (literally, “for good,” i.e., not “for money”). The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, has a staff of lawyers who help out sometimes in cases like this. But while the EFF is certainly no friend of patent trolls, I’d guess it’s also not likely to defend the closed and proprietary Apple ecosystem, either. And it’s highly unlikely that any really good intellectual property (IP) firm would undertake the defense of one small developer. It’s still about the almighty buck, and there wouldn’t be enough publicity in that.

So here’s my suggestion: Crowdsource the defense and gang up on Lodsys.

Step 1: Start a Kickstarter project to fund the evaluation of the validity of Lodsys’s claims. This has to be done quickly as the developers have only a few weeks to respond to Lodsys. It would certainly help if an intellectual property (IP) attorney with a superior track record in defense of IP claims were willing to do the work pro bono, but there will still be costs involved.

I, for one, would throw in $100 on principle alone.

Step 2: If indeed the patent looks unlikely to hold water, then continue with the Kickstarter project to consolidate the certain-to-occur litigation and see it through trial.

It’s a risky proposition, sure, because nothing’s certain in the Eastern District Court of Texas—the developers could still lose the case. But what message would it send to the patent trolls?

For one, it says that the little developer is no longer helpless. Sue enough of them, and you’ve kicked the hornets’ nest, so to speak. Second, it says that the patent in question had damned-well better hold water, and hold it well. (As much as I hate software patents, it’s the law, and if your product really does infringe, then you’re on the hook to license it. Sorry.) Third, it sets a precedent, and it’s all about setting precedent in law.

So… what about it? Anybody able to start a Kickstarter for this one? Any IP attorneys out there willing to give it a go?

This article tells how Microsoft essentially bought Nokia for a whole lotta’ money.

If I had to guess, I’d say this transaction was what Motorola was hoping for when it split the consumer mobile unit from its enterprise unit. I bet there are some people in Arizona who wish they’d managed to get Microsoft’s billions headed their way.

But now this news surfaces: Motorola Buys Android Security Company 3LM. The message to me? “We’re serious about Android.”

If the first article’s stated rumors of a bidding war between Google and Microsoft for Nokia are indeed true, then it’s only a matter of time before Google finds Motorola attractive enough—less than perfect, but made more attractive with acquisitions like the 3LM one—and buys it up.

At least, that’s my guess.