May 2011 Archives

From MacRumors we find out that Lodsys is indeed marching onward. Worse, they are not even honoring their 21-day offer to the developers. (Frankly, Lodsys are being assholes on that one.) As I said before, they have nothing to lose.

The developers, on the other hand…

[Via DaringFireball.net]

Well, who saw this coming?

Oh. Right. I did.

Sorry, guys. Sometimes I hate to be right.

Having been to several KFC’s in the past few years, none of which qualified as “fast food,” I find it fitting that the drive-through let a horse-drawn buggy clippity-clop on through.

Seriously. Have you had fast food at KFC? Our average service time over the several visits was approaching (and I kid you not) twenty minutes.

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Here’s how I read Apple’s response to the Lodsys letters and, not being a lawyer, it might be wrong:

  1. Lodsys says that Apple is licensed to use the Lodsys patents in Apple-branded products. (And conversely, from Lodsys’s previous assertions, the developers are not licensed to use the Lodsys technologies in the developer-branded products.)
  2. Apple says that the app developers’ products use Apple-branded products. I.e., if the developer uses an API, it’s an Apple API. If the developer uses an iOS device, it’s an Apple iOS device. And if the developer relies on the iTunes store, it’s the Apple iTunes store, etc. Apple even cites the letters that Lodsys uses to show infringement as showing Apple-branded products throughout.
  3. Since the developers are using Apple-branded products to implement the technologies Lodsys claims to own, the Lodsys patent(s) are not being infringed upon, these Apple-branded and legally-licensed products having been legally sold to the App Makers (as Apple calls them). A Supreme Court reference is used to make it clear that that’s how Apple’s reading the claims, too.

Here’s a concrete example to help illustrate my reading: Let’s say you build FasterBikes bicycles and buy a Shimano drivetrain for your product. The Shimano drivetrain uses a gear technology licensed from another firm, Lodsys. By now, you would have received a letter from Lodsys telling you that you have to license their technology for use under the FasterBikes name. Shimano (Apple), however, having licensed the gear technology for use under the Shimano name, is essentially telling Lodsys in this letter that the Shimano-branded parts are still Shimano-branded parts and that they have no business trying to get FasterBikes to license the technology. If, on the other hand, you made your own drivetrain that used the Lodsys gear technology and put that on your bike, then Lodsys would have a leg to stand on and you’d be on your own.

And that brings me to this interesting thought: What about apps which are sold through Cydia, the jailbroken iOS device app store? I think Lodsys might have a leg to stand on there since those apps probably don’t use the Apple-branded APIs for certain activities and hence are not licensed to use the Lodsys technologies. And how about the apps sold through the Android Market? Though Google is a licensee of these patents, I don’t think the Android Market has in place any controls (read “curation like Apple does with the App Store”) which would prevent use of the Lodsys technologies through a non-Google-branded API.

In other words, maybe there is a good reason for Apple to collect its 30% for all purchases, and maybe there is a good reason for Apple to require the use of its APIs wherever possible: legal protection against the so-called “patent trolls.” For these developers, it seems to be worth the price so far.

Anywho… one commenter to Macworld put it pretty succinctly: “Wow that is the longest and most articulate bitch slap I have ever read.” It is not, however, a slam-dunk. I’m pretty certain that Lodsys won’t drop the notices and will try articulating their argument a different way—if they bother doing anything at all. After all, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and the only people who will lose in this are the individual developers. And in that case, for them the only hope is that Apple will file suit against Lodsys, since I don’t see anything criminal (i.e., the government won’t step in) in what Lodsys is doing.

At any rate, I think this one is going to get more interesting, so stay tuned!

But Flash isn’t on the iPhone!

Precisely.

(Article here.)

Facebook gets a patent for photo tagging, and I know somebody’s going to say, “But iPhoto did that a long time ago!”

To head off this one at the pass, the patent’s claims specifically describe (in spite of the use of the word “may” in the abstract) the tagging feature as part of a collaborative environment, i.e., part of the social network, and not just as a standalone feature of a single-user program. The ability to tag someone and have another user review the tag and accept or reject it appears to be the majority of claim 1.

I didn’t bother reading the rest of the independent claims. Doing so just makes me sad for people who have to invent real stuff for a living, like me.

[Via DaringFireball.net]

The quick rundown: A company called Lodsys is threatening a handful of small developers with legal action for their supposed infringement of a Lodsys-owned patent by the developers’ use of Apple’s in-app purchasing system. Some developers are trying to get Apple to step in and help by boycotting the in-app purchasing system. The full story is here on ars technica.

Others in the community have opined that the patent in question is overly broad and would likely be invalidated at trial, but getting to trial and conducting individual trials is well beyond the budgets of these small developers. And so what we have here is reasonably similar to a protection racket, only it’s entirely legal.

In this particular case, it would be entirely reasonable for Apple to step in and attempt to invalidate the patent on behalf of the developers because, after all, part of Apple’s revenue stream is at risk. If developers choose not to use the in-app purchasing system because of the threat of being sued, then Apple doesn’t gain the revenues from that purchasing stream.

But let’s assume for a moment that Apple can’t or won’t get involved for some reason. Perhaps Apple legal thinks it’s a slippery slope and they will only end up shelling out many more millions than they stand to make on this revenue stream. Or let’s assume that another patent troll and patent were involved and it didn’t directly affect Apple’s revenue stream somehow, though it does affect the individual developers.

What then?

There aren’t a whole lot of options to developers. Unfortunately, unlike a criminal trial where the government is required to provide a defense to the accused, civil defendants have no such protections afforded them—they’re left to defend themselves at their own costs. At best, they might find someone who is willing to take the case pro bono (literally, “for good,” i.e., not “for money”). The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, has a staff of lawyers who help out sometimes in cases like this. But while the EFF is certainly no friend of patent trolls, I’d guess it’s also not likely to defend the closed and proprietary Apple ecosystem, either. And it’s highly unlikely that any really good intellectual property (IP) firm would undertake the defense of one small developer. It’s still about the almighty buck, and there wouldn’t be enough publicity in that.

So here’s my suggestion: Crowdsource the defense and gang up on Lodsys.

Step 1: Start a Kickstarter project to fund the evaluation of the validity of Lodsys’s claims. This has to be done quickly as the developers have only a few weeks to respond to Lodsys. It would certainly help if an intellectual property (IP) attorney with a superior track record in defense of IP claims were willing to do the work pro bono, but there will still be costs involved.

I, for one, would throw in $100 on principle alone.

Step 2: If indeed the patent looks unlikely to hold water, then continue with the Kickstarter project to consolidate the certain-to-occur litigation and see it through trial.

It’s a risky proposition, sure, because nothing’s certain in the Eastern District Court of Texas—the developers could still lose the case. But what message would it send to the patent trolls?

For one, it says that the little developer is no longer helpless. Sue enough of them, and you’ve kicked the hornets’ nest, so to speak. Second, it says that the patent in question had damned-well better hold water, and hold it well. (As much as I hate software patents, it’s the law, and if your product really does infringe, then you’re on the hook to license it. Sorry.) Third, it sets a precedent, and it’s all about setting precedent in law.

So… what about it? Anybody able to start a Kickstarter for this one? Any IP attorneys out there willing to give it a go?

I don’t know how I missed this. I won’t even bother addressing the person who is behind this prediction and will instead turn to one Bible verse that tells me everything I need to know about the prediction:

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Matthew 24:36

And who said this? None other than Jesus Himself. Seems like He might be an authority on the subject, no?

I’ll see you in church on Sunday morning, then.

Here’s a surprise. Stephen Hawking doesn’t need God. Or Heaven or the afterlife.

All of that, he says, “is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Glad you’re not afraid of the dark, Professor Hawking. Me? I’m hedging my bets, and I have nothing to lose as a result.

The original head for this entry involved a bit of strong language. But then I realized that instead of turning people off with repulsive language, I’d try to emphasize a point: A little bit of bad information goes a long way, and if you compare apples to oranges, you can draw any conclusions you like… and you’ll still be wrong.

This entry on the Wonk Room blog, whose title I’ve used above, is a perfectly good example. When I saw that it had made it to my What’s Hot in Google Reader feed, it became apparent that a lot of people saw the entry and thought it was worth a read, and most likely believed it, too.

The premise of the entry is that General Electric, a multi-national and, to the casual observer, a very profitable company, paid $0 in income taxes in 2010, but that undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in taxes. That’s exactly… infinity times more taxes than GE paid, right? And that is really, really bad, at least as the Wonk Room entry’s author would have you believe.

Except that the headline is misleading, and on top of that, the headline is based on factually-incorrect information. The apples-to-oranges comparison involves some rotten fruit, too.

You see, the initial report that GE owes nothing in US income taxes isn’t correct, unless you use some creative definitions of “taxes” and “correct.” It is, in fact, a terribly misleading article which was the culmination of many months of good research which were—essentially—incorrectly and sensationally reported.

I’m not making this up. From this piece at CNN.com:

Unfortunately, for all its good work, the Times story has created at least one major misperception—that GE paid no U.S. income taxes last year and is actually getting a $3.2 billion refund from the Treasury.

It’s a great piece, and you should read it if you care about the issue (whether a “big profitable company” could avoid taxes through slight of hand), but the CNN piece has a few good summary points I’ll include here, at your expense of complete understanding:

Now, we’ll give you brief answers to the main questions, but you’ll have to bear with us afterward for the full explanation.

(Again, worth the read.)

Did GE get a $3.2 billion tax refund? No.

Did GE pay U.S. income taxes in 2010? Yes, it paid estimated taxes for 2010, and also made payments for previous years. Think of it as your having paid withholding taxes on your salary in 2010, and sending the IRS a check on April 15, 2010, covering your balance owed for 2009.

Will GE ultimately pay U.S. income taxes for 2010? After much to-ing and fro-ing—the company says it hasn’t completed its 2010 tax return—GE now says that it will pay tax.

Short story: the Times piece was over-the-top sensationalistic, and misrepresented the facts. For those of you who think the tax codes need to be changed to make GE pay the taxes it supposedly didn’t pay, don’t bother: GE will pay income taxes, and the tax codes don’t need to get any more complicated than they already are.

So what we have in the Wonk Room entry is a headline which is already half wrong, and the author is using it as the orange, so to speak. And it’s rotten.

Now, let’s see what the Wonk Room entry is using as the apple, shall we?

If you read the “apple” side of the comparison, you discover that the taxes the author is listing are things that every single citizen, both documented and undocumented, visitor, tourist, or resident alike, of the United States pays. And, guess what? Every company in the United States pays them, too.

The two everybody-pays-them taxes listed in the source of the data are sales tax and property tax. These two taxes are the primary reason why towns, cities and states love to have businesses—because they pay them, too.

And the last tax listed? The “income tax contributions by the unauthorized population,” whatever those taxes are. How can an “unauthorized population” pay income tax in the first place? Wouldn’t they have to be documented, and theoretically authorized in some way, in order to do so? OK, OK, I’m guessing a little bit because I don’t know the tax process well enough to know if someone who is an “unauthorized population” can file income taxes. But I’m willing to overlook that little piece of “data” since it’s a guess anyway, and it accounts for only 10% of the total estimate used as the “apple” for this widely-circulated piece of misinformation.

The apple is sales and property taxes, and the orange is incorrectly-reported income taxes. Like I said, compare the two and you can conclude anything you like. And, as before, this author is wrong.

So… why? Who wrote this piece? Why make such a false comparison? Well, the author is Mike Elk, “a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C.” If you Google the guy you discover that he’s been grinding an axe against GE for quite some time, as one who is a union organizer rightfully should. But unbiased “journalist?” I think not.

Could I do better? Yes, but this headline:

GE Paid $3.7 Billion in Income, Sales, and Property Taxes (and That’s Quite a Bit), and Undocumented Immigrants Paid an Estimated $10 Billion in Taxes (and That’s Quite a Bit, Too)

isn’t quite as sensational, hype-worthy, or anti-corporate America as Mr. Elk’s, now, is it? Leave it to the internet to hype the worthless.

Please, people, think before you read and blindly accept what you find on the internet as fact. At least Google it first, for Pete’s sake!

Or, if that’s too much work for you, I have a friend in Nigeria who could use your help. Contact me ASAP.

I might have to back off my stance that Apple will bring out an iPad “retina display” that won’t be twice the resolution of the current iPad.

MacRumors reports that Samsung has developed just the LCD required for that (give or take a few pixels).

Sigh. And I thought I had excellent reasoning.

In spite of the name of the source of this article, it’s not a rumor. Apple won’t let you replace your hard drive on the newest iMacs without buying a proprietary hard drive from Apple which only Apple can install.

And that makes me very unhappy with Apple.

First, and most annoyingly, this costs me more money than it should. Hard drives fail—they just do. I’ve had three iMac hard drives fail in as many years on three different models of iMacs. (My wife’s office uses them, so we have a fair number of them to keep running.) Two of them were replaced under the usual 1-year warranty and I did the third one myself. In doing the job myself, I saved around $100, and that’s not chump change.

Second, Apple’s new hard drive scheme will cost me time, and I don’t get paid for my trips to the Apple Store. Each time I have to deal with the Genius Bar, regardless of my appointment time, it’s at least a 45 minute session of waiting and then dealing with the Genius. Picking up the Mac often involves a pretty lengthy wait, too.

So Apple will be responsible for thousands of hours of lost productivity. Not cool, Apple.

(To Apple’s credit, the store is fun to hang around in and… oh, I think I’ve hit upon something. It must be a conspiracy to get us into the stores.)

Third, Apple changed the design of their iMac boxes sometime in the past few years so that the locking tab doesn’t actually lock the box top closed, so the damned thing is not pleasant to lug through the mall. It tears up the top of the box, and looks stupid. Frankly, I don’t understand this change because it doesn’t change the amount of material consumed or wasted, and the box has become less useful.

That complaint is minor, sure, but it’s part of the reason I’m unhappy when I have to bring an iMac in for service—something I’ll have to do more of, undoubtedly.

Finally, Apple just moved a little further away from being a green company. “How?” you ask. Well, how close is the nearest Apple Store to you? Because to fix your hard drive, you’ll be driving there and back—twice. Granted, that’s your cost, but it’s because of Apple’s policy that you’re making that trip.

Those three iMacs with failed drives would have cost me (carry the two, add the one…) nine gallons of gas and 180 miles of wear and tear on my car. That’s certainly not covered under warranty, either.

C’mon, Steve, this is not “insanely great,” and we deserve better.+


+ Before you get all up in my grille about how Mac users think they’re superior and that they don’t deserve squat, don’t bother. We’ve paid a premium for the product, and we arguably do deserve the better treatment associated with buying a premium product.

Besides, hard drives are consumables, and to have lock-in on a consumable is pure-dee wrong, premium or not.

Money quote:

The man they’d been looking for—one of bin Laden’s trusted couriers—had been known to them for many years but only by a nom-de-guerre provided by a detainee being held by the United States. Four years ago, they figured out his real name; two years ago, they got a handle on where he lived.

I.e., if you think this was an overnight success, you’d be wrong. This is actually an amazing tidbit, that catching bin Laden relied on one teeny, tiny piece of intel provided well over four years ago! That, folks, is perseverance!

To President Bush’s credit, he set this one up. It takes leadership to see the big picture, to make tough calls and stand behind them in spite of the boo’s from the crowd. He ordered the drive, his team ran with it, and he never lost faith in their ability to finish the what had been started. Well done, Sir!

To President Obama’s credit (because it is due here, naysayers), he recognized a good thing and again, in spite of the boo’s from the crowd, let the drive continue. He, too, did not lose faith in his team. When they said, “Boss, we can score,” not only did he send our military into a sovereign state without even the common courtesy of a “Here we come!”, but he also did so without backstopping his decision: it was his and his alone. He ordered his team do what they needed to do. Bravo!

So congratulations to two Presidents who (1) had the chutzpa to stick it out despite public opinion and (2) make it happen when the time came, both to finish it and to start it in the first place.

President Obama, President Bush, my hat’s off to you both.

Source: USA Today