Putting SpotON3D’s patent into perspective

The recent furor over patents by SpotON3D is understandable. However, we may be overemphasizing that issue while staying naïve about other formidable developments. Let me begin with a specific illustration.

Back in December of 2010, Hypergrid Business ran an article that indicated IBM had filed a patent on sim design methodologies (read here). To date, only three comments have been posted, ranging in tone from “Well done to IBM” to “…these are good things for us to explore.” Where was the sense of alarm and outrage that has characterized the controversy regarding SpotON3D? Are we worrying about a splinter while standing in the shadows of trees that are poised to fall?

IBM Learning Commons: A standard toolbox, and a navigation map of the entire center, where visitors can click on any location on the map to teleport.

As virtual world technologies and markets mature, they will attract the attention of major players, like IBM, and those forces have very deep pockets. According to IBM itself, they hold over 40,000 worldwide patents and more U.S. patents than any other company. They invest $5 billion per year in research, development and engineering. IBM makes very clear that these investments are for inventions, but also for licensing (source: IBM patents webpage).

Here is a partial list of patents from IBM using the search terms: abst/“virtual world” and abst/“virtual world” AND IBM: Patent No. 7,970,837 for a method to invite users to a virtual world using instant messaging; Patent No. 7,970,840 for a method to continue instant messaging exchange when exiting a virtual world; Patent No. 7,886,045 for a media playlist construction for virtual environments. Patent No. 7,882,222 for a virtual environment module bundle; Patent No. 7,843,471 for a persistent authenticating mechanism to map real world object presence into virtual world object awareness; Patent No. 7,765,478 for scheduling and reserving virtual meeting location in a calendaring application. (source: United States Patent and Trademark Office) .

IBM is not alone. Other major players with virtual world related patents include Sun Microsystems, Sony Computer Entertainment, Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent USA Inc.

Searching patent applications with the search term abst/“virtual world” AND browser AND plugin yields 515 results. Again we see IBM, with filings such as “Managing connections between real world and virtual world communities”, “Linking virtual worlds and collaboration platforms bi-directionally using a central identity management system” and “Managing multiple virtual world accounts from a single virtual lobby interface.”

Given the comprehensive activities of IBM especially, but others as well, the recent news from SpotON3D seems not to be an exaggerated source of challenges and concerns for the virtual world community, but rather a normal development, and an important part of a broad and deepening landscape. Nonetheless, the news about patents from SpotON3D has created a firestorm of protest, while the aforementioned patent filing by IBM regarding sim design methodologies passed by barely noticed. This reveals a lopsided perspective in how we focus and react.

In part this may be explained by considering which threats are felt to be the most immediate. The specific patent regarding sim design methodologies from IBM is applicable to content creators, while the moves by SpotON3D affect browser viewer companies, which are already investing in programming. There has been much anticipation that with browser-based viewers the appeal of virtual worlds will skyrocket, so the patent filings by SpotON3D probably seem more threatening. However, both developments have the potential to stifle innovation and shut out small startups, and should be regarded with similar concern.

Perhaps we take for granted the transparency of small companies that share in a community oriented approach to their projects. The fact that we expect direct access to the principals at SpotON3D is because they make themselves available to the community of virtual world development participants. While some took issue with a meeting scheduled with short notice, the reason given, which was to have a meeting sooner, rather than much later, was clearly an attempt to be responsive. Does anyone think IBM would schedule a community meeting on 24 hours notice to address the concerns of a handful of concerned and competitive startups?

Since there are already many patents, copyrights and trademarks in the world, all startups face the hurdle of creating products and services that are not already protected. Focusing exclusively on SpotON3D misses the broader perspective of just how competitive and controlling the world is, and just how vulnerable we are as a community that gives away so much to a technology we value. There are patent farms and abuses of the system, however, taking umbrage exclusively with SpotON3D does not set the world right. Instead, I believe the issues raised by SpotON3D are a prelude of what to expect more of in the future.

Now that we know patents are coming we have new considerations. Yet we must pay attention to the whole environment we are in, not just our nearest neighbor. Maintaining a comprehensive perspective is not just good form; it also leads to reactions that are most likely to be productive and meaningful.

lawrence.pierce@hypergridbusiness.com'

Lawrence Pierce

Lawrence Pierce specializes in new media design and production. He began as a computer game programmer and has been a systems consultant to corporations such as DuPont and the J. Paul Getty Art Trust, art director on the first computer game for MTV and a featured artist in the Hollywood Reporter.

  • Hi Lawrence,

    While many big corporations hold patents relating to virtual worlds, those companies very rarely try to enforce them against small businesses because the money they could get from licensing would be far less than the potential PR damage that going after small businesses can cause them.

    Small companies, however, do frequently try to extract patent licensing fees from small businesses that can't afford the legal costs of protecting themselves. SpotOn3D is a small company that has explicitly stated they intend to do go after other small businesses once their patents are granted. So big companies, such as IBM, may threaten companies that become very successful but they pose very little threat to the OpenSim community as a whole. While SpotOn3D, despite it potentially holding just a handful of patents down the line, poses an immanent threat to the entire OpenSim ecosystem.

    Software patents are an evil that benefit almost no one but patent trolls and lawyers. Even big companies that sometime gain patent licensing fees from other big companies get sued themselves and need to spend an exuberant amount of money to accumulate, defend and monetize software patents.

    When a company, such as SpotOn3D, comes along and threatens small businesses then that company needs to be made accountable for its conduct. If the community chooses to ignore this threat because big companies, that have very little to gain from suing small businesses, hold orders of magnitude more patents then a few years from now the OpenSim ecosystem will be harassed by various patent trolls, small businesses will need to spend a lot of money to "pay up" or defend themselves from those threats and the community will need to pay more than it would have had to to use virtual world services.

    • Phil

      "When a company, such as SpotOn3D, comes along and threatens small businesses then that company needs to be made accountable for its conduct."

      Just wondering Ilan… where did you see SpotON3D threatening anyone?

      • kripken

        SpotON3D several times said they would enforce their IP rights should the patent be granted. That's a clear threat: "Once we have the patent, we will use it."

    • Lawrence Pierce

      I feel empathy for your concerns. Clearly the work at SpotON3D impacts your own aspirations. When IBM filed a patent for sim design methodologies I felt impacted because that has the potential to affect my aspirations.

      However, the idealism that large companies do not enforce patents against small companies, or individuals, is not borne out in actuality. Here is an example involving Apple computer and a 17 year old: http://www.phonearena.com/news/Apple-sues-kid-who… . Another example that comes quickly to mind of a company that is well known for enforcing its product valuation through the relentless pursuit of those who violate its licenses, such as street vendors, is Disney. When large companies move to protect their intellectual properties, they often use quiet methods, such as cease and desist orders.

      These points I make only to indicate that there is no reason to assume a stronger emphasis is necessary regarding SpotON3D than IBM, using the undependable reverse logic that because IBM is larger, they will choose not to enforce violations of their patents by smaller entities. Patents affect the aspirations of developers in all industries. The impact may be negative or positive and that is a whole issue outside of my observation that there has been a disproportionate reaction to SpotON3D versus all the other patent activity going on by many companies.

      • Hi Lawrence,

        The example you gave was actually not for a big company suing a small one due to software or business method patent violations. It was about Apple having sued a 17 year old that, through a middle man, was able to obtain white front and back casing for the iPhone 4 from the Chinese company that Apple uses to actually build the iPhones. That kid started selling those unofficial stolen goods for $279 using a web site called whiteiPhone4now.com, which has since been taken down. Apple sued to stop him from his illegal conduct and simultaneously filed a dismissal of the lawsuit – call it a more threatening cease and desist if you will.

        My claim is not that big companies don't sue small companies that breach their copyrights or trademarks. It is that they very rarely sue small companies because of software or business method patent violations. That is a very important distinction to make and the one which I think can at least partially explain the strong community backlash against SpotOn3D.

        If you have evidence to the contrary please let me know (I'm genuinely interested to know).

        • Lawrence Pierce

          I already made the point that large companies do not necessarily use lawsuits against small companies because they have other more subtle means that work well, such as cease and desist orders. By definition, these are low profile "invisible" methods. Asking for evidence of these methods misses my point. To believe that without obvious evidence to the contrary, large companies universally give a pass to small companies developing software that violates their patents is to believe in an unfounded assumption. Large companies regularly protect their legal claims to intellectual property against other entities large and small. I believe, that as with an iceberg, we see only the tip of the legal activities at work.

          Still, I'm not thinking that the issue of SpotON3D is just an issue of patents. In my original piece, I used the word "vulnerable" to describe the OpenSim community, and the expression "that gives away so much to a technology we value." I believe the Community feels closer to SpotON3D than a company like IBM, but therefore more vulnerable and more motivated to express concerns and fears, founded and unfounded.

          Nobody knows yet how this will play out, so in my opinion, the perspective that SpotON3D is one player in a field of giants adds a measure of balance in the face of an unknown. Without balance, reactions have a tendency to digress into diatribes.

          • Hi Lawrence,

            I agree that big companies may be able to secretly send cease and desist letters to small companies and try to scare them into complying using the threat of going to trial. This has been reported quite frequently in copyright and trademark disputes but I've yet to hear of a big company threatening a small company over software patents. Since there is an abundance of known examples for copyright and trademarks and none that I encountered for software patents it seems logical to conclude that those later cases are very rare (or they would have received similar online media coverage).

            I can't speak for the community on whether it "feels closer to SpotON3D than a company like IBM" but I can say that I personally feel a lot more threatened by SpotOn3D than by IBM or Intel, both of which contribute to OpenSim and undoubtedly hold numerous patents that may be relevant to its current code base and future development. My feeling is based on following those two companies for many years now and seeing how they conduct themselves with companies of various sizes. They may surprise me tomorrow and sue some small company in the OpenSim community for infringing on one of their software patents, but I think that is a lot less likely than SpotOn3D attempting to assert its patents if they are ever granted.

          • Lawrence Pierce

            Copyright and trademark violations are completely visible and obvious. The code underlying an application is far more difficult to ascertain. In any event, are we really debating whether a company like Microsoft would or would not put the kabash on a small startup marketing an operating system that is essentially Windows and violates Microsoft's patents?

            In any event, from what I've read, the objections to SpotON3D would be there regardless of the standard practices at work in the world at large.

            I feel threatened by IBM because their patent for sim design methodologies would give them legal control over activities essential to my professional aspirations, as well as the aspirations of all other sim designers. I am appalled that IBM can possibly secure such a patent. As a company policy, they patent technologies to license them. I consider the IBM patent application to be more sweeping even than a specific copyright, trademark or software patent. However, I do not single them out for disdain, nor do I rest easy because they give back to the OpenSim community. The technology is still young and they are of their own admission exploring it for its potential. What I try to do is minimize my assumptions about what will happen next and treat my concern as just that, a feeling, not a set of facts about the future.

          • Hi Lawrence,

            I understand your concerns about IBM but a company that isn't stating that it intends to assert its patents against a fledgling community is less threatening, in my opinion, than a company such as SpotOn3D that outright declares that it intends to do so. Just a matter of calculated risk management given the known probabilities.

            If IBM decided to start pursuing a similar path it could kill this goose before it can start laying any golden eggs. Shaking down small companies with hardly any revenue is of little monetary value to a company such as IBM and could hurt its reputation amongst the many open source projects it is involved in (which can result in significant monetary losses for it). However, the same can't be said for SpotOn3D for which such a strategy could create enough cashflow that a company of their size would find worth pursuing (as they have openly declared they intend to do).

            Empires have risen and fallen as a result of people's feelings and SpotOn3D is creating a lot more antagonism with its stated plans and its attitude towards the OpenSim community than IBM which contributed to OpenSim's development and, at this time, is showing no intent to go after the community. This can, IMO, explain why SpotOn3D are getting community backlash while IBM is not getting any.

          • Lawrence Pierce

            Clearly many of these points will remain unresolved unless something more definitive occurs. Whether we discuss IBM or SpotOn3D or the company none of us knows about yet, the patents in question have not been granted, no lawsuits have been filed and innovation has not been squelched. No doubt this issue will arise again in the future no matter what is said today. Whether the current reactions to SpotON3D represent a balanced perspective will only be apparent over time.

            Ilan: If you would like to have the last word in this thread, please post your comment and unless I really believe I have something new to add, I will not post again. I do agree that the current issue is more pertinent to your specific aspirations and respect that you have more at stake in this particular issue. Even though I have written for the goal of proposing a more balanced response to SpotON3D in light of the entire worldwide patent scene, I recognize that the patents in question may have a significant impact on developers such as yourself and appreciate your efforts to give voice to those concerns.

          • Hi Lawrence,

            I think you summed it up nicely and I appreciate your views.

            Have a great week 🙂

  • Personally, the thing that's pushed this over the edge is SpotOn's history of using every chance they get to advertise their own products, combined with taking the platform (OpenSim) their whole enterprise is built on for free and for granted, while calling their own improvements and innovations too valuable to contribute any of them back to the project, and finally filing for patents that could effectively prevent others to contribute a similar technology of their own to the OpenSim project, which would effectively stifle OpenSim itself.

  • Phil

    Well, this whole thing has put me back to writing. Hope you don't mind me using your website to share my personal blog Maria.

    Here's my personal thoughts on this whole storm – http://philippep.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/my-pers

    • Dear Phil,

      since I'm already quoted in your blog post, I might as well comment here: 1. Regarding transparency: Not only is SpotOn not transparent in this case – as Gaga already pointed out. Stevan and Tessa say they are, but in fact are not giving any information about the patent other than there is one, and it's related to the plugin. I think it should be noted that this transparency was not seen with SpotOn's previous patents, of whose existence we first heard at the meeting and some we still don't know what they are for at all. So, to break it down for you: Transparency is not saying you are transparent. Transparency is saying what's going on.

      2. Regarding Communism and Open Source projects: There are many open source, even free software projects, that are working just fine. Ilan already mentioned Linux. I'd like to mention Apache, which your webserver runs on; WordPress, which your blog runs on; php, which WordPress runs on. Do you believe any of these need "corporate funding" to improve? And Linux – the fact that you have the choice between different user interfaces, and components, and in fact different "flavours" is a feature! If you like the ubuntu interface, and don't like, dunno, Kubuntu, Debian, or whatever else, then by all means use Ubuntu! No kittens will die because you stay with one distro, even though Stallman will be a little sad that you're not using GNU. I kept hearing it over and over from Tessa and Stevan, and now from you, so I have to wonder what kind of world you're living in. As Ilan already said, and I can confirm that: The OpenSim project is fine. It was fine before SpotOn, and it will be fine without SpotOn. Please don't act as if the future of this project it depends on you, it just makes you look completely detached from reality.

      3. Regarding benefits from the patent: It's true that we'd all benefit from not having to re-invent the wheel time and again; and you know what? That's what open-source is about! For your technology to be beneficial to the OpenSim community, there's absolutely no patent needed whatsoever. If you choose to keep it closed, and license it, that's your right. But you can do that without patenting it, and in fact, that's how most businesses are doing it. The patent benefits only one: SpotOn, and SpotOn alone. At this point it's pretty clear that it's main intention is to bring investors to SpotOn; how SpotOn's investors benefit the OpenSim project is something that will remain SpotOn's secret forever, I think. At this point, it is, however, not clear that this is the only intention of the patent. As Ilan already stated, and Stevan has also made clear, it's a claim to a certain invention, and it would be foolish to assume the good-will of the patent holder for all times, especially if there's no clear commitment not to use the patent against competitors, and as there's indication that SpotOn is indeed aggressive about what they believe to be "theirs". Again, please don't try to sell this as a benefit for OpenSim, when it clearly is not, and most probably is a threat.

      4. Regarding the openness of SpotOn: I said you can kick and mute anyone you don't like. That's a standard feature of OpenSim, and it works on my own installation, so I'm assuming it works on SpotOn as well. I did not say you will do that, but I did indeed say that I wouldn't trust you not to, as there is a precedent on silencing critical voices on SpotOn venues (the SpotOn blog, as Ilan said earlier, being a case in point). So no, I am not comfortable attending a meeting about SpotOn on SpotOn. However, I would have come, if the notice would have given me a little more time to notice; I am on the other side of the world (just like you) and the announcement happened during my sleeping and working hours; by the time I read about it, the meeting was already 1.5 hours over. It certainly felt like you (SpotOn) were again trying to appear transparent, without making any honest attempts at actually being so. Looking back at how the meeting went, it's pretty clear that, no matter how many people would have shown up, there would not have been any more questions answered, or any more informations put forward.

    • 5. Belgium and Julius Caesar: I have no clue what the message here is, other than one conquered the other at one point. Is SpotOn trying to conquer someone and/or fears to be conquered? Are you saying (really?) that OpenSim is in danger because it opposes SpotOn's patent? And that OpenSim would be better off if we would use a "comparable interface"? What kind of interface are you talking about? The viewer? That has a: nothing to do with OpenSim and is b: already available in dozens of different interfaces (including SpotOn's own). Or the OpenSim console? That is pretty much standard already, except for the plugins, and it's the nature of a plugin to allow customization. And your plugin is standardizing the OpenSim "interface", so patenting it is a good thing because it "enforces" a standardized interface??? Phil, please… This is not unity. This is "divide and conquer", if anything is: "Uniting" the OpenSim "interface" under SpotOn's rule. Just tell me: Why are you thinking OpenSim actually needs SpotOn?

      6. Regarding SpotOn's non-contributions: Nobody said it's a problem that SpotOn is not contributing back. What most people are saying is that you are patenting technology that can stifle and prevent innovation on a particular area of OpenSim development. If you would lay off the patent weed and just keep your code for yourself, nobody would really care; you'd be on the same level as several other grids out there. It's not really nice taking code that is estimated at many million US$ investment costs if it were paid-for and base your whole business on it and then not give anything back to it, but it's actually hostile when you don't just not say thank-you and give back a token of appreciation, but actually turn around and kick the project in the balls – and that's what patents are.

      7. Perception: You might have learned in marketing that "it's all about the perception". But you can't just spin perception any way you want it, because perception is, many times, based on very real experience and knowledge. Just because others have bigger sticks does not mean your stick becomes a feather. Honestly, saying there are bigger bullies than you are, and hence your behavior is alright, is a very very poor way of turning the table around.

      Greetings
      V

  • Hi Phil,

    I'll address your points in order:

    The threat your company created is not in developing technology, it is in attempting to stifle competition using vague "patents pending" threats.

    See Stevan Lieberman's "The technology encompassed in the plugin is patent pending world wide as well as copyrighted… To ensure that SO3D has the necessary funding and investment support it is necessary to capitalize on so3d's patent assets." in http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2011/07/opensim-in-faceb

    Capitalizing on patent assets can mean two things: preventing others from competing with you using your government granted monopoly on an idea or getting people who compete with you to pay you for the privilege of using "your idea".

    It is worth noting that some of your company's comments and my own comments on New World Notes have mysteriously… ahm… disappeared since our original exchange. I've even twitted about this as early as July 31, see https://twitter.com/#!/Kitely/status/975614715165… – it seems that the more incriminating statements by SpotOn3D were recently removed and/or edited. Suspicious wouldn't you say?

    The practice of developing software and licensing it to competitors is not evil and potentially valuable to the ecosystem. The practice of patenting ideas so people can't develop software that competes with your software without the threat of you going after them is evil. Please note this is not a discussion of the merits of patents in general but rather a discussion of software and business method patents which are not even recognized by many countries due to their dubious nature.

    The only reason Stevan stated SpotOn3D have a patent pending without specifying what it is to dissuade others from competing with his company. If he intended to give people an honest heads up he would have stated what they are attempting to patent. Without this information the "patent pending" thrown into the room only serves to intimidate others. No wounder that people felt that this is anti-competitive and threatens small businesses that can't afford to take legal risks and will prefer to avoid potentially stepping into a patent minefield even at the cost of refraining from developing innovative software.

    As for your comment that "there is a point in open source projects where you’ve reached the open source ceiling. To take it to the next level, there’s cold hard cash needed. The idea behind the potential licensing fees the patent would bring, is to fund further development of features everyone could enjoy and which would make all of our Open Sim Grids stronger and better." that is just empirically and morally wrong on multiple levels:

    1) Linux, for one, is developed by thousands of people working in multiple competing organizations that contribute code to the shared project. Despite the fact that many of those contributors could claim ownership of ideas included in that code they don't attempt to capitalize on their patent assets in regards to Linux. I'll repeat, for-profits, even Fortune 500s, work together on open-source projects and benefit financially from the shared code without trying to assert software and business method patents.

    2) Patent licensing fees will only help SpotOn3D and not the OpenSim community at large. The community doesn't need SpotOn3D to "invent" things for it, there are many companies that actually contribute code to OpenSim that do so without trying to shake down other members of the community.

    Regarding not giving the SpotOn3D press release meeting a chance, I've already had two of my comments censured by SpotOn3D inside their own blog when they welcomed comments from everyone. I don't indulge people who act that way with additional opportunities for open discussion under their own roof.

    Calling for unity while knowingly acting in ways that threaten your would be fellow community members is Machiavellian. If you come in peace then give up the big stick which has everyone worried.

    To summarize, if SpotOn3D can't share code with the community project it is taking code from then SpotOn3D should do everyone a favor and just keep its ideas to itself and its own customers but without trying to stifle competition using software and business method patent threats.

    • Phil

      Thanks Ilan – Appreciate you taking the time to reply both here and on my personal blog. Once I've got more coffee in my system, I'm gonna read carefully through it and I'll have a reply for you.

  • Sorry Lawrence, I found your perspective rather narrow and missing the real issues involved in this controversy. I answer you somewhat on my own blog here…
    http://metaverse-traveller.blogspot.com/

    I also left a comment on Phil's blog article if he cares to publish it.

    • Lawrence Pierce

      Well, I think a real issue involved in this controversy and not yet put into a single word is: betrayal. From the discourse I’m reading, my point that “Focusing exclusively on SpotON3D misses the broader perspective of just how competitive and controlling the world is, and just how vulnerable we are as a community that gives away so much to a technology we value.” has even more merit than I originally expected.

      Even if SpotON3D is acting with every legal and moral right to protect their work with patents, many clearly feel this is a betrayal of an implicit contract to the Community. Feeling that something is so may, or may not, align with the actual truth of the situation. It does however motivate strong reactions and a lot of complex discourse, as we have seen.

      My point is not to support or object to SpotON3D. I think that deserves a different kind of analysis than I’ve made. My point has been to make specific references to examples outside of SpotON3D in support of the proposition that patents are being applied for and granted to significant players other than SpotON3D and that SpotON3D is being singled out in a way that exaggerates their actions relative to the world at large. Some may feel betrayed by SpotON3D, but they are also exposing a fundamental vulnerability all developers face in the broader market of ideas. At SpotON3D they could work in secret, but that is no protection if another company is fortuitous and develops the same technology at the same time and then decides to patent it themselves. Where would we be then? Back to square one.

      • Hi Lawrence,

        The best way to protect the OpenSim community from patent threats, aside from getting software patents abolished, is to create an environment where anyone considering to assert patents against the community will know they will lose a lot more than they can gain from using whatever patent assets they believe they hold. It might not change the legal threat but it will create a very big deterrent against attacking the community.

        Going forward, OpenSim vendors may wish to join forces with the Free Software Foundation ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_Software_Founda… ) and the other organizations that help protect open source projects from predatory behavior. Having known organizations publicly agree to helping protect the OpenSim community from patent threats will make the community a much less attractive target for would be patent trolls.

  • Hi Phil,

    As Gaga has done, I posted my previous comment on your blog post as well and it's still "awaiting moderation". You called for an open dialog in your blog post so I hope you will hold true to your words and approve it for publication.

    • Phil

      Hi Ilan –

      all comments are published, and I will respond soon. Keep in mind that as I'm based in Belgium – we have pretty different time zones, which may cause delays in me responding to/publishing comments.

      Best,
      Phil

      • Hi Phil,

        No problem, I completely understand the response delay that can be caused by different time zones.

        BTW Belgium's timezone is currently just one hour behind that of Israel so we are not on very different time zones at the moment.

  • Hi Phil, (this is a copy of my response to our ongoing discussion in your blog)

    First, I appreciate you willingness to hold a genuinely open debate without resorting to censorship. If your bosses had maintained that approach from the beginning they would have caused less PR damage for your company.

    I completely understand SpotOn3D's desire to control perception by deleting old comments that exposed their patent enforcement intentions in a very clear language. However, doing so now after those incriminating comments have already been seen and discussed by the community creates a perception of a company that is trying to cover up its true intentions. Not the best thing to do for a company in dire need of good PR.

    Sharing a software development between certain parties while keeping alternative products from using the idea it is based on is exactly what the community is upset about. There is no problem in licensing software to other parties but trying to prevent other people from building their own software that competes with your offering using software patents is anti-competitive and doesn't benefit the community.

    As you stated, people need to have options but enforcing software patents increases the cost of R&D without contributing anything to society. I stated that trying to assert software patents is empirically wrong because there is an abundance of research that shows exactly that. See, for example, the MIT research paper http://www.researchoninnovation.org/patent.pdf which found that "in such a dynamic
    industry [software], patent protection may reduce overall innovation and social welfare".

    I'd stated that intending to assert patents in a community based around an open-source project is morally wrong because the entire premise of the software project that SpotOn3D built its business around is that of free, open sharing of code and ideas. SpotOn3D took from that community project and instead of contributing back to the common code base, as other people have done, it is intending to stake claim to ideas which those contributors may wish to implement in the future. In other words, SpotOn3D took what was freely given by a community based on sharing then turned around and intends to demand that those same people start paying it for the ideas it attempts to patent around their hard work. Doing so without even contributing code back to the community effort makes it all the more sinister.

    Regarding Linux, I fear you hold a common but somewhat uninformed opinion about the matter. The Linux desktop offerings (such as Ubuntu) are just a tiny part of what Linux is used for across many industries. It is the operating system that is used on the majority of servers across the world and is part of the reason why there is such an abundance of free online services. It is the basis of the Android operating system, which is used by many mobile phone companies and offers the only real alternative to a future Apple controlled monopoly of the mobile sector. It is the basis of many embedded devices helping reduce consumer costs for so many things that I can't even list all the categories. Please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux for additional information.

    All the cost savings and innovation that Linux is responsible for is due to companies not trying to enforce their patents in relation to Linux. When one company, SCO, attempted to make various IP claims against Linux vendors and users it found itself in battle with Fortune 500 companies that eventually crushed its aspirations to assert what it claimed were its IP rights and brought SCO to file for bankruptcy. For additional information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCO-Linux_controvers

    My comment about Machiavellian behavior was not aimed at you but rather at SpotOn3D's bosses. I apologize I wasn't clear enough as to whom I was talking about.

    While IBM and Intel may hold many more patents than SpotOn3D they have actively contributed to OpenSim's code base and have shown no intention to wield their IP assets against the OpenSim community. The same can't be said about SpotOn3D. The fact that the OpenSim community is currently made up of mostly underfunded entities makes SpotOn3D's five pending patents and stated intention to enforce them a big stick.

    Again, I appreciate this open discussion. I think that if you read enough about software patents and the history of open source you will find SpotOn3D's conduct to be problematic to say the least. What you choose to do with that afterwards is your call but if SpotOn3D is resolute on pursuing the same path SCO pursued against an open source project that is supported by some of the same Fortune 500s that thought SCO then why associate yourself with such a company?

  • Thoroughly Disgusted

    I don't typically engage in blog or forum discussions, but I'm just too disgusted to remain silent and feel compelled to register an opinion. I'm in agreement with Ilan and numerous others who have voiced their opinions about the issue at hand. Let's not mix apples and oranges by drawing comparisons with the activities of publicly-traded companies, and let's not try to put lipstick on a pig. In my opinion, SO3D's conduct in this matter is reprehensible. I'm not a large grid owner nor a prominent code contributor. However, I've been an avid consumer, content developer, and investor in the Opensim and SL Communities since the inception of both. I don't know a single person supportive of the recent turn of events. Based on my observations, I wouldn't invest a single dollar or contribute a prim's worth of content to support an outfit like SO3D–and without a doubt–there are other creators / investors throughout the community who are of like mind. As the community at large becomes more aware of what's happening here, and the repercussions become more evident, SO3D may very well find that it's setting sail on the Titanic. And while I don't wish the company ill will, I simply cannot and will not support its venture in any capacity.

  • Pan

    All the mistrust only leads to splitting the OpenSim community apart. Who fears a unified community most? Who benefits most? Who would have an interest in pulling that strings? How much would they invest for that?

    • I don't know. But I do know who would benefit from directing the attention away from them through some kind of conspiracy theory.

      • Pan

        Oh. I thought the patent claims where real. Nevermind.

  • Hi Phil,

    I'm copying my reply to our conversation on your blog here as well as this is where the main discussion is being held.

    I may have not been clear enough in my previous replies so I'll try to make more definite statements in this one.

    SpotOn3D stating it has a patent pending and not giving enough details so people can avoid infringing it is not acting with transparency. Doing so creates fear, uncertainty and doubt in OpenSim community members. If SpotOn3D wishes to be called transparent it should detail what exactly it is claiming to have invented. If it's unwilling to do so it's better it doesn't say anything than create vague threats.

    Have you actually read the article that I sent you? Discounting a famous research paper in the field because of one partial quote from its abstract (which has to follow very strict rules about making claims if the paper is to be published), will leave you very uninformed about empirical data. I suggest you don't act in such haste and actually read the analysis.

    However, as you will probably contend that you don't have time to spend actually educating yourself using empirical research, I'll just point you to an overview of much newer research paper that was done about the subject: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110725/0317451… . The core of its findings is that "Surveys of hundreds of significant new technologies show that almost all of them are invented simultaneously or nearly simultaneously by two or more teams working independently of each other." . In other words, the basis of patent law for which society is willing to grant patent writers with a government granted monopoly over an idea is just plain wrong. Please don't reply without first reading at least this overview. It uses quantitative analysis of realworld patents.

    If you actually read the academic research about the patent system, especially as it relates to software and business method patents, and continue to support them I would like to know why.

    Stating you will give back code to the open source project you are using and actually giving back code are two very different things. Until SpotOn3D actually contributes something it can't expect to be given credit for it.

    I hadn't claimed for-profit companies don't invest in open source projects, I said the exact opposite. What I claimed is that they did so without pursuing licensing fees from other companies in relation to those same open source projects. In other words, companies share R&D resources to create joint open source projects but they don't go around asserting patents over users of those projects. SpotOn3D is acting in bad faith when it intends to assert patents over users of the open source project it has built its business on.

    No one has a problem with SpotOn3D attempting to license its copyrighted software to others. If someone wants to use SpotOn3D's software then they should pay for it. However, that doesn't mean SpotOn3D can go around forcing people to license their software instead of using an alternative piece of software that does the same thing. The community is in arms because SpotOn3D has stated that it will enforce its patents to gain competitive advantage.

    The ways SpotOn3D can enforce its patents are either: to use a court order to block a competitor from continuing to provide their service, filing harassment suits to bankrupt or dissuade competition, or forcing competitors to pay it patent licensing fees. None of those options is good for anyone other than SpotOn3D.

    It doesn't matter how "reasonable" SpotOn3Ds patent licensing fees are – SpotOn3D has no moral right to them. The only reason it may get them is because it leverages a broken patent system. As has been said multiple times, lawful does not mean justified. Read the aforementioned research to understand what it isn't justified.

    I hope this didn't come out to harsh, but I do feel you are judging your company's conduct as a biased insider instead of taking a step back and seeing SpotOn3D's conduct for what it is. I'll try to give an analogy, taking candy from someone else's baby is morally wrong even if the law allows you to do so and you enjoy licking that stolen candy.

  • cubicspace

    er… where were you, ?
    http://cubicspace.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/ibm-to

    as for spoton3ds patent attempts…eh.

    But as the google/motorola union suggests…software patents/process patents have been nothing but a bad idea from day one. And no virtual world "service provider" has really gotten any "value" from them. In fact only bad press and lost respect follows most efforts to claim "patents" in such broad areas of design and processes.

  • forget patents and follow the lead of some big pharmaceuticals. register your work as intellectual property in places like Switzerland and Sweden. it enjoys rigorous protection yet does not need to be made public like a patent

  • Hi Phil,

    I’m copying my reply to our conversation on your blog as this is where the main discussion is being held.

    First, I fear you haven’t read both articles I’d sent you or you wouldn’t have stated that the negative effect of software patents on innovation is open to interpretation. Software patents hurt innovation and have no moral justification, as many recent research papers have shown (I can flood this forum with links if need be). There is no “in my opinion” is that statement.

    If someone uses a broken system to try to take what is not rightfully theirs then no matter how “reasonable” their demands are the community should stop them and punish them in such a way that all other would be bullies will think twice before ever trying that kind of stunt again. In no way should the community just sit idly by and let that bully advance his malicious schemes.

    SpotOn3D has zero right to get ANY patent licensing fees over ANY type of software implementation. No one knows what they’re attempting to patent, no one is basing their software on what they’re attempting to patent, and if someone unknowingly uses a method that SpotOn3D eventually gets a patent for then there is ZERO moral justification for that person needing to pay SpotOn3D for infringing that patent. SpotOn3D did not contribute to that person creating anything, it did not add anything to the mix, and therefore it does not deserve to share in the fruits of that person’s labor.

    Personally, if someone ever tried to shake down my own company, I would make sure that that person suffers a much bigger financial and social cost for their evil attempt than any amount they could have ever wished to extort from me. I would do so even if the licensing fees are so “reasonable” as to make fighting back irrational. I would do so even if it meant that my own company would go bankrupt in the process.

    The community should create an organization that protects its members from companies that intend to extort “reasonable” fees from them. Bullies pick on others when people stand by idly, if we join forces then we’ll be able to fend off even bigger would be patent trolls. If SpotOn3D is willing to give up on its intentions to unjustly share in the fruits of others then it will be invited to join that organization as well.

  • Wizzy

    sometimes deleted comments can be recovered using Google cache or the Internet Archive at http://wayback.archive.org/web/http://wayback.arc