by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jan 24th 2011 10:01am
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Jul 23rd 2010 9:59am
from the permission-to-innovate? dept
But, of course, the reality of the situation was that everyone admits that Toyota invented its technology entirely independently. This is not a case of Toyota "stealing" or even "copying" an idea from someone else. That's not even in dispute. What people should be asking is why it's okay for a company that actually successfully built something for the market place have to pay a company that did not? Even Paice admits that "the market for hybrid cars 'did not take off' until Toyota 'revamped its vehicle program' with technology Paice patented almost a decade earlier." In other words, even Paice and Severinsky know that the success of the Prius was not because of his technology, but because of what Toyota did with it. As the blog Treehugger noted last year:
So if a company has a technology that could be a huge boon for drivers and the environment and they sit on it for a decade, does a competing company that finally does something with it and makes it a success really need to be sued repeatedly for using it? Paice seems to be somewhat at fault for not being effective enough with a smart technology.Therein lies the rub of the patent system. It does not encourage innovation. It punishes it.
Furthermore, I have to point out some huge problems with Jalopnik's coverage of the story. Even though it notes that everyone admits that Toyota came up with these inventions independently (which, by the way, suggests that they never should have been patentable in the first place), it repeatedly makes statements that make it sound like Toyota copied the invention:
The Prius incorporated -- and continues to incorporate -- a version of Severinsky's technology. It was used without license or permission...In what kind of world do we live in that people think it's okay to think someone needs a "license" or "permission" to use a technology that they, themselves, came up with, and which isn't even found on the market anywhere else? It's mind-boggling. Toyota didn't "incorporate" Severinsky's technology. Severinsky doesn't own the technology, and the technology in the Prius is not Severinsky's at all. Toyota incorporated its own technology, which Severinsky claimed infringed on his patents. The differences here are important, because writing it the way Jalopnik did implies that Toyota actually "took" something from Severinsky. This is why so many people are confused and think patent infringement is about copying or even "stealing."
Finally, Severinsky's quote about the settlement is equally bogus:
"Finally," he said, "people understand the merits of what I invented and give it the proper value. Toyota is the leading technology company and finally appreciates the value of the invention."Um. No. Not at all. They invented this on their own and actually successfully made use of it -- unlike Severinsky. They didn't recognize the merits of what Severenski did. They did their own work, and made it a success in the market place.
Of course, as we've also noted in the past, the lesson that Toyota seems to have learned from all this is to get as many hybrid technology patents as possible and to work hard to hinder the innovation of everyone else's hybrid technology.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Apr 1st 2010 11:53am
from the nummi dept
The Classic NUMMI Story
The simple story: GM had an auto plant in Fremont California that was the worst of the worst in terms of quality and productivity. The cars coming out of the factory were dreadful, and management and labor were constantly fighting -- even more than elsewhere, in an industry where labor and management have never been close. Eventually, in the early 80s, GM shut down the plant, but later worked out a deal with Toyota, to reopen the plant, under joint ownership -- with Toyota effectively running the plant. Both car companies could get something out of this. Toyota could start building cars in the US -- which was important as the US was threatening very high tariffs on imported Japanese cars, and GM would learn about how Toyota was able to build cars of much higher quality than GM. Amazingly (and against the wishes of both companies initially), the same awful workers who had worked at the plant previously were rehired.
But, then something amazing happened. Under the Toyota process, the plant flourished. The relationship between labor and management was no longer antagonistic, and the plant became much more productive, and quality shot sky high. It was a success story in almost every way. Through the late 80s and 90s, NUMMI was seen as the key to reviving American manufacturing (especially in the auto industry).
The New NUMMI Story
Today, on April 1st, 2010, NUMMI is shutting down for good. Last weekend's This American Life had an hour long episode all about what happened to NUMMI -- from the original, horrible old plant, to the revitalization, and then up through now as it's closing. The episode explains the second half of the story. If NUMMI was so miraculous, why is it now shutting down? Why is GM bankrupt? Hell, why is Toyota now recalling millions of cars over serious quality questions. What the hell happened?
Ideas Are Easy, Execution Is Hard
It really is a fascinating story all around -- but the key to me is that it highlights the vast difference between ideas and execution. We've said it before: lots of people have good ideas, but it's much, much more difficult to execute on a good idea. However, as a society, we tend to assume that the execution is easy, but the ideas are hard -- getting the equation backwards. NUMMI was a success -- for both GM and Toyota, but GM got the wrong lessons out of it.
Initially, it really just took the superficial parts of what worked at NUMMI in trying to expand that kind of production elsewhere. GM ignored the nuts and bolts of how to really execute on the teamwork process and how to focus on continual improvement. In one case, a GM manager even told someone to go to NUMMI and photograph every square inch, so that it could be recreated in a different plant, without bothering to care about how the rest of it worked. This is just the "idea." It's the window dressing. It's what people see that's pretty and clean, but not what's really going on behind the scenes.
How NUMMI Became A Cargo Cult
In fact, it sounds like the folks at Toyota knew this all along. While many were surprised that Toyota would "give up its secrets" to GM, someone on the program points out that the GM folks asked all the wrong questions. They were focused on the shiny front-end stuff, and not the dirty back-end of how it all really worked. As, we've pointed out before, it's like the infamous cargo cults that think if they just copy what they see of something, they'll get the same results, totally missing the fact that the execution involves a lot more than you can see.
Following that, GM kept trying and failing (miserably) to replicate the success of NUMMI elsewhere -- but as the report points out, it effectively took two decades, often involving numerous execs who had to spend years at NUMMI before moving elsewhere, before GM finally realized that what worked at NUMMI involved a lot more than just teamwork and a cable that allowed anyone to stop the line. It was more than a cargo cult. It was more than the idea. It involved a lot of careful, detailed execution. But, of course, by then it was too late. GM's reputation for making crappy cars was well established. Add in a healthy dose of paralyzing union agreements and whack the whole thing around with a freefall economy, and you have a bankrupt car company, now mostly owned by the US government.
Oh, and as for Toyota's more recent problems? It seems that it may have learned some of GM's bad lessons in return. It started focusing on rapid growth over quality in an attempt to bulk up and compete -- and now it may be facing some of the same problems that GM faced.
It's The Execution, Stupid...
In the end, though, it really is a fascinating case study. The original case studies from back in the 90's of what worked at NUMMI only told half of the story. The closing of NUMMI today highlights the other half: ideas are easy. Executing is hard. Pretending it's the other way around can get you into an awful lot of trouble.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Mar 8th 2010 2:44pm
from the not-a-good-thing dept
Toyoda said that when his company gets a complaint about a mechanical problem, engineers set to work trying to duplicate the problem in their labs to find out what went wrong.But, of course, understanding how engineering and technology works doesn't get you (re-)elected. Grandstanding does.
Norton said: "Your answer -- we'll wait to see if this is duplicated -- is very troublesome." Norton asked Toyoda why his company waited until a problem recurred to try to diagnose it, which is exactly what he was not saying.
Members of Congress are generally lawyers and politicians, not engineers. But they are launching investigations and creating policies that have a direct impact on the designers and builders of incredibly complex vehicles -- there are 20,000 parts in a modern car -- so there are some basics they should understand. Chief among them: The only way to credibly figure out why something fails is to attempt to duplicate the failure under observable conditions. This is the engineering method.
by Dennis Yang
Tue, Feb 23rd 2010 4:30am
from the progress-is-good dept
If GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics:Of course, fast forward 10 years, and this is no longer really a joke anymore. Cars are now more complicated than ever, and now computers play a crucial part in the safe and efficient operation of modern automobiles. Today's premium vehicles probably contain close to 100 million lines of software code. That fact, coupled with the recent massive Toyota recall, seems to have spurred Slate's Farhad Manjoo to ask "Should we be worried that our cars are controlled by software?"
1. For no reason at all, your car would crash twice a day.
Perhaps if you're really into worrying for the sake of worrying, sure, I suppose the increasing complexity of the software in cars seems like a good reason to don a tinfoil hat. Certainly, compared to cars a quarter century ago, there's a huge amount of new technology between you and the road. But, cars are also safer and more efficient than ever before. While it's true that the software in cars may have bugs, that's really nothing new to be that concerned about -- car manufacturers issue recalls and maintenance updates all of the time to deal with not just software bugs, but mechanical problems as well. In the future, regular software updates may replace oil changes as regular maintenance for cars. But, the biggest Toyota recalls this year were still mechanical in nature: the floor mats and gas pedals, neither of which are remotely affected by any software in the car. Finally, as Manjoo points out, driver error is still the most common cause of accidents, so until we remove the human element from the driving equation (along with all of the driving distractions), recalled cars are really nothing to get worked up about.
That said, Michael A. Spiegel over at the Software Freedom Law Center makes an interesting point about this situation:
If Toyota truly wanted to repair its public image and reputation for quality, it would make its source code available to anyone interested, not just a single government regulator. The public is far more likely to discover bugs and suggest improvements than a relatively small number of overworked and potentially inexperienced government employees.This is a intriguing proposition for a number of reasons. By releasing its software to the open source community, they could become key participants in the growing open source car ecosystem. By doing so, they could potentially benefit from the collective intelligence of that community looking at their code. Sure, Toyota may scoff at sharing what they consider to be proprietary IP with potential competitors, but in this case, Toyota could stand to gain more than it would potentially be giving away. After all, while software definitely is playing a critical part in automotive systems, by itself, it is not the selling point of a car. Even the e-voting industry is coming around to open source, after balking at the idea for years. For a variety of reasons, the automobile industry seems ripe for the exploration of new models right now. Programs like CityCarShare and ZipCar could be seen as "Automobiles As A Service" -- so maybe we'll start to see a Red Hat-like automobile company emerge in the near future.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 22nd 2009 11:38am
from the who-comes-up-with-these-things? dept
YourOtherYou is a unique interactive experience enabling consumers to play extravagant pranks. Simply input a little info about a friend (phone, address, etc.) and we'll then use it, without their knowledge, to freak them out through a series of dynamically personalized phone calls, texts, emails and videos. First, one of five virtual lunatics will contact your friend. They will seem to know them intimately, and tell them that they are driving cross-country to visit. It all goes downhill from there. The Matrix integrates seamlessly into the experience and you can follow the progress of your prank in real-time online. Each piece of the campaign assures that the experience is as Google-proof as possible.Sound like fun? Not really. Especially not for Amber Duick, who "had difficulty eating, sleeping and going to work" after receiving a bunch of phone calls from this prank, believing that some "lunatic" stranger was on his way from England to see her. At one point, she even received a bill from a hotel that this stranger supposedly "trashed." Har har. Buy a Toyota.
How does Toyota defend the campaign? By claiming that Duick agreed to it. How, you ask? Well, Toyota sneakily inserts "permission" into a personality test it sends the "victim" of the prank, from the "friend" who initiated it. It's difficult to see how that kind of agreement stands up in court. Hiding an agreement for something entirely different (and pretty damn creepy) inside the agreement for a personality test from a friend? How is that informed consent?
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Sep 9th 2009 9:33pm
from the once-wasn't-enough? dept
Here's a bit of a kicker: With the last suit, "Paice said the market for hybrid cars "did not take off" until Toyota "revamped its vehicle program" with technology Paice patented almost a decade earlier." So if a company has a technology that could be a huge boon for drivers and the environment and they sit on it for a decade, does a competing company that finally does something with it and makes it a success really need to be sued repeatedly for using it? Paice seems to be somewhat at fault for not being effective enough with a smart technology.Indeed. This isn't a case of patents being used to enable innovation. It's a clear case of patents being used to hinder innovation -- and the patent holder seems to have no qualms about admitting that no real innovation happened until Toyota came along.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jul 8th 2009 11:55am
from the what-a-shame dept
Since it started developing the gas-electric Prius more than a decade ago, Toyota has kept its attorneys just as busy as its engineers, meticulously filing for patents on more than 2,000 systems and components for its best-selling hybrid. Its third-generation Prius, which hit showrooms in May, accounts for about half of those patents alone.Defenders of the patent system often say that there's no problem: others should just "invent around" the patents. But when companies create a patent thicket like this, that makes it effectively impossible. The end result? We all lose. This makes it that much more expensive and difficult for others to innovate, because they need to allocate money to Toyota, rather than to their own innovations. It slows down Toyota as well, since it's devoting so much time and effort to lawyers. And it massively slows down the market. Rather than competing on innovation and a better product, the focus is on patents. And since it slows down competitors it means Toyota doesn't need to innovate as fast either. In the meantime... not only does the economy suffer, but so does the environment.
Toyota's goal: to make it difficult for other auto makers to develop their own hybrids without seeking licensing from Toyota, as Ford Motor Co. already did to make its Escape hybrid and Nissan Motor Co. has for its Altima hybrid.
Of course, we can't just blame Toyota for this. It's the system that created such a scenario. In fact, Toyota recently went through a long and arduous patent battle with someone else over patents held by that guy -- resulting in Toyota having to pay a tax on every hybrid it makes. So, perhaps it's no wonder that it's trying to gobble up as many patents as possible around hybrids, if only to have the necessary "stockpile" for future patent battles against competitors. Once again, it's the entire patent system that's leading to this questionable result that harms everyone... except the lawyers, of course.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Jan 9th 2009 1:35pm
from the oh-please-don't dept
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Nov 17th 2008 6:29am
from the not-so-smart dept
TorrentFreak, who has written up the article, exaggerates a bit in claiming that this is the most "wildly arrogant" DMCA claim. After all, Ford did exactly the same thing earlier, and plenty of other companies have done similar things. Also, apparently Toyota hasn't actually invoked the DMCA yet, simply telling the site's owner he has to remove the images or it would send DMCA notices. Rather obnoxiously, when the guy who runs the site asked which images, specifically, violated Toyota's intellectual property, Toyota's lawyers responded that they would only identify them if the site's owner paid for their time. Of course, the DMCA actually requires you to name the specific infringing files.
You might possibly be able to make a case that Toyota could sorta maybe make a trademark claim here -- that some might assume that the desktop wallpapers were officially offered by Toyota, but that wouldn't explain why they're threatening to use the DMCA, which has nothing to do with trademarks.
However, most importantly, as we noted with the Ford situation, it makes no sense to beat up on fans of your products who are sharing photos of the cars they love and are actively promoting the cars for the automakers. It seems like yet another case where lawyers simply freak out without realizing how much damage they're doing to their client's brand. Update: Good news! In the comments, Ford claims that the earlier story was a misunderstanding (though, don't exactly explain how come it's happened multiple times) and Toyota has also apologized for the threat, saying that it was a mistake.