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January, 2019

Supreme Court ruling makes “obvious” patents harder to defend

In a decision issued today, the US Supreme Court reinvigorated the "obviousness test" used to determine whether a patent should be issued. Ruling in the case of KSR v. Teleflex, the Court found that the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles patent appeals, had not been using a stringent-enough standard to determine whether a patent was infringing. HangZhou Night Net

At issue in KSR v. Teleflex is a gas pedal manufactured by KSR. The pedal has an electronic sensor that automatically adjusts its height to the height of the driver. Teleflex claimed that KSR's products infringed on a patent it held. KSR said that Teleflex's patent combining a sensor and a gas pedal was one that failed the obviousness test, and as such, should not have been granted.

Patent law appeared to be on KSR's side: 1952 legislation mandated that an invention could not be patented if a "person having ordinary skill in the art" would consider it obvious. KSR argued that the US Patent and Trademark Office should have denied Teleflex's patent, as it only combines components performing functions they were previously known to do. However, the Federal Circuit had adopted a higher standard, ruling that those challenging a patent had to show that there was a "teaching, suggestion, or motivation" tying the earlier inventions together.

KSR had plenty of support from the likes of Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, and GM, while Teleflex's supporters included GE, 3M, DuPont, and a number of other companies concerned that some of their patent holdings would be harmed should the Court side with KSR.

SCOTUS found KSR's arguments convincing, ruling that the Federal Circuit had failed to apply the obviousness test. "The results of ordinary innovation are not the subject of exclusive rights under the patent laws," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the Court. "Were it otherwise, patents might stifle rather than promote the progress of useful arts."

The Supreme Court also said that the Federal Circuit's conception of a patent's obviousness was too narrow. "The Circuit first erred in holding that courts and patent examiners should look only to the problem the patentee was trying to solve," according to Justice Kennedy's opinion. "Second, the appeals court erred in assuming that a person of ordinary skill in the art attempting to solve a problem will be led only to those prior art elements designed to solve the same problem."

The end result is that Teleflex's patent has been invalidated and more importantly, the Federal Circuit will now have to pay closer attention to a patent's obviousness. That may be good news for Vonage in its appeal of a court's decision that its VoIP service infringes on three Verizon patents. Our analysis of the patents indicates that they, too, may fail the obviousness test.

More importantly, the Supreme Court ruling is good news for a patent system in dire need of fixing. New legislation introduced to Congress a couple of weeks ago is another attempt at a fix. The bill would streamline the patent appeal process while switching the US patent system from a first-to-invent to a first-to-file system. It would also cap the amount of damages that could be awarded for infringing patents.

For developers, Windows Live now means business

Microsoft wants to be a part of the next great web startup. This week at MIX07, the company modified the terms of its Windows Live application programming interface (API) license so that small businesses could freely use the services. HangZhou Night Net

The overview of the new license is as follows:

Microsoft is enabling access to a broad set of Windows Live Platform services with a single, easy-to-understand pricing model based on the number of unique users (UUs) accessing your site or Web application. These terms are intended to remove costs associated with many Web applications and provide predictable costs for larger Web applications. There are some exceptions to the UU-based model: (1) Search: free up to 750,000 search queries/month, (2) Virtual Earth: free up to 3 million map tiles/month; and (3) Silverlight Streaming: free up to 4GB storage and unlimited outbound streaming, and no limit on the number of users that can view those streams.

According to the terms of use, if a site has over 1 million unique users, it will be charged US$0.25 per unique user per year or it must share a portion of its advertising revenue with Microsoft. Search and Virtual Earth do not apply to in this scenario as commercial agreements are necessary when the limits of the two services are reached.

According to Microsoft, the license restructuring has been done to show that the company can and does support small businesses. Whitney Burk, a spokesperson for Microsoft's Online Services Group, said that Microsoft wants to be there when the next great startup company emerges. "We're saying to all those small guys out there, bet your business on Microsoft. If you become the next YouTube, great news for you and great news for us."

Because some of the underlying services provided by the APIs are still in beta, Microsoft is currently not enforcing the new pricing schema. However, even with the fee, the APIs are still a bargain. The two that I've used the most, Search and Virtual Earth, have clear documentation, excellent examples, and are straightforward to use.

With the new terms of use in place, businesses will be able to create and profit from their Windows Live mashups, and I wouldn't doubt that companies will create applications far more powerful than anything available in Windows Live right now. As a matter of fact, I'm predicting that Windows Live will almost solely be made of APIs in two years.

Talk to the hand: chimps, bonobos and the development of language

Regardless of one's feelings regarding zoos, it doesn't take much time spent in the primate house to come away with a feeling of kinship to our closest living relatives. Although not human, we recognize in chimpanzees and bonobos some of the same traits we display. HangZhou Night Net

It's not an observation that escapes biologists, either. Researchers are often interested in the common behaviors and traits we share with other higher primates to give us clues as to the evolutionary origins of human intelligence. A new study published this week in PNAS from scientists at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center has looked at the use of hand gestures by chimpanzees and bonobos as a form of communication. The idea behind this study is to gain a better understanding of the roots of human language development.

Although both species of primate use vocalizations and facial expressions to communicate, they also use hand gestures. Unlike the vocalizations and facial expressions, however, hand gestures don't mean the same things to both chimpanzees and bonobos. They stem from, and are interpreted by, different parts of the brain.

The study involved looking at the different facial/vocal and manual displays from two groups of bonobos and two groups of chimpanzees. The researchers identified 31 different manual gestures, and 18 facial/vocal displays that related to a range of different behavioral activities such as grooming, feeding, playing, and so on. It turns out that the facial/vocal displays could be recognized regardless of whether the viewer belonged to the same group or even species.

But when it came to hand gestures, most interpretations were specific to individual groups; a chimpanzee from one group would not be expected to know that a certain hand signal used by group A meant "please groom me." Hand signals were also found to be context dependent: "A good example of a shared gesture is the open-hand begging gesture, used by both apes and humans. This gesture can be used for food, if there is food around, but it also can be used to beg for help, for support, for money and so on. It's meaning is context-dependent,"said Frans de Waal, one of the authors of the paper.

I'm most interested by the commonality of certain hand gestures between these ape species and ourselves; the begging example given above, for one. It seems that some aspects of our behavior have been hard-wired in since before the human race could have been said to exist.

Apple introduces ProCare, One to One, and Personal Shopping

Following the rumor earlier this week that Apple's ProCare service might be split into two parts, Apple updated its retail site to reflect the changes. There are actually three services now, but I believe only two of them charge memberships. HangZhou Night Net

There is ProCare:

ProCare membership starts with a complete setup of your Mac. Then stay up and running with premium benefits like same-day service at the Genius Bar, Rapid Repairs, yearly tune-ups, and more. All for just $99 per year, for up to three computers. Ask a Mac Specialist about ProCare. Your Mac will thank you.

There is One to One:

Our trainers — experts in all things Apple — create a program customized to your level of experience. You can choose individual sessions covering everything from getting started on a Mac to making more out of your memories. Or explore any topic you like. All for just $99 per year.

Personal training sessions are designed to move at your pace and provide the support and guidance you need, whether you’re new to Mac or ready to master the latest pro software.

And there is Personal Shopping:

Personal Shopping is a whole new way to shop at the Apple Store. A free service where you and a dedicated Mac Specialist explore and test-drive products to find out which ones are best for you. We know the store can be busy, so when you’re ready to talk, Personal Shopping is a way for us to give you our undivided attention.

Just like the rumor stated, ProCare (which was once $99 per year) has now been split into ProCare and One to One which are both $99 per year (or $198 per year for both). However, customers who purchased ProCare service before today (May 2, 2007) get the benefits of One to One throughout the remainder of their ProCare memberships.

The Personal Shopping seems to just be a newly-added benefit to the retail stores. You can make an appointment beforehand, come in with a list of questions, and have a personalized helper to walk around with you and test out products. I think my mother would have liked this when she was shopping for her iMac, but otherwise, most of our readers may not make use of this service. I tend to be the type to waltz into an Apple Store, tell someone what I want, say "no" a few times, and then have them bring it to me.

So uh, do the split-up services with jacked up prices appeal to anybody? Are you going to rush out and buy ProCare (and/or One to One) today?

Use your iPod for more than just music

As the number of people who own iPods grows and as the technology is embraced by individuals and organizations alike, it's only natural that people are coming up with some unusual uses for the ubiquitous music player. I suspect Steve Jobs would be proud, since they're thinking "out of the box" and building upon the standard iPod functionality of listening to audio, watching video, or just storing files. HangZhou Night Net

For those of you following our coverage intently, you'll see that students using iPods to cheat has made the list of weird uses. Crafty students were putting information into iPod notes or audio files and listening to their cheat sheets during tests.

Some of the "unusual" uses fall more under the category of cool things that you can download for your iPod, such as a guide to buying wine, or any number of foreign language podcasts to help you butcher a language of your choice. You can also grab subway maps or audio tours for your favorite big city to help you navigate and rock out at the same time.

On the storage side of things, the iPod is getting quite a lot of love. The list talks about several ways in which the iPod is being used as an innovate storage device. One company is using it as a flight data recorder, so expect to see a "white box" instead of a black box in the cockpit sometime soon. A federal court is also using the storage and audio features of the iPod in order to store wiretaps. The use of an iPod makes it easier to move large amounts of audio data, and prosecutors can easily listen to the files, as well.

My favorite two uses come from the fields of sports and medicine, though. First up is medicine, where iPods are being used to train doctors. Since doctors have to listen to all sorts of things (like hearts), iPods can apparently be quite helpful, since doctors can put heart sounds on their iPods and repeatedly listen to them. The medically-inclined iPods could even be brought on rounds, and used to help with diagnoses.

As far as sports go, the video functionality of the iPod is helping athletes perform better. In particular, baseball pitchers are using the iPod to review their own pitching footage as well as the footage of opposing players. Since the iPod is far smaller than a TV and a VCR, athletes can now watch footage while traveling or during a game and improve their game on-the-fly.

I think it's awesome that people are dreaming up more functionality for the iPod, so if you're equally interested, or just want some links, be sure to check out the full list of 10 unusual uses (plus one bonus).

Details of toned-down E3 hit the web

Jokingly called "Min-E3," the upcoming, revamped Electronics Entertainment Expo has been planned with the goal of toning down the previously-monstrous fiasco into a much more organized, intimate, and effective affair. Details have been scarce about just how toned down the new show will be; we've previously heard that the number of exhibitors would be reduced, but very little else was previously confirmed. HangZhou Night Net

In light of the distribution of invites, some concrete details about the new E3 have begun to surface. Taking place inside the 35,000-square-foot Barker Hangar in the Santa Monica Air Center, the newly-organized expo will feature 96 booths, each measuring 20×20 feet. The 12 biggest players of the show—which includes Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and EA—are given a bigger block for themselves at the front of the hanger. The layout is neatly laid out and appears to be much easier to navigate than the past events. To facilitate this, booths are limited solely to the floor space provided: no more giant projectors or huge papier-mache mascots.

As much as I'll miss the booth babes, I think these changes are for the best. To be quite honest with you, I'm far more excited with this new setup than I ever was with the Disneyland-esque monstrosity of marketing and PR rhetoric that was the old E3 Carnivàle. Now there'll at least be a smidgen of professionalism and maturity previously abandoned in the face of swag and free-for-all demo stations. The chance to get an uninterrupted look at some software without having to deal with a congested and poorly laid-out convention room floor will certainly bode well for some more critical and expansive coverage of upcoming software. Of course, the reduced floor space and exhibitor numbers don't bode well for smaller devs. Hopefully Gamecock's planned indie show will be able to fill the void.

US singles out China and Russia on piracy watch list

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) has cited 12 countries for lackadaisical intellectual property protection. Released today, the list comes in the form of the Office's annual Special 301 report, which discusses the adequacy and effectiveness of IP protections by US trading partners. While the USTR acknowledges that some progress has been made, certain nations are still rife with piracy with little-to-no oversight by the government. HangZhou Night Net

At the top of the "Priority Watch List" list were, predictably, China and Russia. The report says that Russia needs to crack down on widespread piracy via optical media and the Internet, and the USTR will be starting an out-of-cycle review to follow Russia's progress on its promises to improve its oversight.

Similarly, China is still showing "high levels" of copyright and IP infringement after a year-long investigation by the USTR. "Leadership at the provincial and local levels is critical to improving China’s IPR climate. By highlighting local problems and also giving credit where it is due, we encourage local leadership," said representative Susan Schwab in a statement. "The Special 301 report flags many other issues on which we hope to remain constructively engaged with China, building on the recognition of many Chinese officials that their country has its own huge stake in effective IPR protection."

Other countries on the Priority Watch List this year include Argentina, Chile, Egypt, India, Israel, Lebanon, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela. The report cited backlogs of patent applications, "unfair commercial use for data generated to obtain marketing approval," and of course digital piracy of copyrighted work as areas of special concern. Of the 12 countries on the list, only Thailand was new this year—it was elevated to the priority list due to an "overall deterioration" of IP enforcement in the country over the past year.

In addition to the Priority Watch List, the USTR put out a slightly less elevated "Watch List" with an additional 24 countries with various copyright concerns. Some of the countries had been lowered from last year's priority list, such as Brazil and Belize, because of marked improvements in IP enforcement by the governments of those countries. However, all 24 countries still had various copyright-related concerns, according to the USTR.

The USTR annual report follows a complaint filed with the World Trade Organization earlier this month about China's (lack of) intellectual property protections. At that time, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said that "China has no excuse to allow American intellectual property to be ripped off without any consequences. I hope this is just the beginning of a much stronger Administration stance on China's nonstop violations of free trade rules." Previously, China had signed an agreement saying that the government would do more to crack down on piracy, but that appears to have yielded little in terms of tangible results.

Sling releases SlingPlayer for Mac 1.0, adds AppleTV support

You're got to admit that the Slingbox is quite the sexy, savvy little device. For those of you who think Slingbox is the sequel to Sling Blade, don't worry; the device is much more exciting than that. Basically, the Slingbox takes your cable or satellite feed and sends it out over the Internet to whatever computer you happen to be in front of at the time. You can even watch HDTV over the Internet, provided you buy the more expensive Slingbox. It's all perfectly legal, too, since you're the only one allowed to watch the feed from your Slingbox, so you're just "placeshifting" the material. HangZhou Night Net

For a long time, Mac users were left in the dark, since the controlling software (called SlingPlayer) wasn't available to OS X. That issue was somewhat remedied with the SlingPlayer for Mac beta that was released in October, but now Sling Media has done one better and released SlingPlayer for Mac 1.0. Even better, the release version of SlingPlayer Mac is loaded with nifty Mac features.

Obviously, the software does all the normal Slingbox stuff like transmitting TV and letting you watch your DVR, but the real selling point is the amount of integration with Apple devices that SlingPlayer Mac packs. That's right, it will interface with your Apple TV. So if you're at work and want to watch Sling Blade or listen to the latest podcasts during your lunch break and don't your Apple TV handy, you can just fire up SlingPlayer and it will call home to allow you to access anything from your iTunes library. This functionality is probably worth the price of a Slingbox alone, since now you can take your iTunes Library from home to wherever your laptop goes without having to actually copy it over. It's also a great way for people to get more use out of their purchased iTunes content, so I've got to commend Sling Media for the addition of this feature.

The Apple TV control isn't all you can do with your Slingbox, either. It can also access Front Row on your Mac or play music from your iPod, provided you have a Mac or a dock near your Slingbox. You can even watch Sling Blade when you're on the road, if you really want. Either way, this functionality is a great addition to an already great device, and definitely adds some reasons for Mac users to head out and grab a Slingbox.

New Gears of War map pack dated, priced. Nope, it won’t be free

When Gears of War was released, it was a great game. When they gave us two new high-quality maps for free, it got even better. When they released a patch that included a new game mode, all for the price of $0, gamers were positively ecstatic. Then it came out that Epic and Microsoft were tussling over the price of this sort of content, and now it has been announced that there are four additional maps coming on May 3. The only difference is these will run you 800 points, or $10. The new maps include: HangZhou Night Net

Bullet Marsh: In this Kryll-infested swamp, an old generator still powers the area lights. A few stray bullets could easily knock out the generator, leaving combatants to fend for themselves against the Kryll.Garden: This overgrown and crumbling conservatory still has a working fertilization and pesticide system.This system can pose a serious hazard to anyone who ventures into the greenhouse without first venting the air.Process: Teams must fight for control of this subterranean Imulsion processing plant, still active despite the cessation of the Pendulum wars.Subway: Timgad’s Central Subway station used to serve as a central hub for commuters.Now the tunnels are crawling with Locust.

The map pack will be called "Hidden Fronts," and while we don't have pictures yet, these maps do sound pretty interesting, especially with the new use of the Kryll in Bullet Marsh. I'll probably pick these up; I still love Gears of War online even though I don't play it as much as I'd like, but that doesn't mean I'm not bitter about the price tag. One of my astute readers pointed out to me that you can wait until September and get the maps for free, but that's not an attractive alternative when everyone on your buddy list has added the new maps to the rotation.

What do you think? Are four maps worth the $10?

FCC gives thumbs up to first WiMAX laptop card

Clearwire has been given the FCC's stamp of approval for its laptop WiMAX card. The card, which will be available during the second half of this year, will enable laptop users to connect to Clearwire's WiMAX network via a standard Type II card. Clearwire will support Windows XP and Vista with the cards, which will be manufactured by Motorola. HangZhou Night Net

Clearwire is based in Kirkland, WA and provides wireless broadband and VoIP services. It controls around 15 percent of the US 2.5GHz spectrum and claimed to have over 160,000 wireless broadband customers as of last September. The company currently offers WiMAX service with download speeds of up to 1.5Mbps in 37 markets across 12 states, which it says covers over 350 towns and cities. The company is also active in Belgium, Ireland, and Denmark.

The new laptop cards will give Clearwire subscribers "true" portability for the first time. "We expect the new laptop card to broaden our potential customer base with more opportunities for customers to access and experience our fast, simple, portable, reliable and affordable wireless broadband services," said Clearwire president and COO Perry Satterlee.

Intel has also announced plans to add WiMAX support to its upcoming Montevina platform. Slated to ship during the first half of 2008, Montevina will offer built-in WiMAX support along with 802.11b/g/n, all in the same piece of silicon.

After a number of fits and starts, it appears as though WiMAX is finally poised to become a significant player on the broadband scene. Sprint will begin rolling out its new WiMAX network in early 2008, starting with Chicago and Washington, DC, and hopes to reach 100 million potential customers by the end of 2008.

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