Google Factory Tour in Stereo

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Just sat down to check my feeds, and it feels like half the posts are about today’s Google Factory Tour. Amongst those posts I found this entertaining pair, that look like they were posted just a few minutes apart…

Om Malik:
Google executives are on stage talking about how they want to work with developers and help extend Google Maps. Instead of unofficial hacks, they want to make it more formal, so the developers can monetize their efforts. There seems to be a lot of effort behind Google Maps. This was in response to a question posed by someone in the audience. In case you were wondering, Jeff Jarvis has some interesting links.

Marc Hedlund:
I asked about Google Maps hacks, like this week’s Chicago Crime site, at the Google Factory Tour. Particularly, I asked if their agreements with Navteq and Tele Atlas, who provide the underlying map data for the service, would require Google to shut down sites that used the map data without Google’s permission. They responded that they had every intention to not shut them down as long as their licenses permit it, and one of the engineers insinuated that they might be working on a Google Maps API or a similar way to build on top of Maps (he actually said, “to make them not hacks,” by which I think he meant not unauthorized). They also said they hoped that the data licensors would realize that increased traffic benefits them.

IP on IP: Defining Patent Trolls

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There’s an interesting little thread going on the IP list, started by a pointer to this article on proposed patent reforms.

Robert (Internet guy of long standing) Raisch’s question, and Jason (Lawgeek/EFF Attorney) Schultz’s response, are an interesting starting point for all of our musings…reproduced below:



Question:

From: Rob Raisch
Date: May 15, 2005 6:24:37 PM EDT
To:
Subject: Re: [IP] Patent reform in Congress

Ok, I’m slow about these kinds of things, so let me get this right…

1. I invent something useful,
2. I patent it (which gives me the right to exploit my invention
for a period of time), and
3. I then sell that right to someone else because for whatever
reason I am unable to commercialize it myself.

So, the new patent-holder finds an infringer and decides to protect their newly purchased property rights? And that’s a “troll”? Sounds like the infringer has been amazingly lazy, not done the requisite IP homework, and has made money off of an idea they do not own and had no rights to exploit.

What am I missing?
/rr


Response:

From: Jason Schultz
Date: May 16, 2005 12:25:02 PM EDT
To:
Cc:
Subject: Re: [IP] Patent reform in Congress

Rob,

You’ve hit the nail right on the head. Defining patent “trolls” is not as simple as saying its any entity that didn’t invent or doesn’t commercialize a product, just like defining spam and spyware are difficult out-of-context. The key to defining trolls appropriately is within step #3 on your list — the reason you did not commercialize it yourself. For some inventors in some industries, e.g., semiconductor manufacturing or biotech, it is nearly impossible for anyone without billions in capitalization to effectively commercialize inventions. However, in other industries, e.g. e-commerce or various forms of software engineering, it is much easier. The vast majority of troll complaints come from the latter and not the former. Thus, the key is context — why did the inventor assign the patent to the alleged troll? Was it because they were understandably unable to commercialize it? Or was it because there was no commercial market for it but rather (because of broad claims and the cost of litigation) a market for leveraging large settlements out of companies, both large and small.

These distinction are important because patents are not supposed to be universally fungible commodities like a car or a house or even a piece of real estate, where any sale for profit is considered a good sale. Rather, patents are government grants that are meant to be given only when they serve the public interes, i.e. they are only supposed to subsist as a tool to help promote actual innovation and commercialization of technology. If a company buys a patent that never contributed to any such innovation or development, then it is against the public interest to allow that patent to be unfairly exploited via litigation. On the other hand, if the patent did make such a contribution, the inventor is owed some compensation. Drawing that fine line has proven to be a tricky task, but it is nonetheless an important distinction to bear in mind when determining who’s a troll and who’s a talented innovator.

Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

How Class Works – Graphical Representation of Data

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The New York Times has a nice little graphic up, entitled How Class Works, which nicely illustrates how households moved between economic bands in a ten year period (1988 – 1998).

This gets right at one of my little side obsessions: when you’ve got a lot of complex data, how can you represent it graphically to provide a visually comprehensible overview? One of my favorite approaches is a topo map inspired thing that I use for a number of reports.

The linked report snapshot has time as columns (one month per column), and the possible data slots as rows; the greater the percentage of data that falls into a given cell, the darker the color of the cell. So simple as to seem pretty stupid when I try to explain it to people, this approach nevertheless lets me get a very solid idea of how the data is falling out within a given month, and how it’s trending over time, with just a glance at the report.

Fun With Server Logs

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Somebody at Microsoft is either really on the ball or has a whole lot of free time on their hands. About two hours after putting this post live, I got a ping from a log monitoring process that I have running (yes, I’m an obsessive freak who has a process running to look for interesting stuff in my server logs and tell me about it).

tide519.microsoft.com – – [05/May/2005:14:40:19 -0400] “GET /* SNIP */ want-to-license-piece-of-microsoft.html” “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.40607)”
tide518.microsoft.com – – [05/May/2005:14:40:23 -0400] “GET /* SNIP */ more-about-ip-less-about-peoples-asses.html” “Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows NT 5.1; SV1; .NET CLR 1.1.4322; .NET CLR 2.0.40607)”

Want to License a Piece of Microsoft Research?

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Microsoft Watch has a little post up today entitled Want to License a Piece of Microsoft Research? Apparently Microsoft yesterday announced the creation of a new business unit called “IP Ventures,” tasked with licensing Microsoft-Research-developed technology to VCs and startups.

Color me unsurprised. [You can skip down to the paragraph starting “Why are we here?” for the relevant portion of the post.]