No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: OLPC Hit By Patent Claims

from the but,-of-course dept

Always nice to see two unrelated topics that we discuss on Techdirt come together in a single story. A bunch of folks have been sending in the news that the One Laptop Per Child program has been hit with a patent infringement suit in Nigeria. The company claims that the OLPC folks "reverse engineered" its four shift keys on a keyboard, in order to better handle multiple languages. While we think the OLPC project has all sorts of problems, that doesn't mean we think highly of using the patent system to shut down a project that clearly was intended for the greater good, rather than for profit. It will be interesting to see the details of the case as they come out. By claiming that OLPC "reverse engineered" their product (and, honestly, do you really need to "reverse engineer" four shift keys?), it sounds like they're accusing the organization of willful infringement, which could be a lot costlier. Either way, nice to know that the fascination over patent litigation isn't avoiding charitable ventures either.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Le Blue Dude, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 12:04am

    I was one of the ones to send it in

    Yeah, I was one of the ones to send this in, though I misread and thought it was for a keyboard with two shift keys... in which case the current keyboard on my mac book is infringing.

    But it's four. Still, that's not exactly particularly innovative. Sticking more buttons on is pretty basic, you know? It's like patenting the addition of more keys to a keyboard.

    And yeah, it's also being filed in America in three months I think from the report. And they seem to be focusing on willful.

     

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  2.  
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    Anon, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 12:56am

    Do they need to?

    Does this company really need to go to all this trouble of accusing a charitable company with this? If they did do this it would have been to lower costs and increase functionality, which I would argue are in the best interests. It's not like they are making a mint over it themselves.

    Oh, and I'm sure there are ways to reverse-engineer legally?

     

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  3.  
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    zcat, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 1:15am

    WTF?!!

    Point #1 Isn't half the idea of patents supposed to be that how something works is down on paper so after 14 years, anyone can freely benefit from it? What's the story here? Are patents so completely impossible for people 'skilled in the art' to understand that it's easier to buy a couple of keyboards and reverse-engineer them?

    Point #2 why would you even need to buy a couple of keyboards or look at the driver? Or even look at the patent? You press some combination of keys in the right order and it returns a character. Or two characters. Wow. I think my kids could duplicate something like that using Scratch in a few minutes.

    Point #3 the freaking ZX81 keyboard had something like this.. Each key had three or four functions depending on what else you pressed, and one of those functions was that a single keypress would type a whole two to five characters basic keyword.. That's about 25 years prior art if we can track down a still-working ZX81 somewhere in Nigeria.

    Hey, wasn't Bill Gates snooping around in Nigeria recently? And all of a sudden that Mandriva deal got really messed up, and now this. Seems a bit fishy to me!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    CB, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 1:37am

    I just got an email from Nigeria... Some rich guy down there needs help and he wants to give me a lot of money...lol

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    CB, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 1:37am

    I just got an email from Nigeria... Some rich guy down there needs help and he wants to give me a lot of money...lol

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    CB, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 1:37am

    I just got an email from Nigeria... Some rich guy down there needs help and he wants to give me a lot of money...lol

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Pseudonym, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 2:33am

    Double Bucky, you're the one...

    The "space cadet" keyboard had no fewer than seven modification keys (shift, top, front, control, super, hyper and meta) in about 1970.

    But that's not what this patent is about. It's specifically about the use of modification keys to assist in input of other languages.

    (Again, depending on the specifics of the patent, the space cadet keyboard might qualifiy, since it had a "Greek" key.)

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Max Powers, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 4:30am

    Reverse Engineering

    I haven't heard that term since the days of PC makers copying the IBM computer.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Nigerian Dude, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 5:08am

    Reqest Fir Irgent Biznis Relashon

    Furst I must solisit yur striktez confedins. I am the oner of a relly good patint and I reqire assidance with suin a big compini and then movin large amonts of moni to off shor akonts. I am lookin forword to doin biznis with you. Plees send your infos soon.

    Regards, Nigerian Dude

     

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  10.  
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    TheDock22, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 6:44am

    Silly...

    Wow, is this a silly lawsuit. If the US courts actually accept a patent suit from Nigeria then I am going to stop paying my taxes. It's a keyboard for crying out loud, I don't think ANYTHING you could do to a keyboard would make it patentable. I mean, input devices went wireless years ago and you don't see patent lawsuits over that.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Alfred E. Neuman, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 7:05am

    Keyboard Patent

    Back when the typewriter was a new product there must have been at least one dispute about the arrangement of keys. Can you imagine the chaos if each typewriter producer was required to use a different key arrangement?

     

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  12.  
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    Dale Mitchell, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 8:06am

    OLPC Project

    What do these folks hope to gain by this suit. Money? And say they win are not children the ones hurt. If they truly cared why not license this modification and use it for advertising.
    Get behind this effort and help the kids. But no we do not care for the kids. It is sad!

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 8:43am

    Ha

    The Prince of Nigeria needs your help!!!, give him your bank acct# and he'll transfer a 'large sum' into it, so i can get it later, but leave you a fair %.


    i think the Prince of Nigeria is related to the company in nigeria

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 29th, 2007 @ 11:38am

    Well - the OLPC has many other things on it that are patented by others - and those that hold patents ultimately get royalties on them -- why not this?

    If you dig a little, the holder claims that he met with the OLPC folks to try to license his keyboard to them - and instead of doing that, they stole his idea.

    So - it is OK for many others to collect royalties on OLPCs but just not this company/guy?

    Maybe the guy is making it up - and maybe he isn't. Maybe the patent is a total fraud and maybe it isn't. I don't think a little one paragraph line in this blog really justifies the didactic comments that most here have made. But that is the beauty of the Internet isn't it? We can all have strong opinions about things without knowing a single detail about them, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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