Archive for January, 2009

Are patents stifling innovation in mobile devices?

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In 2007, I wrote why software patents are not a good idea.  It’s easy to find examples of patent abuse but its not often to find a company that uses patents that stifle a whole industry.  Such may be the case with the Apple iPhone.

I purchased an iPhone shortly after it came out, because I recognized that it was a revolutionary device.  It was not a case of superior specifications, as many devices have better hardware.  It didn’t even run on the latest 3G network until the second generation.  Rather, it was a superior design, which featured an intuitive user interface that did not try to compete on the number of features but on usability.  Apple fully deserves the billions of dollars it has made and will go on to make from its device.

Yet something curious has happened. When Apple introduced the iPhone, those who recognized its revolutionary potential expected the innovations and design concepts it introduced to percolate to the rest of the industry.  To an extent, that is happening, but key iPhone technologies -a capacitive touchscreen with multi-touch, a 3-axis accelerometer, proximity sensors, graphics acceleration integrated integrated into the UI, and a number of other key innovations have not been found in competing products.  Part of the reason for this has to do with the particular culture and expertise found at Apple, but its indisputable than the 200+ patents covering the iPhone have gone a long way to discouraging competitors, who offer alternatives lacking key features – until now.

Palm, the company who created the first popular PDA is coming out with the Palm Pre, the first device to brazenly infringe many of the key iPhone patents.  Apple is already making threatening gestures, so an apocalyptic legal battle is almost certain.  Palm is the first company to go against Apple head on because  its status as the one-time leader in the PDA and mobile phone market makes it the only company capable of challenging Apple’s leadership.  While the Palm Pre clearly borrows ideas from the iPhone, the iPhone itself uses many of the innovations first patented by Palm as early as 1996.  Today Palm is a marginalized has-been for whom the Pre is a desperate gamble to save to company, but it still has the patent portfolio of a market leader.

The question of who is the bigger infringer in this battle is besides the point.  The issue is that the patent system is limiting innovation to large companies who have established sufficiently large patent portfolios to pose a credible threat of retaliatory patent lawsuits.  The best that new competitors can hope for in this environment is to be aquired by the giants or to establish their own patent portfolios – rather than create products than people want to use.

My Mac blog

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Introducing DotMac: I got a MacBook laptop as a personal birthday present in October, and started a blog for Mac users with tutorials and programming tips .

Popular posts so far: using a Mac with a Windows pc and organizing your music library.

engagement

I'm getting hitched!

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According to the FeedBurner counter on the left, I have 105 regular readers, so for those who haven’t heard elsewhere, I proposed to Sarah, my lovely girlfriend of two and a half years shortly after midnight, December 31st.  Sarah and I met at my Examined Life philosophy meetup group.  We plan to wed sometime this summer.

 

engagement

My random thoughts now on Facebook

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For the last month or so, I’ve been posting a “thought of the day” to my facebook profile as a “quickie” form of activism.  Some of the “thoughts” refer to current events, while others are more philosophical.  I’ve decided to collect the more quotable ones on my wiki.  I’m going to try to continue posting my thoughts on a daily basis.

5 years ago

… In economic matters, most people, including most politicians, mainstream economists, and investors unconsciously follow Dewey’s philosophical principles: reality is ultimately driven by social consensus, and the success or failure of markets depends only on the optimism or pessimism of consumers and investors. This is more than the belief that wishes and prayers affect reality – this is a belief that one’s wishes are reality – if only enough people share the delusion.

(From What you need to know about the economic “crisis”)

Two more examples:

“As long as no one knows about it, the counterfeit money we print doesn’t really exist:”
“The Bank of England will be able to print extra money without having legally to declare it under new plans which will heighten fears that the Government will secretly pump extra cash into the economy.”

“As long as we ignore the problems in your economy, they won’t really affect us:”
“South Korea set a rare and controversial example over the weekend by arresting a popular blogger who was accused of undermining the financial markets [by correctly predicting economic downturns] but worshipped by many Koreans as an online guru.”

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