Microwave UI Patents

Joël Franusic has an interesting theory that the reason microwaves have so many different UI’s is because patents make it difficult for them to share a similar interface. Like Joël, I’m not totally convinced, however I do suspect this is at least part of the problem. I also think it goes way beyond just microwaves, that particular appliance is just a great example. The end result is the products created, and the users who buy and use them loose out. If you skim through some of these patents, it seems pretty obvious and hardly innovative, even for the times.

Patents will be the downfall of technology and innovation in America if it’s not reformed.

Innovator’s Patent Agreement

Twitter today announced the Innovator’s Patent Agreement, their attempt to help defuse the patent chaos currently going on in the tech world. The real meat of the post is this:

It is a commitment from Twitter to our employees that patents can only be used for defensive purposes. We will not use the patents from employees’ inventions in offensive litigation without their permission. What’s more, this control flows with the patents, so if we sold them to others, they could only use them as the inventor intended.

I do like the GPL like virility of this. The one thing that I questioned was the term “defensive purposes”. That sounded vague. The IPA itself defines this:

(a) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, threatened, or voluntarily participated in an intellectual property lawsuit against Assignee or any of Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors;

(b) against an Entity that has filed, maintained, or voluntarily participated in a patent infringement lawsuit against another in the past ten years, so long as the Entity has not instituted the patent infringement lawsuit defensively in response to a patent litigation threat against the Entity; or

(c) otherwise to deter a patent litigation threat against Assignee or Assignee’s users, affiliates, customers, suppliers, or distributors.

This sounds like a big improvement to me. I’d still like to see something more explicit that deters Assignees and Inventors from agreeing to claims other than defensive purposes. While it says Assignees must get written permission from Inventors “without additional consideration or threat”. I question if that’s practical given the Assignee is generally the employer and controls the Inventors paycheck, medical benefits, and possible bonus.

Still, it’s an improvement over the current state of things. Kudos to Twitter for innovating and getting some dialog going. This still doesn’t get rid the need for some patent reform.

Patent Wars 2.0

In 1.0 we had Unisys and SCO. In 2.0 it looks like it will be Microsoft:

He says that the Linux kernel – the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware – violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces – essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up – run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68.

Emphasis is mine.

Email programs? Thunderbird? Evolution? Chandler? Kontact? Mutt? Pine? The fact that it’s plural says quite a bit. Is it the concept Email itself (RFC 822)? SMTP (RFC 821)? An address book (no RFC, but there’s got to be prior art here)?

I can’t think of too many things that are shared across “Email programs”.

This will be very interesting.

Eolas 2.0

It’s back. As if it wasn’t ridiculous the first time, we get to go through this again.

  1. Create something.
  2. Don’t enforce for years, silently awaiting wide deployment, then magically appear and start collecting $$$. (can you say GIF)?
  3. Profit.

Oh boy is stuff like this just insane at this point. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens from here. Hint: root for Microsoft (yes, I said it).

Palm Sync and Patent fixing

David Bienvenu is working hard on getting Palm Sync working on Thunderbird. The last essential feature before I can move to Thunderbird for mail. Hopefully he learns the Palm Sync code well, and can fix those pesky bugs that have been driving me nuts as well as the new one I filed earlier today. 😉 Awesome to see it getting attention. Looking at the Mozillazine forum (I remember a few other threads as well), it’s a popular feature. I’m sure that others will appreciate the effort just as much.

I adjusted my flash animation on Accettura Media to bypass that new IE “feature” thanks to the whole patent lawsuit over embedded objects. Seems to work fine on all browsers. So goody.

It’s a busy day for me… lots of work in the next 72 hours, so not sure if there will be any more posts for a few.

To the pile of books on my bed….

Knoppix Update

Finally got around to updating my Knoppix CD. What a neat little setup. One CD with a TON of software. Interesting note on the page:

Closed because of “Software-Patents”

In the next few days, the European Parliament will decide about the legalisation and adoption of so-called “software patents” in Europe, which are already used by large companies in other countries to put competitors out of business. This can lead to the termination of many software projects such as KNOPPIX, at least within Europe, because the holders of the over 30,000 already granted “software patents” (currently without a legal foundation) can claim exclusive rights and collect license fees for trivial things like “progress bars”, “mouseclicks on online order forms”, “scrolling within a window” and similar. That way, software developers will have to pay the “software-patentholders” for using these features, even in their own, completely self-developed applications, which can completely stall the development of innovative software for small and medium companies. Apart from this, the expense for patent inquiries and legal assistence is high, for even trying to find out if the self-developed software is possibly violating “software-patents”, if you want to continue to market your software. Contrary to real patents, “software-patents” are, in the current draft, monopolization of business ideas and methods, even without any tangible technical implementation.

More about the current major problem at http://swpat.ffii.org/index.en.html

You can still download the software… but hope it sticks around. It’s super cool. Even when the computers in the lab aren’t working right, just pop in the CD, and I’m up and running. No issues, not glitches. Just smooth sailing.