Posts tagged Patents
Twitter has been recognized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as an invention. The applicants are listed as Jack Dorsey and Christopher Isaac, alias Biz Stone, and the patent application now approved pretty much describes Twitter.
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One small developer says that he’s readied an open-source alternative to Microsoft’s exFAT file system, providing companies and individuals with a free alternative to Microsoft’s file system for flash drives.
Over the weekend, developer Andrew Nayenko announced fuse-exFAT 1.0.0, completing three years of development on the project. Tarball archives have been posted to Google’s code site, where they can be compiled for GNU/UNIX based operating systems and Apple’s OS X.
And that could mean a loss of revenue for Microsoft, which has been busy licensing its exFAT file system to a number of companies. Last week, for example, Microsoft licensed the exFAT tech to automaker BMW for an undisclosed amount. It has signed similar deals with Aspen Avionics, Canon, Panasonic, Research In Motion, Sanyo and Sony.
Why Is This Important?
A file system manages the locations of computer files stored on a drive; in Windows, for example, PCs have used the NTFS file system since the days of Windows 2000. (Microsoft planned to include a new file system into Windows 8, called ReFS, but that system has been reserved for Windows Server.) Apple uses its own Hierarchical File System, with an improved version, HFS+, in OS X.
The vast majority of consumers and businesses never have to worry about which format is used on which drive, as products like USB keys and external hard drives can be read by both Apple and Windows systems. Those external devices - including the SD cards used by most consumer cameras - are typically formatted with a file system called FAT32.
But as cards themselves increase in file size, the file system’s role becomes more prominent; for example, SD HD cards up to 32GB are formatted with FAT32. But for the newer SD XC cards, from 32GB on up to a (largely theoretical) limit of 2 terabytes, the SD Card Association has flipped over to the exFAT file system.
That’s important in an increasingly connected world. In a statement, BMW’s project manager for CE device connections, Gottfried Schmid, explained that “with the support of the trend-setting file system exFAT, BMW is able to significantly increase the number of compatible CE devices and Mass Storage devices for our customers.” But the license agreements Microsoft has signed cover a number of traditional camera and phone manufacturers that are seeking legal shelter.
The Legal Mess
It’s still too early to tell whether Nayenko has managed to reverse engineer exFAT using open-source technologies, however. Microsoft hasn’t divulged many details of the the exFAT file system; in 2009, the SANS Institute attempted to reverse-engineer the exFAT file system to enable forensic examination, such as sensitive images that may have been stored on a camera. Microsoft maintains a licensing page specifically devoted to licensing exFAT technologies, and company representatives declined to comment when asked if Nayenko’s technology violated the company’s patents.
Nayenko is presenting the exFAT file system as a FUSE model, a loadable kernel module that essentially serves as a bridge to the actual kernel interfaces. FUSE is licensed according to the GNU public software license.
The few people who are aware of Nayenko’s release have begun asking whether or not businesses or other commercial entities interested in using fuse-exFAT within their own products may legally do so. Last year, Nayenko said that he didn’t believe that Microsoft could touch him. “Fortunately U.S. laws are not worlds [sic] laws,” he wrote in a message to the Google newsgroup.
On Tuesday, he took a more laissez-faire approach. “I don’t know,” Nayenko responded, when I asked to interview him about the legal standing of fuse-exFAT. “You should consult a lawyer. I run this project just for fun and don’t care about patents because I’m not a U.S. resident.”
It’s easy to draw comparisons between fuse-exFAT and Linux, and the battles between the open-source community and Microsoft in the late 1990s. Linux, however, was designed as a new OS kernel, not as a clone of existing Microsoft technology. While Nayenko may have designed a version of the exFAT file system that truly exists independently of Microsoft, any company selling products based on fuse-exFAT within the United States will probably face a legal challenge from Redmond.
Image source: Flickr/Le ciel azure
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The United States Patent and Trademark Office recently approved a patent application from Google which forecasts a greater focus on mobile pages/versions in mobile search results going into 2013. Apparently the U.S. Patent office works on Christmas Day, or simply wanted to offer Google a Christmas…
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Patents make sense in some industries. When it costs a billion dollars to develop a new pharmaceutical, a company needs protection during that process to make it worth the risk of trying.
But software doesn’t have that overhead. Too often, software patents just end up making the incumbents complacent and discourage brave, disruptive experiments.
This video by Marginal Revolution writer and economics professor Alex Tabarrok makes a clear argument against software patents.
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The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issues the week’s new patents every Tuesday. A quick check of what some big techn companies scored this week offers a telling glimpse of their varying fortunes.
This week’s patent score:
Let’s take a closer look at some of the hits and misses behind those numbers.
Google Channels The Jetsons
Scanning through Google’s 27 awarded patents from the USPTO, new patent U.S. 8,261,090 stands out like a science fiction invention: It allows facial recognition check in and surveillance. Depending on your outlook, there is something distinctively Jetsons-esque about this – or it’s right out of 1984.
The deceptively dry patent illustration (below) describes the system. But a closer look reveals wide-reaching implications that are sure to get attention from privacy watchdogs.
Tom Ewing, a UN World International Patent Organization (WIPO) advisor and Silicon Valley IP attorney, said, “This is technology Mr. Spacely would use to make sure George is at work. It doesn’t cover facial recognition – but its combination of facial recognition (check-in telepresence) tech and audio allows Spacely to yell, ’Jetson! You’re not at your desk.’
“According to the patent, the system doesn’t just log you in with facial recognition,” Ewing said. “It is possible to run it as an always-on system that will snap a pic any time an unauthorized user attempts to use the device.
“For example, if an unauthorized user attempts to log onto and use the computing device but fails, the camera records an image of the unauthorized user and stores the image in RAM, EEPROM or traditional storage. The ‘090 [patent] even covers instant sending of automatic photos to any mobile device associated with the authorized user,” Ewing added.
The security and monitoring implications for this system are wide-ranging. Say you work at your office. Your boss would know when you’re in front of your computer. Consumer uses are equally obvious: Just your presence can wake up your enabled system. Presumably, it can wake you up, too. “Good morning, George. It’s Mr. Spacely. Get in here!”
Microsoft Owns Geo-Temporal Tracking
Like Google, most weeks Microsoft gets a big bundle of patents – and its 42 patent awards this week puts it on top of the charts.
US patent 8,260,775 is one that’s worth digging into.
Microsoft describes this innovation as a “geo-temporal searching tool” that will make life vastly easier for people trying to track you down. That means employers, the government, advertisers and, unfortunately, stalkers and angry ex spouses.
Clearly, another one for the privacy folks to track. This shot from the patent has a description below the fold that uses the historic composer J.S. Bach as an example of tracking over time and geography. It shows a select region of Europe centering in Bach’s home region of what is now Germany – and a time window from the years 1685 to 1765.
It isn’t hard to imagine all kinds of marketing scenarios that could make use of such data on real live social network users. Potential political, marketing and data aggregation uses abound.
Microsoft’s patent on geo-temporal tracking, as you can see, could conceivably show a location portion of a search interface – finding people by time and location. In the Bach example, you get search events in a visible window onscreen.
Apple Helps You Find Starbucks – Yawn
Apple, too, typically gets bundles of patents – new and assigned – every week.
This week one of its 18 newly granted patents - U.S. patent 83260320 - included a way to find Starbucks faster. Yawn.
Specifically, the Apple patented system describes a wireless access point that permits wireless communication devices, such as any mobile device, to connect to a wireless network using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other standards. The wireless access point connects to one or more other networks – relaying messages over a variety of networks and devices.
The prior art alone makes this one look almost too obvious. Searching on local businesses based on location on a mobile device hardly sounds novel. To be fair, Apple submitted to the patent office hundreds of prior art references. But this is the sort of thing the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sniffs out for its software patent killing project – redundancy of claims. Find its patent Tk project here.
Facebook Gets Bupkiss
Facebook received no patents on Tuesday. None. Zero. And that’s unusual.
Ever since its IPO in May, Facebook has been busy beefing up its offensive and defensive patent portfolio, even going for a vanity patent – the first patent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ever filed for. But this week? Nothing.
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Apple reportedly is wasting no time in consolidating the market power it won in its patent case against Samsung.
Citing an unnamed source “familiar with the dealings,” CNET is reporting that Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Larry Page have met at least once already to discuss potential infringements by Google on Apple patents. CNET says the pair plan to talk again in “a few weeks.”
Neither Apple nor Google would respond to interview requests Thursday evening, Central Time.
Apple won a huge victory over Samsung Aug. 24 when a jury sided with Apple in its allegations that the South Korean electronics giant had copied Apple software and design intellectual property pertaining to its iPhone.
Samsung has been ordered to pay Apple $1.05 billion for the infringements, and Apple has pressed ahead, asking for an injunction against sales of specific Samsung products using Google’s Android operating system.
Google issued a statement Aug. 27 playing down the decision’s impact.
Image via J3on.
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The vultures are circling around Kodak’s bankruptcy proceedings, ready to pick clean the best of the company’s reportedly substantial patent portfolio. With Google and Apple leading the flock, and accused patent trolls like Intellectual Ventures joining in, the pickings may determine the future of the mobile market.
Kodak, which is selling off the patents to raise money for its Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, wants to raise $2.6 billion for the bundle of intellectual property. But so far, it seems to be a buyers’ market. Apple and Google have tossed in initial bids of between $150 and $250 million, the Wall Street Journal is reporting.
To understand why Apple and Google are working to pick up patents from a camera company, look at the players in the bidding process. Apple is partnering with Intellectual Ventures and Microsoft on their bids for Kodak’s IP, while Google is joined by HTC, LG Electronics and Samsung.
Android vs. Everyone Else
In other words, it’s shaping up as a battle between Android and the other big mobile players.
For Google and Apple specifically, Kodak’s patents are yet another skirmish in the two companies’ escalating war.
So far, it’s mostly been Apple on the offensive. With various litigious tactics, such as suing Android device makers like Samsung and actively dropping apps for Google’s products from the upcoming version of its iOS mobile platform, including Maps and YouTube.
If either of these camps were to get a hold of Kodak’s patents, the odds are high that the winner will attempt to “weaponize” them for litigation against the other party. It’s easy to imagine Apple (and Microsoft) using Kodak’s image and camera patents to wrap Google and the Android phone makers in enough red tape to force cross licensing and get a (bigger) piece of the popular Android pie.
Nor is it difficult to envision Google using these patents as a defensive stick to fend off IP attackers and give Android some legal breathing room.
With that kind of advantage in the mobile phone market at stake, it is unlikely bids for Kodak’s patents will remain low for long.
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The ruling brings an end to second phase in the ongoing battle over Android’s use of Java code. Oracle had previously won a partial victory on the matter of copyright infringement, though the jury remained split on other elements of the case.
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