Monday, October 24, 2005

A Backlog of Stories and a New One

First, Rosa Parks has died. This courageous woman needs no introduction. Rest in peace, Ms. Parks.

Now for some technology-related stories. As any reader of this blog probably knows, I am generally against anything that hampers technological innovation. One of the biggest problems in this area is patent infringement. A couple of recent cases made this evidently clear. First, BlackBerry users may have their service shut off. Research in Motion, the company that makes the BlackBerry, is a Canadian company. The software running their email system is based in Canada. But the U.S. patent is owned by NTP Inc., based in Virginia. NTP has no Canadian patents. They also have no assets besides their U.S. patents. The only word I can think of for companies like NTP is predatory. They have no interest in developing technology, just profit by litigation.

I have no problem with individuals patenting an invention with the intent to license the patent or sell it to a company. I've ranted about the business plan of "file a patent, let someone else put in the work of actually developing the product, then sue their asses off." Courts need to step in, identify this predatory practice, then offer an adequate compensation. Not half a billion dollars, as was the case with Eolas v. Microsoft.

Along similar lines, here's a great story about the demise of eDonkey. Sam Yagan, president of MetaMachine, the company that made eDonkey, appeared before Congress with the following introduction: "...I am not here as an active participant in the future of P2P, but rather as one who has thrown in his towel and with no interest in replaying past issues..." He continues, "The Grokster standard requires divining a company's 'intent,' the decision was essentially a call to litigate. [...] Whereas I could have managed to pay for a summary judgment hearing under Betamax, I simply couldn't afford the protracted litigation needed to prove my case in court under Grokster." In other words, he felt confident in the legality and technological advancement that eDonkey offered, but his small company did not have the resources to fight the giants from the RIAA and other large corporations. Thus, patent litigation is stifling innovation instead of encouraging it.

Note that I used "intent" in regard to Research in Motion specifically to contrast it with the "intent" required by Grokster. I used that word to point out that the burden of proof should be reversed. MetaMachine and Research in Motion put a lot of time and money into developing real products. Thus, the burden of intent should not rest on their shoulders. Rather, NTP should be required to prove that they intended to developer a handheld e-mail device. Similarly, the RIAA should be required to demonstrate that eDonkey is intended as a product that promotes piracy and has no legitimate commercial value.

Now for some quickies...

U.S. cybersecurity could be the next FEMA. I've read plenty of stories regarding the general problems facing security experts. This one deals specifically with it in regard to the U.S. government. Quick telling stat: Since the Department of Homeland Security was founded 4 years ago, there have been four consecutive officials in charge of cybersecurity. There was never a single position specifically for cybersecurity, but rather it was included among the duties of another DHS official. That post has been vacant since January.

A U.S. Marine now works for Al Jazeera. If you haven't seen Control Room, it was a good documentary. The Marine featured in the movie is the one who has now taken the job. I'm glad to see this. I don't want to imply that I agree with everything (or even most of) that appears on Al Jazeera, but I like that they're making the symbolic attempt at least. Now if we can just get Ward Churchill a gig at Fox News...

This one is from the annals of creepy thoughts. According to an FCC policy document, "consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement." [Emphasis mine.] So you can use Vonage or Skype, as long as the FBI maintains the ability to tap your calls. If they can't do that, no software for you.

A last post regarding the concerns of RFID. Imagine wearing a shirt with an embedded microchip that is intended to prevent theft. Well, then someone decides to monitor that chip to see where you shop. Then they just start tracking your movements in general. Sure, it sounds like a bit of paranoia. But the concerns are legitimate. Some technology needs regulation and needs hinderance.


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