Apple, Motorola all Tied Up

Apple vs. MotorolaApple won a round in German court on Monday in its long running patent battle with Motorola. In this truly twisted turn of events, Apple won by accepting a licensing offer from Motorola. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. Experts in the case now see an advantage for Apple, as Motorola may be forced to accept a license from Apple on similar, also undisclosed terms.

What? That’s right, folks. Both companies will, eventually, be forced to license its patents to the other. No winner, no loser.

Keep in mind that the fundamental right of a patent holder is to deny others the right to make or use the covered invention. This ruling seems to guarantee that neither company can successfully enforce that right. The case concerned a “standard essential” patent. As published reports point out, such patents are required to comply with an industry standard, and companies must license to competitors because they can’t produce devices under the standard without the technology.

What this means is that “industry standards” count. Once a technology is accepted as a standard – and therefore baked into the fabric of business – it can’t be suddenly pulled away even by that technologies’ owner. Patents that cover other aspects of a product can, of course, still be enforced.

This should put one of the great fears of the ‘free software’ folks crowd to rest. The patent system and the courts worked to achieve the correct balance between the public good the the private right. Industry continues to operate at speed. Innovation continues at pace. Even in the face of valid and enforceable patents, the operating world of the Internet did not come to a screeching halt.

At least in Germany. Hopefully the rest of us will catch on soon.

Apple’s Move is Rotten to the Core

For the record, I am a fan of everything Apple.  I love my iPhone, adore my iPad, and will not travel without my MacBook Air.  In fact, I’m writing this post on my 17-inch MacBook Pro.

But I do not love giving up my personal address book to apps that are controlled, regulated, and distributed by Apple.

Reuters recently reported that bloggers have published findings that some of the most popular software applications in Apple’s App Store have been able to lift private address book data without user consent.  Two members of the U.S. Congress have asked the company to provide more information.  These reports claim that apps like Facebook and Twitter can, and do, routinely upload my entire address book without my knowledge.

I have both of those apps on my iPhone.

Apple wants to control the entire user experience.  They provide the hardware, the software, and the middleware.  They build the operating system, the libraries, and developer tools.  They approve the apps for distribution.

Unfortunately, all of that integration also makes it easy for data to slip between the virtual cracks and end up in the wrong hands.  Apple has said that they intend to fix the issue in a future release.  Users will be asked to approve, or decline, access to their address book.  That’s not enough. Apparently some companies already may have my data. I want it back.  I want to know that it’s been deleted. I want Apple to fix this.

Apple must take responsibility for this breach in a serious and strong manner. I want to trust the integration Apple provides, not fear it.


The End of an Era

NASA unplugged their last mainframe this week. I remember those machines.  There is something special about programming a machine in assembler, and knowing the registers, op codes and byte order.

There were no objects to be oriented, there were no apps to download, and Unix was a young and untested technology.  Rather, a client appeared at your door for consultation, and a server brought you drinks at the bar.

Those were the days!  Life was simple, computing was simple. We knew how every little bit of the program and the computer worked. Now we don’t.

It’s true that any one of today’s PCs is infinitely more powerful than the best mainframe from a decade ago.  Those machines were themselves amazingly powerful upgrades compared to the computers available to NASA when the moon program was being planned.  Those outdated behemoth’s demand huge amounts of power and could generate enough heat to warm an entire building.  A really big building.  There is no app for that.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of modern computing, and I live on the Internet.  My mainframe from yesterday has been replaced by the planetframe of tomorrow.  It’s a great thing.

It’s also impossible now to really know how everything works.  No single machine contains it all.  No single network delivers it.  No single company designed it or implemented it.  A single modern web server integrates technology from thousands of sources, some open and some proprietary.

It’s no wonder that no one really understands everything about anything anymore.

Maybe, just maybe, there will be an app for that.


On Further Review….

It’s time to look at the fine print. The USPTO has published the preliminary set of rules under the America Invents Act (AIA) concerning Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) practice, inter partes (Latin for “between the parties”) review, and, most importantly, the new post-grant review process.  These are the parts of the new law that can be used, by all of us, to help the patent system work better.

Technology companies, in particular, need to have a close watch on the rules and on the stream of newly issuing patents they will cover.  The rules deal with the kinds of information that must be provided, timelines, and guidelines for initiating the various procedures.  The USPTO will be holding a number of regional road shows to explain.

Now is the time to be putting in place the internal systems and disciplines necessary to monitor new patents as they are issued.  The challenge period is limited and the requirements are stringent.  If used properly, though, it’s possible that the post grant review process will be a timely, cost-effective alternative to litigation. But only if you are paying attention.

A Tangled Web, Indeed

A jury in Texas has decided that Dr. Michael Doyle, of Eolas Technologies, was not the first to invent the ‘interactive web’.  After more than a decade in various courts, a jury in Texas decided the famed ’906 patent to be invalid.  Eolas had sued a long list of companies including Google, Amazon, Adobe Systems, Yahoo and J.C. Penney.

If the decision had gone the other way, experts say, the internet could have been seriously damaged, maybe even derailed.

Give me a break.

The only think at stake here was money.  Lots of it.  Dr. Doyle wanted some, and the companies he took to court didn’t want to give him any.  In the end some paid, and some stuck it out until the bitter end.  That’s the free enterprise system at work.

Now there are some folks who are criticizing the companies such as Apple, Citigroup, EBay and Playboy that paid up over the years.   I think that criticism is unfair. Each of those companies made a rational business decision that was, in theory, the best business decision for them at the time.  They have had years of economic certainty and virtually no litigation and defense costs.

Mostly that’s not how it goes, though. Generally these things are settled long before we really know who is right.  It’s nice to see how the process turns if you stick with it long enough.

I admit to harboring a little hope that he had been, in some way, right.  There is nothing like seeing the big guys having to pay the little guy some money.  It’s a great story.

But the system worked, and the ’906 is invalid.  So ends the saga.  Unless, of course, Dr. Doyle appeals.

Wanted: Creativity in the Classroom

During President Obama’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, he cited the importance of having a creative and competitive workforce to propel America to greater heights.

But there’s another reality at work here, namely that many of our young students today feel ill prepared to reach that level. According to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, which gauges innovation aptitudes among young learners, students roundly felt that they either don’t know much about math, science and technology fields or that they are not getting the instruction they should.

I was particularly intrigued by a statistic that showed that 80 percent of survey respondents said they’d be interested in courses that would help them “become more inventive and creative.”

That’s both encouraging and disappointing. It’s encouraging that our students recognize the importance of creativity.  It’s disappointing that so many don’t think the curriculum they have available now fails to help them be inventive and creative.

President Obama correctly identified the need. Now it’s up to educational professionals to deliver.

Some NPE’s are unjustly maligned

Lost amid the sea of electronic gadgets unveiled at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show was an announcement made by Sisvel International. Sisvel, which manages IP issues and maximizes patent rights, announced that it had acquired 47 patent families comprised of more than 450 patents and applications originally filed by Nokia. Why is this important, you ask?

For starters, there’s been considerable hand wringing about Sisvel as some onlines and news outlets have called them patent trolls. That’s nothing more than a simplistic explanation. Not all non-practicing entities – NPEs in innovation parlance – are evil. Sisvel is one such example. As Giustino de Sanctis, CEO of Sisvel International, said in a company press release recently, “Sisvel has been extremely active in recent years working with the wireless industry to provide simplified access to essential wireless patents on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory, or FRAND, conditions.”

Well said, Mr. de Sanctis. Sisvel does, without a doubt, perform a valuable service in the ecosystem. And its delivery of FRAND licenses for a new standard makes them an important organization.

And before we start pointing fingers at every NPE, let’s not forget that the Open Invention Network is, indeed, an NPE. But there’s no question that OIN  provides stability and protection for Linux-based open source.

As more technology matures into standards it is appropriate and desirable to form a FRAND pool. Business and governments should applaud these efforts.

PIPA and SOPA bills are bad for America

Wikipedia is dark today. And if you check out Google today, you’ll notice a single black band through the name itself. In both instances, the web sites are seeking to raise awareness over a current debate in Congress on piracy and IP issues. Known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the bills “…would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business,” according to a news brief appearing on Google.

I don’t like the fact that Wikipedia is involved in a political issue.  It seems to me that a free and open encyclopedia should also be politically neutral. Censorship can’t be fought by censoring others.

More broadly, censorship is not a good thing. It never has been and never will be. Discussion of censorship, however, is a good thing and always has been.

I have no problem with Congress debating a bill that “could fatally damage the free and open Internet,” as Wikipedia notes. The PIPA and SOPA bills should be debated. Then they should be soundly defeated.

Remembering Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was always this larger-than-life, mythical figure to me. His inventions at Apple were extraordinary and his mark on consumer technology will be felt for generations to come.

But his passing has special meaning to me for other reasons. I was always impressed with how bravely he battled pancreatic cancer over the years. He would show up at events and carry on with good spirit and determination. When I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2007, I knew that it would be important for me to forge ahead and share my ideas and my knowledge with others. I took from Mr. Jobs’ battle a sense of renewed purpose and vigor to be the most creative and upbeat person I could be.

For those of us who see Mr. Jobs as a god of technology, we suffer the loss of his potential. But there’s no loss at what he gave us. I have regular reminders of his impact with my iPhone and the three iPads in my house.

We read about Thomas Edison growing up; now we’ll learn about Steve Jobs. Without a doubt, his influence will continue to guide Apple and shape how human beings think forever.

That’s one big legacy.

A Compromise over the America Invents Act

When President Barack Obama signed the America Invents Act into law on Sept. 16, it promised some rather dramatic changes to the patent system. At its most basic level, the act changed the patent system from a so-called “first to invent” system to a “first to file” system.

When the act takes effect, though, the invention date won’t be as important. What will be critical is getting to the Patent office to file your claim before anyone else. There are also changes to the peer-review process, the way the US patent office looks at non-US documents, and significant changes to post-grant validity proceedings.  All around, a compromise in the true legislative sense.  No one got everything, everyone got something.

But the reality is that some individual inventors will not have the tools to file online as quickly as others, and that will cause a fair amount of concern moving forward.  Individual inventors may also have some difficulty with the post-grant reviews.  Those kinds of drawn out affairs tend to favor corporations.

There’s no doubt that AIA is good for the U.S. Patent Office and a significant step forward.  I hope the individual inventor doesn’t get lost in all that progress.