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Conservative radio personality Glenn Beck becomes 3D printing evangelist

11 Jan 2013

Professional alarmist (and amateur comedian) Glenn Beck thinks 3D printing will bring jobs back to the US.

On a recent episode of his popular radio show Beck boasted about his newest purchase. The conservative talk show host unveiled a MakerBot Replicator 2 - a 3D printer that Beck believes will change the world.

"Jobs will come back to America because you'll be able to make things again," Beck said while printing out a tiny plastic shark.

"[And] remember this is early technology here. However, those aren't manufacturing jobs, they aren't labour union jobs, they aren't dolt jobs, per se. You will be able to make anything you need. So our economy in the entire world is turned upside down. You don't need little slave children in China to make stuff. The Replicator 2000 will do it for you."

Beck believes that 3D printing will change the world because it puts the power in the hands of consumers. According to the talk show host, citizens will no longer need to bow to the ideas of "global planners" because of the technology.

"I am not going to let somebody else redesign the world without me involved and without you involved because I don't like the global planners," continued Beck.

"Here, we're going to push the envelope and look for new creative innovative things in more than one area. I will show you how we can master technology."

Beck spends most of the segment going on about the revolutionary potential of 3D printing. He even goes down a scary rabbit hole about how 3D printers can make guns. Because, you know, that's a good idea.

"You can make weapons with this. You can make anything with this. This is going to be highly, highly regulated. This changes everything. There are no patents anymore," Beck went on to say.

The most interesting thing about the whole segment is that some of Beck's points are valid. Once you get past all the alarmist talk Beck actually raises some valid ideas about what the tech means for manufacturing. 

His point about 3D printing being "the Napster for physical things" is especially true.

Unfortunately, for Beck and 3D printing, we are still a ways off before the technology becomes truly groundbreaking. The 3D printing industry is currently only in its infancy and we have a long way to go before we can create anything truly useful with a "Replicator 2000".

Dyson goes to court over stolen trade secrets

25 Oct 2012

Dyson bladeless fan

Research and development and intellectually property are the lifeblood of any industry, and none more so than technology - whether that's enterprise software, tablets and smartphones or cleaning products.

Protecting these assets is vital, as many firms are proving with endless patent cases currently taking place in markets around the world.

The latest tech spat, albeit a slightly different set of firms to the ones V3 usually covers, has seen Dyson, the maker of premium-priced vacuum cleaners, speedy hand driers and bladeless fans (above), head to the High Court to ask for industrial secrets it believes was stolen by its rival Bosch to be returned.

The case involves the apparent theft of trade secrets related to its digital motors – the supercharged machines that lie at the heart of its best-selling products.

Dyson believes Bosch paid a company worker at its top secret digital motors facility to hand over its secrets and wants the courts to force its German rival to hand back the information.

According to multiple reports, Dyson claimed to have confronted Bosch with evidence of wrongdoing, but had been stonewalled, forcing it to take legal action.

Dyson is notoriously secretive about its technology, and has often taken action against firms that copy its patented technology.

But the latest case seems more like a throwback to a bygone era, where industrial espionage took place through the exchange of brown envelopes in greasy spoons, rather than via sophisticated pilfering via computer networks. Still, as all good security consultants point out: it's always staff that are the weakest link.

Bosch hit back, claiming Dyson had invited trouble into its own house by employing a consultant who already had a pre-existing consultancy agreement with Bosch, but on its Lawn and Garden Limited division, nothing to do with vacuum cleaners or hand dryers.

"Bosch has sought to establish the full details of what occurred, including attempting to establish from Dyson what, if any, confidential information supposedly passed between Bosch and Dyson," it said.

Whatever the outcome it underlines that whatever industry you are in, trade secrets and patent protection are vital, and you can never rest on your laurels.

Samsung sinks and Apple swims following US patent verdict

27 Aug 2012

Apple and Samsung stocks have experienced the fallout of the their epic US patent infringement trial.

Samsung shares dipped 7.5 per cent in Monday trading while Apple stock soared to $680.87 per share. The company's respective fortunes serve as a valid reminder of just how important the case was for the two courtroom foes.

Apple's stock gains surpass a previous high from last week that saw the company pass the $650 a share mark. Even before the case decision the company was riding a wave of good fortune in anticipation for the release of the iPhone 5 next month.

News is the opposite for Samsung. The technology heavyweight saw its stock get hit with its biggest daily percentage drop in four years. Samsung's stock news was a troubling end to a difficult month.

As the stock disparity shows the patent case had far more reaching consequences than just a $1bn price tag for damages for Samsung.

The case verdict sets a positive precedent for Apple. The company's patents were upheld and now Samsung is faced with changing up how it thinks about smartphones. Small tweaks and workarounds are expected in the near term, but long term strategy now must go through Apple.

The iPhone maker had promised to go "thermonuclear" and the stock, the case, and the next iPhone may only be the beginning for a new technology sector landscape.

If Apple gets its way, August 2012 will someday be looked back as the turning point in the smartphone slugfest.

Google expands patent search function to Europe

14 Aug 2012

When Google launched its patent search engine in 2006 the system only had access to the US Patent and Trademark Office database, which meant European inventors were out of luck.

Euro inventors can now rejoice, though, because Google's patented patent search engine now includes European patents. Better yet, Google's also thrown in a handy prior art finder into its search.

"Our hope is that this tool will give patent searchers another way to discover information relevant to a patent application, supplementing the search techniques they use today," wrote Google engineering manager Jon Orwant in a blog post.

"We'll be refining and extending the prior art finder as we develop a better understanding of how to analyse patent claims and how to integrate the results into the workflow of patent searchers."

The added search functionality will hopefully help inventors avoid future copyright infringement litigation. With the upshot of patent trolls and corporate patent buys it must be nice to have an effective search engine to use when considering if your tech idea is new.

One of the first things you may notice when using the engine is just how messed up the patent system is.

For example, do a basic search and you'll come across legally binding patents like patent 6368227 which defines a method for swinging. That's right, someone convinced the US government that they invented how to swing on a swing set. We expect to see children everywhere in court very soon.

Another alarming file you may find in your search is a "bread refreshing method" patent. The Terrance F Lenahan patent actually articulates a method for "refreshing" bread. Long story short, Lenahan patented toast in 1999.

So if the constant barrage of patent litigation from the likes of Oracle and Apple is not enough to convince you the patent system is broken, just remember a guy was able to somehow patent toast. Breakfast eaters beware.

Samsung patents scented cell phone

09 Aug 2012

Samsung has been granted a patent detailing plans for a scented cell phone.

According to the patent, unearthed by Engadget, the smelly phone would have a rechargeable scent deposit which would charge an aromatic sponge inside the handset.

The decision to patent the idea is either a way to prove that Samsung has original ideas or just to prove that it has really silly ones.

News of the scented phone comes as Samsung dukes it out in court with Apple over possible patent infringement charges.

Apple asserts that Samsung stole design concepts found in the iPhone. While Samsung asserts the classic legal defense of "Nuh uh, no we didn't".

No one yet knows if Samsung will be found guilty of patent infringement, but we think the discovery of smell-phone patent could really help the company's case.

A handset with an aromatic sponge is certainly not something I see in an iPhone. Heck, I'd stand to wager that Apple hasn't even thought about making any of its devices smell good.

So while Samsung attempts to corner the scented phone market (in an alternate universe where ridicules things like that happen) it may soon be Apple accused of patent infringement.

Imagine a world where the Vanilla scented iPhone gets banned for infringing on the patent used in the Vanilla smelling Galaxy S3. The two sides fighting out in court trying to prove, or disprove, that the iPhone has a more Vanilla-y scent than the S3.

Soon, the two companies would be battling on a global scale trying to ban Vanilla scented smartphones for being sort of similar to each other.

Eventually, you would have judges claiming the patent system is broken and say things like companies are hurting the market by taking these cases to court.

Then, finally these "patent wars" would get so out of hand that it would cause sweeping changes to the way the courts deal with intellectual property...Oh, who am I kidding that would never happen.

Movie industry spin doctors target TVShack's O'Dwyer

06 Aug 2012

TVShack's Richard O'Dwyer

Supporters of Richard O'Dwyer, the UK teenager US officials want to extradite for copyright offences, have got their hands on documents outlining movie industry tactics aimed at swaying public opinion against the youngster.

A memo from Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) officials accuses O'Dwyer of profiting from copyright abuse and discusses ways to discredit campaigns, such as the petition set up by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, that support O'Dwyer.

The document, which was obtained by Torrent Freak, reportedly discusses the position MPAA officials should take when talking to the media about the O'Dwyer case.

“This case isn’t about Internet freedom. It’s about a man profiting from theft,” the document states.

The MPAA also appears intent on puncturing the argument that the TVShack website, which was run by O'Dwyer, and provided links to streamed movies and TV shows, was similar to search engines.

“It was a site dedicated almost exclusively to making infringing content publicly available. Sites that act as clearing houses for stolen content have absolutely nothing in common with genuine search engines,” it read.

While many of the points in the document are scarcely a revelation, the document itself shows that the MPAA is worried about losing the public relations battle in this case.

Earlier this year, Wales set up a petition calling on the UK home secretary Theresa May to block the US request for O'Dwyer to be extradited, arguing that he should not be facing charges in a US court.

“We think it’s presumptuous of Mr. Wales to claim to speak for the 'general public'... The 'general public' also includes the millions of internet users who care about privacy and security, which are often compromised by illegal sites,” the document argued.

Jury selection hints at prolonged Apple-Samsung $2.5bn patent dispute

31 Jul 2012

emptyjury

What do you get if you hold the biggest technology patent trial in the industry's spiritual homeland?

Well, judging by the comical jury selection process in the forthcoming Apple vs Samsung slugfest, an unsurprising number of would-be jurors that get ruled out by virtue of their day jobs.

According to multiple reports, the first day of the tech trial of the decade was spent working out which potential jurors should be ruled out because of likely bias.

Several admitted they had friends and family that worked for Apple; one had previously worked on Google's Android design team; another had worked for Motorola – now owned by Google.

All of them had to be quizzed about ownership of iPads, Samsung TVs and the like.

But the two-dozen prospective jurors did hold some surprises in store. Presiding judge, Lucy Koh, was keen to ensure that none of those listening in on the case would be hooked in to social networks. As it transpired, just seven of the 24 original candidates claimed to be regular Facebook users, and even fewer used Twitter. One didn't even own a mobile phone.

After a day's hard questioning, the final jury is to comprise of seven men and three women, including a store operations manager for a cycling retailer, a systems engineer and a benefits and payroll manager who works with start-ups.

Between then, they'll be expected to settle a $2.5bn argument over whether Samsung's smartphones and tablet infringe on Apple's design rights – so no petty task.

But given the time taken to choose them, the prospects for a speed resolution appear small, something the lawyers representing the two firms are no doubt relishing.

Fax delays expose the folly of software patents

05 Apr 2012

Okifax-460 fax machine

Sometimes even the simplest ideas have to wait. Markus Kuhn, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge, has been waiting patiently since 1995 to be able to exploit a simple bit of coding innovation.

Sadly for him, the intervening years have seen the technology this innovation was aimed at become obsolete. And he's in little doubt what's to blame: software patents.

Back in 1995, Kuhn had written roughly 4,000 lines of code as an open source implementation of the image compression algorithms used by fax machines. The trouble was, a single line of that code was covered by a patent awarded to Mitsubishi, for an image encoding standard known as JBIG1. 

That patent was hardly revolutionary, having been awarded for making a minor improvement to a separate piece of fax image encoding awarded to IBM. But it was enough to prevent Kuhn from being able to distribute an open source version of his standard.

“The JBIG1 standard is a good example of a technology that could have been made much simpler and a bit more efficient if the authors hadn’t had to justify to their employers the time spent on developing the standard with the prospect that users of the standard would have to pay licence fees,” he wrote in a blog post detailing his travails.

Meanwhile, as he explains, it would have been relatively simple to write an alternative image compression technique – but it would have been incompatible with the standards used by every fax machine maker.

The IT vendors have found ways to carefully craft these standards, ensuring all compatible implementations require a patent licence, said Kuhn.

“Patents were meant to protect investors, such that they could justify the often large investment necessary to introduce a new technology on the market. The idea was to encourage innovation. In the field of standardised file formats and computer protocols, patents are now the main hindrance,” he said.

The patents covering JBIG1 have now finally expired. But Kuhn argues that his experience illustrates the folly of software patents.

He had envisaged his code could help with the exchange of scanned documents over the internet, or even make paper archives accessible to everyone. Instead, patent rules saw his idea wither on the vine.

“There is a simple solution: amend patent legislation such that no patent licences have to be obtained solely for the purpose of compatibility,” he concluded.

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