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Samsung v Apple: The fight goes on August 31, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Hardware, Software.
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Who would have thought that intellectual property law could suddenly become so interesting? Two of the biggest tech brands in the world – Samsung and Apple – are slugging it out in courts across the world.

An American court awarded Apple over $1bn in damages when it declared that Samsung had infringed several key aspects of proprietary software and technology design.

Subsequently a Japanese court awarded Samsung victory in a battle over the way their phones synchonise data with personal computers. It’s going back and forth as the giants argue over design issues and who is copying who.

Of course intellectual property needs protection, but the real loser at the end of all this is going to be the consumer. Take cars as an example. You can go out and buy a Ford, VW, or GM vehicle and be able to drive it immediately. You don’t need to spend a day learning how it all works before you are familiar with the controls.

Isn’t this analogous to mobile phones now? They are complex devices, but there are many basic controls that are the same; settings, web access, email, apps. I just moved from Android to an iPhone and it took me a couple of days to become familiar with the environment – even though I use several other Apple products. What if I move to an Android phone in two years? Will I have to learn everything again to get it to work?

We need phone companies to innovate and not just to copy each other, but the consumer will end up paying all these damages. It’s time the phone companies started talking to each other and pooling technologies in the same way DVD and similar technologies are shared between manufacturers.

A slight difference (phones)

 

Photo by Tomi Tapio licensed under Creative Commons

Is Facebook copying Google? September 15, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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For a long time now, Facebook has offered users a way of sharing content selectively. You can construct lists of your friends, to divide them up into friends, colleagues, and acquaintances for example, allowing the possibility to share personal information only with your family.

But it was always clunky and took a lot of time to sort users into the correct lists, very few people ever actually used it, preferring instead to just trim their friends. Not any more.

Facebook has just launched an improved system called smart lists, helping to automate the process of grouping your friends together, but Google is not happy. Google launched their Google+ social network in June and one of the key features of the network was called ‘circles’ – easy to define social circles that allow you to group your contacts by how you know them.

Google is crying foul and suggesting their idea has been copied and Facebook is responding by saying that they have just improved existing functionality. Who is right and how can intellectual ideas be protected?

There are laws around intellectual property, most people know about copyright, patents, and trademarks, but it feels as if our current raft of laws are archaic and out of step with the online world.

If there really was a legal challenge over the concept of grouping your friends separately to your colleagues then it is likely that a legal battle could rumble on for years and be entirely irrelevant by the time any judgement is passed. And if that’s the case then there really is very little to protect ideas – any company that wants to succeed will ride the wave and take a chance – or face failure because of a desire to comply with pre-Internet laws.
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Managing IPR in a digital age August 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services, Outsourcing.
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So you have a dilemma.

You may well already use an outsourced or managed service environment and it all works well, but then the supplier calls and offers to start doing some extra parts of your supply chain. Moving up the value chain as the expression goes.

That’s great too, provided it’s a supplier you know and trust. Why not ask them to take on more work if you know you can trust them to deliver?

But the thing that often worries clients is how they can outsource higher-end work without losing control of their intellectual property.

It’s a dilemma, because the boundary of the organisation is constantly shifting, but where contracts are concerned, someone needs to take a decision so services can be defined. But when are the key parts of the relationship to check on if you are going to extend a process outsourcing relationship?

  • First, is to ensure you have all your IP protected anyway using tools such as trademarks or copyright. You need to have your own house in order first.
  • Second, is to review the contract with your supplier. Can you ensure that you retain IP rights even if the supplier creates value and possibly even invents new processes for you?
  • Third, be aware of your own limits. There is always a pragmatic limit about what can and can’t be protected, so make sure you have also considered the difference between what the law says and what you really can do in the event of a breach.
  • Fourth, review all practical security measures that can be taken  around the relationship, hand-offs, and the delivery site so that confidential IP cannot be removed from site.
  • Fifth, identify where the supplier may be working for your competition and so-called ‘Chinese walls’ need to be extremely strong.

In most cases, if you have a great supplier at one level, then they will be able to scale up to the next level. It is usually beneficial for the supplier (more business) as well as the client (more services provided by a trusted and already proven partner) so this should not be considered a dangerous strategy.

In fact, it’s going to be essential for most firms to turn to trusted partners more and more, just to achieve the kind of performance expected of a twenty-first century business.

Ensuring you can work with an ecosystem of partners whilst still protecting your valuable IP is all just a part of doing business in a globally connected environment.

When is technology really yours? June 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Software.
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Can you remember the furore caused by Amazon two years ago when their system automatically deleted copies of books by George Orwell on remote Kindle devices? That’s right, books that were already bought and paid for and loaded onto a reading device were remotely deleted because of a rights issue with the publisher. How ironic to find Orwell’s 1984 subject to such a scandal.

Yet the news today that Apple has been developing technology to control when and where you can use the video function in an iPhone seems even more controlling.

The idea is that it is illegal to video most events such as live music concerts because of the potential copyright infringement. So Apple will offer artists and theatre owners the ability to send an infrared signal to all iPhones in the vicinity of the live show, switching off the video function.

Apple has stated that they have filed patents related to this technology and the idea is possible, but it may be many years before we see it as a commercial product.

So that’s all right then.

This raises many more questions than answers though. Many artists want their music to be recorded and shared online, even if their publishing or record company does not and the recording a live music experience does not automatically imply that it will be shared and broadcast.

But perhaps when we start getting to the point where theatres are going to start controlling how and when you can use the phone in your pocket, it’s time to start asking if the copyright laws creating the need for this corporate behaviour are in fact flawed and of another time?