In the past, we've pointed out how many patent holders now get two entirely separate cracks at trying to get those they accuse of patent infringement to pay up. There's the regular court system and there's an entirely separate International Trade Commission (ITC) process, as well. Basically, the ITC can make rulings preventing importing infringing works, totally outside of the court system. And, of course, since so many things are made outside the US these days, this could create an effective injunction against those products in the entire US market. One of the key problems is that the ITC uses different standards than the court system to determine if such an injunction is an appropriate step.
With the massive patent thicket on smartphones, leading to a bunch of lawsuits, many are using both the court system and the ITC to try to force the other side to give in and just pay up. However, so far, it appears that the ITC is not playing along. We recently noted that the ITC indicated it was rejecting Nokia's claims that Apple's iPhone violated some of its patents, and now the ITC has indicated that it won't side with Apple in its claims against HTC and Nokia.
In other words: keep your silly patent pissing fight out of the ITC.
If the ITC keeps rejecting these attempts to stifle competition via the patent system, then hopefully companies will stop using this little loophole to get to extra bites of the (proverbial) apple.
With the rise of smartphone apps, users don't always know what features and functionality those apps may be using. Reports are coming out about various apps that use the phone's microphone (and, sometimes, camera) in somewhat surreptitious ways to gather data. Now, of course, there are certain apps that people expect to use the microphone or a camera -- such as music or TV show identification products. But it's a bit of a surprise that apps such as the massively hyped (and then quickly panned) Color (which is a sort of photo sharing/location-based info service) is making use of your microphone and camera without most users realizing it:
Color uses your iPhone's or Android phone's microphone to detect when people are in the same room. The data on ambient noise is combined with color and lighting information from the camera to figure out who's inside, who's outside, who's in one room, and who's in another, so the app can auto-generate spontaneous temporary social networks of people who are sharing the same experience.
Another app discussed is, Shopkick, which gives people rewards for walking into certain stores. While you might think it could accomplish what it needs with GPS, apparently the stores in question have special devices that emit sounds that you can't hear, the microphone on your phone can pick up, thus "confirming" that you really entered the store.
While the reasoning behind these may be benign, my guess is that most people would feel pretty creeped out about apps turning on either the microphone or camera, without explicitly warning the user and making it clear what's going on (or letting them choose to turn on those features directly). Mike Elgan, who wrote the article linked above, notes (obviously) that surreptitiously turning on your microphone can provide marketers with all sorts of useful data (ya think?), so we should expect it to happen more and more often. Of course, all this is making me think that my Android phone needs an app that warns me whenever the microphone is turned on and lets me block it... Anyone writing that app?
While a state court in Connecticut may be fine with you tweeting from the courtroom via your phone, you might not be allowed to bring your smartphone into federal courtrooms at all. Apparently the Administrative Office of the Courts is arguing that smartphones should be banned completely from federal court houses, because they might hide bombs. Really? I mean, can't we at least have a TSA style grope and scan before we write off all smartphones? David Kravets, the author of the article linked above, highlights how different federal courthouses seem to take very different views on technology these days:
At the District of Columbia federal courthouse, which is home to the lower courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals, I had to check my cellphone at the door two weeks ago. And in the Los Angeles federal courthouse, I was ordered, by a judge, to turn off the Wi-Fi signal emitted from my HTC Evo in December.
But in San Francisco, the judiciary allows Wi-Fi connected computing inside its courtrooms, from either a cellphone or a computer. Live blogging or tweeting is commonplace there.
That is the status quo with the ongoing Barry Bonds criminal trial in San Francisco. What’s more, the San Francisco federal courthouse even provides free Wi-Fi in many courtrooms.
It seems like that's going significantly overboard to claim that we should ban all smartphones just because some people might misuse them.
Nokia, who used to absolutely dominate the mobile phone market, has definitely seen better days. The iPhone really took it by surprise and the company really hasn't done a particularly good job reacting to the rise of the smartphone market. So, like plenty of companies who once innovated, once it started losing in the market, it shifted to litigation. Just a week after the company's first ever quarterly loss, it sued Apple for patent infringement over the iPhone. It actually took two cracks at Apple in that it also used the ITC loophole to go after the company twice.
Of course, in true patentland fashion, when a big tech company sues another big tech company for patent infringement, patent nuclear war ensues, as Apple sued back claiming that Nokia infringed on its patents. While the various lawsuits are still ongoing, it appears that Nokia's first shot via the ITC loophole has been a big failure, as the judge has ruled that Apple didn't infringe at all. It's worth noting that many consider the ITC to also have a lower bar, so this might not bode well for Nokia's lawsuit. Of course, Apple's lawsuit against Nokia remains as well... meaning that this little attack on Apple could conceivably end very, very badly for Nokia.
The first ever smartphone that got me excited about what smartphones could do was the T-Mobile Sidekick, made by the company Danger, which was amazingly hyped up for a time in Silicon Valley. It remains the only phone that I ever bought the day that it came out (even though I didn't really use it as a phone, but as a portable email/internet device). Danger made some big mistakes early on, such as taking a pretty big investment from T-Mobile, which meant that no other carriers had any interest in carrying the phone (why help a competitor?) in the US. That really hurt the company's ability to grow. The company also had a really dreadful developer strategy -- initially launching without an SDK for outside developers, and then remaining an extremely closed system that pissed off many developers, and simply made many developers ignore the platform.
In 2007, after the Sidekick had long fallen off the map, and after the initial iPhone had already hit the market, Danger announced plans to IPO, but with financials that were anything but appealing. Microsoft stepped in and bought the company instead, probably more for the (remaining) talent than anything else. A year later, there was a massive server failure, that caused a bunch of people to lose data. It became clear that the platform was really on its last legs.
And, now, finally, T-Mobile is putting it out of its misery and will be shutting off service to its Sidekick servers. If you don't remember (or never knew), the way the Sidekick worked was everything had to go through special Sidekick/Danger servers hosted by your ISP (in some ways similar to the way Blackberries work). So, without those servers, the few remaining Sidekicks become even more useless. Somewhere, buried in a box, I'm pretty sure I still have my original (black and white!) Sidekick. I might just have to put it on my desk as a reminder of how quickly technology changes.
For myself and my busking exploits, the iphone is now indespensible. I use mine as a wireless midi controller using an app called TouchOSC. When I arrive in a new city, looking for locations to busk, I make use of a gps enabled map app called MotionX GPS which allows me to download maps of an area before departing home, then drop map points of interest either from research at home, or from recommendations of people I meet in said city. It allows me to arrive in a new place and bike around, finding interesting locations as I go. When I find one that is viable based on the criteria to be covered in the next chapter, I drop a map point and location notes onto the map. This allows me to do recon on many areas of a new place, quickly and efficiently then when I am ready to play, I can focus on playing rather than pitch recon. If one potential pitch is occupied or in some way, undesirable, I can look at my map and go to the next closest potential pitch,without having to go into "recon" mode, which saves a lot of valuable time.
He later discusses how it helps as a tool to turn busking performances into venue gigs as well:
One of my favorite functions of such devices is as a portable press kit. I love busking as much as I love playing shows in venues. Many times people who book such venues, will see me on the street and hire me to play. But sometimes I happen upon a place or person and strike up a conversation and said person wants to see what I do. So, I whip out my trusted iphone, which i have preloaded with different types of videos. Some more "jazz" oriented for cafes and jazzier places, some more "dance oriented" for clubs and bars, and some live "street oriented" vids for farmers markets and street fairs. A picture may say 1000 words but a video says it all. The video quality on the iphone is extremely high and the volume is adequate. Very useful and powerful.
Of course, he also discusses how it's helpful in connecting with fans, both via social networks and in creating various flashmobs. It also is useful in selling merchandise:
Selling merchandise? With a smartphone you can accept different forms of payment in different currencies. It is now easier than ever to accept credit cards with systems like square and/or you can use paypal, which has grown far beyond a simple method of making payments on E-bay.
There's a lot more in there as well, so go read the full post. I think it's quite fascinating how the various tools out there are changing different professions that you didn't think would be impacted by such technology, and this seems to be yet another example.
The past year brought some significant changes to the car industry, and the upcoming year is bound to bring a lot more. Besides just gasoline and diesel, car buyers are going to have a few more options for how their cars are powered. Fully electric or hybrid cars may only be the start. While we're still waiting on flying cars to hit the dealerships, here are some quick car-related links.
Earlier this year, we wrote about the (very, very cool) publicity stunt pulled by the band Atomic Tom, where they performed one of their songs live on the NYC Subway using only iPhones as instruments. Of course, they also filmed the whole thing with iPhones as well and that's actually becoming more popular. Jeremy points us to a story at Mashable covering ten music videos filmed with the iPhone and most of them are pretty damn good. Here's one that was produced and edited by Emmy Award-winner Alen Petkovic for the band Vintage Trouble:
As you watch these videos, you realize that in a lot of cases, if you didn't know they were filmed with a smartphone, you'd probably never know. We've shown how filmmakers can make a pretty high quality film with a standard DSLR in the past but I'm beginning to wonder when we'll see the first released "feature film" filmed entirely with smartphones. I would imagine it can't be that far away.
And, if you think about it, this is pretty damn exciting. I remember when I was a kid, the idea of being able to make movies was a really cool idea but it involved saving up a ton of money to buy an expensive video camera or hoping that you could find some friends whose parents had a video camera (which they never really wanted us kids to borrow). But when you get a super high quality video camera included in the phone you already bought anyway... well, suddenly some pretty powerful things can be enabled.
At a time when the movie industry is whining and complaining about how there are supposedly going to be fewer movies made, I'd argue that they haven't paid much attention to how much the tools of film making have been getting ridiculously cheaper over the past couple of decades. And no (before the Hollywood apologists step in and falsely claim this), I'm not saying that just because you can take decent videos on an iPhone, it means that we don't need professionals or higher end cameras and such. This is just to point out the extreme end of the spectrum and to recognize that some of it is definitely filtering back to other parts of film making as well. A professional film shot on a tight budget might actually be able to do a few more things because they can go with cheaper cameras. I've been listening to Kevin Smith's podcasts about his upcoming film Red State, and at one point, they mentioned that in order to fit things in their budget, they ended up borrowing a Red Camera (which is a high quality, but relatively cheap camera) from a guy in exchange for letting him hang out on set. But imagine what more people could do if they could devote less of their budget to things like cameras and make existing budgets go further.
For years we've pointed out that among big tech companies, patents represent more of a nuclear stockpiling strategy, where they build up a bunch, and if anyone else sues them they can sue back. In theory, this should prevent a lot of patent lawsuits, but patent nuclear wars do break out every so often. These days, it seems like the whole smartphone patent thicket is leading to quite a few nuclear blowups:
We've seen patent suits and countersuits involving HTC and Apple as well as Nokia and Apple. Apparently we can now add Motorola and Microsoft to the list. We had already covered how Microsoft had sued Motorola for its use of Android. Things escalated when Microsoft sued Motorola again arguing that the royalties Motorola was charging for certain patents licensed, for use in the Xbox, were inflated.
In response, Motorola quickly spun around and countersued Microsoft, claiming that Microsoft infringed on 16 of its patents. The countersuit took all of one day to go out, suggesting Motorola certainly had it ready. In the end of course, the lawyers will make plenty of money and products we all buy will be more expensive. Just the way the patent system was supposed to work, right?
We recently wrote about the incredible patent thicket in the smartphone space. For some reason, in the course of a few days, about ten different publications all created a very similar graphic about "who was suing whom" in the smartphone space for patent infringement. Unfortunately, most of those graphs had the wrong data and/or did not include non-practicing entities, who make up some of the most serious (and expensive) lawsuits in the space, and are certainly an important part of understanding the thicket. We created our own graphic here:
Anyway, with so much attention being paid to this patent thicket, of course it would only be a matter of time until someone popped up with a favorite "solution" to patent thickets: "patent pools." The WSJ Digits blog has an article about a forthcoming paper that compares the smartphone patent thicket to the sewing machine patent thicket in the 19th century, and suggests that the same solution used then could work now: just have everyone create a patent pool to share their patents.
We've heard this before, and explained before why patent pools aren't a really good solution. In fact, two years ago we pointed to new research showing evidence for why that famed sewing machine patent pool actually did more to hinder innovation than to encourage it. As we explained at the time:
First, companies scramble to get patents that can be included in the patent pool (rather than focusing on actually innovating in the market and understanding what the market wants). Once the pool is truly established, patenting decreases, because it's just not worth it to compete. After the patent pool dissolves, then others finally get back into the market. Second, because the patent pool locks in the effective "standard" early in the process, it might not actually be the best technology. In their research, Lampe and Moser found that this is exactly what happened with the first patent pool concerning the sewing machine. It "shifted the direction of innovation to an inferior technology... which was known to be significantly less robust, and unsuitable for mass production."
Then, once they're in the patent pool, they become anti-competitive: suing any upstart that tries to innovate and is not a member of the patent pool. So, effectively, rather than innovating, they use the patent pool to block any competition. Finally, once the patent pool is in place, the companies involved decrease their own pace of innovation, because they've basically just blocked out the competitors. Thus, they don't need to keep innovating at the same pace.
Are patent pools better than the legal jumble of lawsuits from the graphic above? Maybe. But are they the best solution out there? Absolutely not. Instead, a better solution would be to just let the market compete on the merits of the products and let the market decide, rather than focusing on any monopoly rights that will exclude innovators.