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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Comments on “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: OLPC Hit By Patent Claims”

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Le Blue Dude says:

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.

Anon (user link) says:

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?

zcat says:


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!

Pseudonym (profile) says:

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.)

TheDock22 says:


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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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?

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