Do Juries Have No Place In the Patent System?

I read a proposal today that essentially suggests taking expensive patent trials (a la Apple-Samsung) out of the jury system, putting these disputes into the loving hands of an “expert tribunal” instead.

Readers are free to check their own resources and form their own conclusions. Below is my own comment, which I posted to GigaOM.com today. It is still in the moderation queue – a necessary evil these days – but I felt it worth repeating.

I think the proposal to replace juries with a tribunal of experts in patent disputes is more dangerous than the ills it proposes to remedy. (1) the patent system is itself a legal process, and to exclude plaintiffs from due process would be wrong. (2) Empaneling a jury free of bias and susceptibility to being swayed is the job of the trial attorneys; (3) ”Experts” can be biased too, but there is no appeal from that, and (4) a panel of programmers would look at the code, determine that different subroutines and methods had been called, and conclude that therefore it is impossible that a look and feel issue could have been copied.”

– Alex Forbes

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Gone Amok: Software Slide Lock Patent Wars

Software “locks” have been with us for years. In fact, they’re just digital child-proof safety cabinet latches.

Litigation over who can own and patent design concepts, even when centuries old, is completely out of control.

It’s instructive to glance at a quick Google search for “slide lock patent” — you’ll get over 4 million hits.

Almost every “object” in our modern software graphic user interfaces has an exact analog in the old-fashioned mechanical world of cabinets, drawers, handles, pulls, latches, catches, files, folders, desktops, and locks.

From today’s SlashDot:

“In a move that is likely to have wide-ranging implications for patent rulings around the world, a High Court Judge in the UK has ruled that HTC did not infringe on a number if Apple’s patents. ‘He said Apple’s slide-to-unlock feature was an “obvious” development in the light of a similar function on an earlier Swedish handset.’ Two other patents that Apple had claimed were infringed were ruled invalid, while a third was found not to apply to HTC. A statement from the Taiwanese firm said: ‘HTC is pleased with the ruling, which provides further confirmation that Apple’s claims against HTC are without merit. We remain disappointed that Apple continues to favour competition in the courtroom over competition in the marketplace.’ Apple declined to comment on the specifics of the case. Instead it re-issued an earlier statement, saying: ‘We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.'”

I’m not taking sides here, partly because Asia is notorious for disrespecting American software copyrights and patents. Mostly, on a deeper level, something is horribly out of control across both oceans. We’re all trying to patent drawer pull analogs and the “look and feel” of natural woodgrain laminates.

The evolution of the software slide lock has been long in coming. Its design purpose was to provide a protective control someplace in between completely open access and a compete userid/password lockdown. The idea is to prevent the user from accidentally triggering an action or changing a setting they didn’t intend to, without being overly intrusive.

  • DOS and Linux users will remember the ubiquitous command-line question “Are you sure (Y/N)?”
  • Mac and Windows users will remember the old two-button “dialog boxes” that used to pop up, asking us, “You are about to permanently change your Administrator Password,” presenting the iconic “OK” and Cancel buttons.
  • Since Snow Leopard or somewhat before, Apple had adopted a graphic symbol of a tiny padlock. You had to click that symbol before you could change a user setting or preference. You could click the symbol again to re-lock.
  • Currently I see the new “slide locks”in the Apple Store, and on my iPad. Its larger size facilitates “gesture” inputs on touch-screens. The requirement that we intentionally slide a slider to unlock, further safeguards against unintentional unlocks on either smart devices or older Mac and PC mouse-click technologies.

There are many ways to write a better or faster algorithm, app or entire operating system. I strongly support copyrights and patents for original software code. I’ll grant there are few things more discouraging than writing a snazzy new software slide lock, only to see it go viral a few months later. We also saw these same issues back in the 1950’s as car manufacturers shamelessly copied styles from others, but we never saw Buick suing Lincoln or Packard because of the occasional, more-than-passing resemblances of their chromed front grilles.

Making litigation even more fractious is the fact that patent systems differ worldwide. The same infringement lawsuits must often be filed in China, Holland, the UK, Belgium, and the USA.

I suspect a solution will need an international consortium of legal and industrial cooperation. It may require complete removal of protection for purely cosmetic enhancements which intentionally mimic older mechanical hardware analogs. Or, it may evolve a new limited-term patent category for intangible puffery, say, for one year. That would allow some design exclusivity without stymieing creative design.

Let’s think one last time about the cabinet and furniture hardware industry. For “pulls” – handles to open drawers, cabinet doors and the like – we can think of the hundreds and hundreds of available designs we’ve seen. Chromed. Brass. Round. Square Ornate old English, Scandinavian minimalist, and on and on. The older we are, the more designs we can remember. And then there are the matching hinges – concealed, ornate, heavy-duty, and so forth. How far should laws allow the patent system to go?

The basic design process was all the same: start with a mechanical drawing or wax sculpture. Make a die or investment casting. Stamp or cast them out by the hundreds of thousands, in catalogs featuring thousands of different designs. If we’d opened all those designs up to the patent and litigation process, would we ever have made it into the 21st century? Whether fabricated by investment casting or software subroutines, They’re all just handles, latches, pulls, and locks.

We need to clean up our byzantine, gone-amok legal systems that determine what can be patented, not to mention freeing up choked worldwide legal systems which really should be deploying their resources on much more pressing concerns.

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Playing .wmv Video Clips on a Mac

This is for Mac people who want to play those .wmv files we receive … I’m mostly on a Mac platform now, so I didn’t have a way to view Microsoft .wmv movie files on my Mac. Apple uses QuickTime. I had to port the movie over to my PC.

There is a $29 conversion utility by Flip4Mac for Mac QuickTime, but I never edit movie files. I found a free player-only version at Microsoft (embedded below), and it worked seamlessly for me. (Reboot your Mac after installation):

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Office Outlook 2011 for Mac Error Code -3176

Outlook cannot find the server. Verify the server information is entered correctly in the Account Settings, and that your DNS settings in the Network pane of System Preferences are correct. Error Code -3176

In researching this error I noted quite a bit of chatter from other Office for Mac users. Microsoft’s own support page for this issue was unhelpful. Google’s Help forum listed a similar issue but my problem was with my POP accounts, not with Google’s IMAP account. Solutions seemed in short supply. I had this problem on my MacBook Pro running Lion 10.7.2 – but not on my Mac Pro desktop with the same app, OS and settings.

Microsoft suggests checking to see you have an internet connection. If you are reading their web support page, they helpfully point out that you already do. They suggest checking your DNS setting in Networking, and rechecking your server and port settings in Outlook “Accounts.” All of mine were correct and agreed 100% with the Outlook for Mac 2011 settings on my Mac Pro.

My Apple MAIL works fine with the same settings. My settings also worked fine for years under Office 2007 and Windows 7.

Remember, this is Microsoft, not Apple. Others had tried all this without getting any closer to the problem.

I resolved my issue with what I call the “Dave Anguay Method.” Dave taught me this trick many years ago. He was setting up new networked workplace printers on our corporate PC laptops on a Windows server. If you can’t get the setting to work, don’t waste time asking your Administrator to “fix” it. Delete the bad account or connection, and re-add it.

I deleted my 3 inoperative POP mail accounts and re-added them manually. Everything works fine. Thanks again, Dave.

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Evernote – Remember Everything

Evernote is “a suite of software and services designed for notetaking and archiving.” The corporation is described as a “Creator of a multi platform note taking application for mobile devices. The site include product information, a company blog, and support services.”

I am a great note–taker: to-do notes, checklists, reminders, dashed-out thoughts and drafts for that Great American Novel. As I use different machines for different locations and tasks, finding where I put that note is not always that easy. Yes, I do file syncs, but not every day. I also use (and thoroughly recommend) the indispensable Dropbox for Cloud file syncs across multiple devices and locations.

But I’ve wanted to get away from that text file syndrome for a long time. Individual text file notes are under-the-hood equivalents of Post-It Notes on the refrigerator. Notepads and note organizers have long been a dime a dozen. I even wrote a crude one in C once. Apps come and go so fast I went back to huge folders of text files back in the 1990’s.

I hope Evernote sticks around. I found it by accident in the Apple App Store, while looking for something compatible with the Notes app that comes on the iPad. I found Evernote instead, which is much, much more robust. It’s available for Mac, PC and mobile devices: iPad, iPhone, Blackberry and DROID. I now have it on all my computers. Best of all, they all talk to one another via the Cloud. No more file syncs, no more lost notes. This isn’t a full review, but …

I’m already awarding it Summitlake’s Five Stars. Five stars

As I wrote a nephew,

This app is VERY cool. Free. Check it out!

http://www.evernote.com/

I have it installed on iMac, Mac, PC, and iPad. Everything autosyncs on their private Cloud. You can also access your notes on a secure web page. No more file transfers. Notes, pictures, even audio I think. Creditable text editor. Reminders, lists, Great American Novel. Not recommended for bank and credit account numbers :-) Organize by multiple Notebooks.

And I hope you’ll check it out too. Below is a screen shot of my app (Grabbed on the iMac) with my starter set of my own notes. A place for everything at last, and everything in its place. You can subcategorize your notes by Notebooks, and you can create as many of then as you want. You can access the same notes in the same format anywhere on any machine or platform, and you can also access your notes on the Web. You can export backups of your notebooks to the local hard drive.

Users are even assigned a free individual email address which will post directly to your free Evernote account. And so you will still find it on any one of your Evernote machine or device installations next time you open Evernote. Not bad for a free app.  This app (and the services behind it) are certainly worth a bona fide retail price.  I can’t even find where I might send a PayPal donation. I think the implementation of this idea is pure genius. Cheers!

Evernote

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Graphic Converter for Mac

Graphic Converter for Mac -  5 Star Rating - Summitlake Consumer pagefive stars

Back in the dawn of digital photography in the 1990’s , we used to send film to Seattle Filmworks for processing. By return US mail we’d get back negatives, prints and a floppy disk of images in a proprietary compression file format called .SFW. With the included software, one could save those as JPG images. They were pretty crude digital images – to fit on a floppy disk, they had to be! With prints and negatives long misplaced, these images are often the only surviving photographic records of a decade of our lives.

Recently I discovered many of those old JPG images had become corrupted. Photoshop couldn’t open them. Photoshop couldn’t open the .SFW source files, either. This is like losing a piece of one’s family history. I began my web search for a solution. The old Seattle Filmworks software may still be available, but it hasn’t been supported since Windows 98.

To my utter surprise, I found that an application called Graphic Converter. Graphic Converter? That’s like locating an old friend you lose track of a decade ago. I used to use it on the Mac. I purchased it and installed it on my Mac Pro and recovered all my files.

Graphic Converter is an extraordinarily powerful and intuitive imaging software app. It does anything and everything one needs to work with images: edit, crop, color balance, file conversion, slide show, and much more. If I’d realized it was available and still being improved, I’d never have bought Adobe Photoshop Elements for Mac, which costs three times as much.

The new Graphic Converter is even more powerful and intuitively engineered than before. It was the ONE app I truly missed when I left Mac for Windows in 1997 (not returning to Mac until 2009). I was so happy with the new product I wrote Lemke Software to express my delight. App creator and software designer Thorsten Lemke wrote back from Germany asking if he could use my letter of thanks on his Customer Statements page. Of course he could – it’s the least I can do. Below is an excerpt from my letter of thanks for such a fine software product.

This is just a note of thanks for a great product. I used Graphic Converter from about 1995 to 1997 and it was the best Mac app I ever used… I didn’t have to use a manual or Help file to do it. Graphic Converter is as logically designed as ever! It is also the only product other than Photoshop I have ever trusted to edit my photo images, and your product performs a lot of functions Adobe doesn’t.”

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Why Doesn’t Stuff Just Work As It Should?

Steve Fox of PCWorld raised some timely questions in his March 2010 column Tech Products: Revolting not Not Rebelling :

… our state-of-the-art technology too often fails to work as it should. That’s why I have to reboot my Wi-Fi router at least once a week; why my fingerprint-recognition pad periodically forgets what my thumb looks like; and why my smartphone keeps dropping calls without provocation.

Mostly, I think the answer likes in our neglected software development process. In darker moments, many of us probably suspect that our software vendors hire besotted programmers to code their operating systems and mission-critical software in bars and back alleys. In truth, a coding project like a modern Mac-OS-X or Windows 7 may rival the Manhattan Project in resources and organizational complexity. When things go south, where did we go wrong?
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Windows 7 Impressions

I won’t pretend there was any urgent reason to upgrade from XP to Win 7. My XP installation was getting slower and slower, and that was only just reinstalled in July. My new Mac Pro (64 bit Snow Leopard) greatly increased my dissatisfaction with the PC side: if I’m going to live with Windows, and I am, I needed to do something!

A new motherboard and chip was financially out of the question. I’m running an ASUS M2N-SLI Deluxe with AMD 64 6000+ CPU. It’s not that old. By the time you add all the other stuff you always find you need, a slight upgrade turns into a major investment. I decided to go full bore with 8GB RAM, Windows 7 Pro (64-bit), and a better graphics card that would support “Windows Aero”.
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Use Wireless Router as “Repeater” Station

I had seen mention on the internet that it was possible to use a wireless router on your home network without replacing the existing wired router-firewall and CAT5 installation. Most of my machines are already wired into my “blue cable” ethernet LAN (which is much faster).

Unlike an earlier experiment a few years back, this router had excellent range. It’s an ASUS WL-520GU broad range wireless router I picked up on the cheap on a whim at a NewEgg sale, but I never spent the time to try to work through the setup. Continue reading

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Recommended Article

Below is a link to a recommended InfoWorld article on the state of domestic software development. It was written by columnist Neil McAllister.

The article was forwarded by a friend who was also part of a massive layoff staged by the software development company sponsoring the ad banner at the top of the page (at this writing). We found it chilling.

Why software developers are immune from the recession

Excerpt:

Programmers are finding jobs and development budgets are climbing — and we have your company’s poor planning and flawed processes to thank.

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