Friday, February 26. 2010
Today Facebook patented its NewsFeed (I read on RWW). The patent says that they are the patent holders for:
A method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment is described. The method includes generating news items regarding activities associated with a user of a social network environment and attaching an informational link associated with at least one of the activities, to at least one of the news items, as well as limiting access to the news items to a predetermined set of viewers and assigning an order to the news items. The method further may further include displaying the news items in the assigned order to at least one viewing user of the predetermined set of viewers and dynamically limiting the number of news items displayed.
I cannot believe that there is no prior art here! The Facebook Fanboi Nick O'Neill piously believes that:
Pull the other one, Nick. Based on Facebook's well documented benign and gentle past (for US readers - that's irony ) they are not likely to use this for commercial advantage? The main problem is that the patent system in the US is increasingly compromised, but we have covered this ad nausea before.
But I think this is becoming a real issue now, and there may be worse to come in my opinion. The problem the system has is that it is part subsidised by the state and probably costs far more to operate than it costs applicants, so its creaking. And what concerns me even more is the Vulture Capitalists are circling, this article by Nathan Myrhvold in the March Edition of HBR is quite scary- its basically a defence of his company, Intellectual Ventures', wish to Bunker Hunt the Patent market:
My company, Intellectual Ventures, is misunderstood. We have been reviled as a patent troll—a renegade outfit that buys up patents and then uses them to hold up innocent companies. What we’re really trying to do is create a capital market for inventions akin to the venture capital market that supports start-ups and the private equity market that revitalizes inefficient companies. Our goal is to make applied research a profitable activity that attracts vastly more private investment than it does today so that the number of inventions generated soars.
The basic idea is that there is a VC type market for "Invention Capital":
Anyway, the argument is that the Government based patent system is not fit for purpose (true) and the solution is thus to privatise it (probably false, in our view - or at least not without a lot more safeguards than I suspect Mr Myrvold would want).
Another interpretation is that they have seen how big business has managed to buy up DNA IPR which by rights are global Common Stock, and are reselling this at vast profit to its original providers by the simple trick of legal enforcement based on having the money. In medieval England this was known as the Enclosure system, where rich Barons enclosed common peasant land and forced the peasants to pay for using it. One would also feel more re-assured IV were "doing it for us" if they didn't currently use "idea generation" sessions where their lawyers float round writing stuff down to run off and patent.
But one can see how these things will take root simply because they will get the money from backers to do them given the vast profit potential, as the existing creaking system will have few backers and defenders, and there is little financial/lobbying/ethical resource available to "Do The Right Thing".
So there is a strong argument that it behooves the Tech industry to fix the patent system, as what may replace it could be infinitely worse. One non-Myrhvoldian approach could be to wholesale import the European system, which is not yet as broken - but that would require the US to get over the Not Invented Here syndrome.
Friday, February 5. 2010
Interesting little snippet about Google's patents signalling what Google is up to:
Advertising is king, then.....across all Googlemedia.
My Broadsight colleague Paul Lancefield designed a patent search engine a few years ago, and it's fascinating watching a company's patents group around areas. Its a very nice look ahead to their future technology strategy.
What is more saddening is watching the sheer volume of defensive patents the large technology corporates push out every year.
Tuesday, December 29. 2009
We've written before on the daftness of using DRM to protect one's business model, its always merely a matter of time before its hacked. News today comes of the Amazon Kindle being hacked - BBC:
An Israeli hacker claims to have broken the copyright protection on Amazon's Kindle software for PCs, reports say.
The only surprise is thats its taken so long. Now, if the Kindle design is half-way smart it will be able to patch the DRM remotely (they seemed to be able to delete people's books remotely so we suspect it is) but of course it will be hacked again.
Thursday, October 29. 2009
Peter Mandelson today said that the UK will get a "3 strikes and you're off the Internet" rule by April 2010. The BBC notes that:
Lord Mandelson emphasised that cutting off internet connections would be a "last resort".
"I have no expectation of mass suspensions. People will receive two notifications and if it reaches the point [of cutting them off] they will have the opportunity to appeal," Lord Mandelson told the audience at the C&binet Forum, a talking shop set up by government to debate the issues facing the creative industries (of which more, later). The pay-off for tough penalties against persistent file-sharers would be a more relaxed copyright regime, Lord Mandelson said. The details of it would need to be hammered out at European level but it would take account of the use of copyright material "at home and between friends", he said.
Well, that's akin to giving people what they already have with one hand while extracting something with the other hand - I don't know anyone who has ever been prosecuted for taping their own CD's or loading music onto their spouse's iPod. Still, there are some delicious turns of phrase:
(Italics are mine.) There's a subtle knife twist in there, around those words "cheaper", "lift" and "restrictions". Its the music rightsholders that are behind this, they are trying to get the ISP's to police it - and bear some of the costs. They are not going to like those 3 words. The ISP's have also hit back where it hurts - in the wallet:
Which is a sound principle in most sensible legal systems. Another sound principle is that any law that criminalises the majority of its citizens will be made an ass of. The issue, of course, is the one the industry doesn't really want to adress - ie overcharging, What no-one who looks at this "gets" is why this industry feels the Apple model - decent quality at reasonable prices - isn't acceptable.
Now Lord Mandelson, of all people, knows all this. He also knows the Labour party has near zero chance of getting this law through before the next election anyway. Plus there are far bigger fish to fry, so why cause a storm in a teacup full of bloggers, music fans, open rights activists etc who like nothing better than a nice righteous campaign to get off on?
Part of the answer is the size of the industry, c £16bn annually, which the Government needs to ensure (i) keeps its revenue going and people employed and (ii) that they can tax, especially now the City's golden egg is broken.
Another part, suggested by some scurrilous wags, is that some of that £16bn turnover is used to fund lobbying activity, and....well, what with all the other parliamentary expenses being curtailed these days.........but frankly, thats too obvious a ploy, and if you need petty cash go float a bank or two.
Must admit I'm stumped on this at the moment.
Wednesday, June 10. 2009
On Twitter today came the message from @DowningStreet
PM says Sir Tim Berners-Lee will help drive opening of access to Gov data on the web over coming months
I'm not sure they know what they've done. The video above is Sir Tim at TED earlier this year. It has him about halfway through exhorting all of us to stand on our feet and bellow "Raw Data Now"! ""Raw Data Now"! ""Raw Data Now"!*
When do we want it?
(*apologies, to early readers of this post, I recalled it as "Free Our Data"! before being put right - shows how good my memory is, and I was there....)
Update - Grauniad picks up the story over here. Tsk, these MSM boyos - always behind the pace
Tuesday, June 2. 2009
As Business Week notes, the U.S. Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would take up a major issue in intellectual-property law: whether patents should be granted for what are known as business methods. Many financial, accounting, and e-commerce firms have rushed to obtain patent protection for such things as ways to structure financial products, manage organizations, or transact business on the Internet. As they note, businesses are split on this (but somewhat predictably):
Lets be clear here - this whole area is a scam, requiring little skill and investment in R&D. I can write down a business method on an envelope and patent it - the amount of work I have to do is minimal. With the help of my colleague Paul Lancefield's patent search engine I can find out who else is in the space and dodge around them. Except that as a small company, its expensive for us - c $10k + to file, and very costly to enforce. But large players like Accenture can patent away like there is no tomorrow, so within a short while I potentially can't run a business without having to but someone's methodology for running it.
The original idea of patenting was to protect innovation so a company could fund the huge capital costs in developing the priduct. In business model cases its a licence to troll.
In other words, it stifles, not helps, innovation.
The whole business method patent scam started in 1998 when some retain dotcoms bamboozled the Patents Office, but we noted last year that the reversal started after the Bliski case was overturned (a Hedge fund tried to patent a business practice. As we noted at the time, its an encouraging trend towards ratioanlity in patents.
Now all they have to do is sort out prior art definitions and trolling...........
Sunday, January 25. 2009
Interesting essay on the future of books in the New York Times today, showing that the outcome of the recent Google settlement is far from clear and that the issue of copyright has veen wrested from the ideals of protecting knowledge to one of protecting profit. The point that struck me was the 400% inflation in the time copyright applies over the last 300 years:
US law by and large backed up the British concept of 28 years, but in the last few decades corporate influence has swayed legislators considerably:
According to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (also known as "the Mickey Mouse Protection Act," because Mickey was about to fall into the public domain), it lasts as long as the life of the author plus seventy years. In practice, that normally would mean more than a century.
So - extension for a maximum of 28 years to c 140 years - this is hardly what one would call progress over 300 years. The current agreement with Google, while it stops them pwning the entire world's literary output, still essentially just extends the cabal of those who do have the rights by one extra big corporate. And no ordinary corporate - as the article notes:
No one can predict what will happen. We can only read the terms of the settlement and guess about the future. If Google makes available, at a reasonable price, the combined holdings of all the major US libraries, who would not applaud? Would we not prefer a world in which this immense corpus of digitized books is accessible, even at a high price, to one in which it did not exist?
So, who will raise the beacon of anti-trust then?
Tuesday, November 11. 2008
From El Reg - Techdirt reports that Bill Gates has joined ex CTO Nathan Myhrvold at Intellectual Ventures, a company we have covered before: Notes El Reg:
Now IV may say it is not a patent troll but if not its sailing very close to that wind, and it is reported to have some very questionable business practices (like putting bright people in a room to brainstorm and then having its lawyers file patents from the discussions).
Thing I don't get is why should Bill Gates bother - its not as if he needs the money, and being involved wit the potential negative publicity of "assertive patent acquisition" could hurt his otherwise benign emerging reputation as a charitable benefactor. Philanthropism and Patent Predation don't mix easily
Wednesday, October 29. 2008
I'm a great fan of Mike Masnick's Techdirt, except I do think they have an Achilles heel in their oft voiced views that all content can be free forever sustainably - this post on the recent Google Books Copyright settlement being typical. However, a more sanguine analysis (in my view) was posted by one of the commentators there (Techdirt is one of those great sites where the commentators are often as good as the writers) - its by a commentator called Lost Sailor, here it is in full:
For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth, and even though it's contrary to Mike's ardent desire that such content be "freed," this is not a bad agreement at all. Quite the opposite.
The way out of the current no win, free for all scenario is to hammer out workable copyright rules going forward. I couldn't have put it better, so I didn't - Lost Sailor, whoever you are, consider this a sincere form of flattery
Update - Larry Lessig reckons its a good deal as well:
Nice to know Larry agrees with us
Wednesday, April 30. 2008
Ars Tech takes to task those scoundrels who would criticise St Lessig , but makes a very interesting point in the process:
....the Progress and Freedom Foundation is stirring dull roots with spring rain, unleashing a fresh attack on Lessig's four-year-old book Free Culture in a paper released Monday by senior fellow Thomas Sydnor. The argument itself is frankly bizarre: Sydnor brands Lessig's views on copyright as a species of "quasi-socialist utopianism," and he peppers his critique with breathless invocations of Soviet dictatorship and Orwellian panopticons. But the piece also provides potent testament to a fissure within the contemporary right, as Lessig's ideas find a friendly audience among some libertarian public intellectuals, leaving the content industry with a shrinking stable of credible defenders.
Its probably wise to avoid anything that has words like "panopticon
Actually, having read most of Lawrence Lessig's stuff, I think he is in the main correct and has done a tremendous job, though the accusation of a certain amount of Utopianism is not entirely unfair, he definitely has a viewpoint - but to Lessig's credit he does tend to examine every issue in great depth. Anyway, that's not the interesting bit - its the fissures referred to that is interesting, as they note at the end of their piece:
This is quite insightful, and it implies a re-alignment of the Politico-Economic plates. And that in itself is interesting. In our workshops on Digital IP issues (one of Broadsight's team, Paul Lancefield, is an expert on IP and Patents) we do go into the history of IP, and one of the lessons from history is that IP typically follows the shifts in society - ie it lags reality. Thus I think this schism - and noting also the waves of DRM receding and the first stirrings of a review of the US Patents system - indicates that we are now possibly seeing the high watermark of the Draconian IP Lobby, and the Turning of the Tide.
However, in all seriousness, this is exactly when one needs to say to the other side, the "Free Societals" that its time to "hold on" - because pendulums tend to overshoot both ways, and I do think some of the proponents of Free IP are not exactly into IP freedom as a humanitarian exercise, but into Free (as in costs nothing) for their own self interest. Just as we are seeing a schism in the defenders of IP, its not clear to me that their opponents are all pursuing the same benign objectives as Mr Lessig.
The "Free IP" lobby do also need to have answers to issues their own viewpoints raise.
We need to consider our past experience - the Tragedy of the Commons is something that plagues humanity still in some arenas (most Green issues are Tragi-common issues), so its not a great idea to increase it.
In addition, abolishing nearly all IP protection will-he nill-he is akin to rescinding large amounts of helpful social capital we have built up, painfully, over the centuries - or in the vernacular, it would be akin to a giant looting spree (no doubt to lock up again into other closed receptacles, a la Google Books) unless managed quite carefully.
Thus I think we need to ask the Lessig activists (by that term I mean the "FreeTards", the more - um - enthusiastic? supporters) to answer the following question - "have you actually thought through the consequences if all created content is forever unprotected?".
And I don't want to see answers couched in psychobabble, Gift economics, New Economics 2.0 and other various politico-economic flavours whether libertarian, or discredited socialist / humanitarian ideals re-treaded. I want to see it discussed in terms of hard headed behavioural economics, in terms of what people really do, not what they say they will do. I want to see it in terms of business models where I can see the money flowing without the "and here a miracle occurs" phase in the flow, or the "3-pot-shuffle-it'll be-alright-on-the-night" assurances. I want to see the game theory that shows me why people will do what we think they will do.
Now, I am well aware that taking this line will make me seem like another capitalist lackey - thats not it, I just want to ensure the pendulum hits a happy medium - ie we design a damped rather than underdamped system. It strikes me that this is an issue that does need airing, rationally, because the future of content will be driven by its own basic economics, and most specifically, the risk and rewards - ie the opportunity cost - of creating it.
I want a future world with great content, and I don't mind paying (a fair price) for it. What I don't want is a world with completely free, Ad sponsored, crap content. I've seen commercial TV, and its not something to be proud of - but nor is just ripping it off and sticking it up on YouTube
(Update - I feel in a way that I treated Mr Lessig himself unfairly in this article - he after all is trying to do some very good things with the Creative Commons etc - which we use on Broadstuff - what I am more concerned about are some of the other interest groups riding on the coat-tails.
In fact, he wrote a short response to these articles over here, and I'd like to quote one of the comments as it adds nuance to my thoughts - from gurdonark:
Having read a number of critiques of Creative Commons and, now, Free Culture, from the left and the right,
I think Mr Lessig's core issue is how to be a moderate revolutionary, a tough gig to pull off - ask Lenin .)
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