SpotON3D has filed five patents, promises more

SpotON3D has actually filed five patents, not just one, SpotON3D CEO Stevan Lieberman, an intellectual property attorney with Greenberg & Lieberman, said at an outreach event Sunday morning. He did not provide any additional information about the patents at the event, though the company website offers a few hints.

Thank you to Vanish Seriath, who has been listening to the tape of the event, for catching this.

You can watch a video recording of the event here,  or download the audio recording here.

Tessa Kinney-Johnson and Stevan Lieberman at SpotON3D outreach event on Sunday.

SpotON3D has been under a great deal of scrutiny last week as a result of its announcement that it has filed for a patent for its viewer wrapper plugin technology, which allows people to access OpenSim grids via a Webpage — including a Facebook page — without any loss of functionality. Read more about the controversy here.  Read a review of the plugin here.

The plugin patent, it turns out, is only the tip of the iceberg.

“This is not the first patent we’ve filed,” said Lieberman. “This is the fifth patent we’ve filed, and we intend to file numerous more as we build technology.”

SpotON3D has also applied for a patent for the “Double Dutch” delivery system, which allows its Synergy marketplace to deliver goods to multiple grids.

Another patent has been filed for its “key account” multi-grid registration system, under which users can link multiple avatars to a single user account.

Real business or patent farm?

SpotON3D has $300,000 in startup funding and 12 paid developers, according to co-founder Tessa Kinney-Johnson. The grid currently runs a little over 200 regions, with around 200 active monthly users and around 5,000 total registered users, Kinney-Johnson said on Sunday.

By comparison, its two major commercial competitors — Avination and InWorldz — typically have 200 users in-world at any given time, and have around 900 regions each. In other words, each of these grids sees more users in a day than SpotON3D sees in an entire month, even though SpotON3D has been around longer than Avination. InWorldz was founded more than two years ago, but only saw growth starting to take off last summer.

So far, SpotON3D has demonstrated more interest in developing technology — such as its “Double Dutch” delivery system — than in actually serving customers. For example, no other grid has adopted the “Double Dutch” system, even as they have been signing up for other multi-grid marketplaces, such as Cariama and HGExchange.

Similarly, there hasn’t been much take up of SpotON3D’s private grid offerings, its business or education grids, or its Veesome entertainment grid.

We will be able to see whether SpotON3D is serious about growing its OpenSim business — rather than just its OpenSim patent porfolio — when it rolls out the licensing plans for its viewer plugin.

If the grid releases a free, branded version of the viewer plugin that can be embedded in other sites, for use by other grids, the viewer can become a powerful marketing device for the company. And personal grids and non-profits are unlikely to pay for such a license anyway, so SpotON3D wouldn’t be losing any money. If commercial competitors use the branded viewer they will be, in effect, promoting the SpotON3D grid to all their users. That is not an attractive proposition and they may be more inclined to pay for a license for a non-branded, white-label viewer plugin, instead.




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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

23 Responses

  1.' Matthew Kidomen says:

    you should listen to this. Very informative. The world of the Patent Troll.

  2.' Ilan Tochner says:

    Am I correct to understand that SpotOn3D claim to have invented the concept of one person paying for multiple people to have controlled access to an online system? Or does adding the word "avatar" suddenly make this a non-obvious extension of an idea that is already used by a multitude of online services. Even claiming that would be BS due to prior art.

    SpotOn3D is using the fact that they have an IP lawyer on board to file absurd patent claims that no other OpenSim grid can afford to make. Even if only one of their patents gets issued eventually, you can bet they will start suing people in the community who can't afford to start filling for ownership of ideas that already exist or are an obvious extension of ones that do.

    I said it before and I'll say it again, software patents are evil those that file them in the stated intention to use the broken patent system to immorally extort money from their competitors should be held accountable by the community.

  3.' sargemisfit says:

    That "key account" thing, what does that mean for someone like me, who has the same name on multiple grids? And what impact will it have on HyperGrid travel?

    And doesn't Cariama already sell and deliver goods to multiple grids? (I've not checked out HGExchange) Isn't that prior art?

    • It's something that SpotON3D uses just for its own grids. So you create one user account with payment info, etc… and attach multiple avatars to it. SpotON3D has a couple of different grids, and you could also have alts on a single grid. You can have purchases delivered to any of these avatars.

      Since the system only works inside the SpotON3D universe, there hasn't been much uptake for it yet.

      And, yes, Cariama and HGExchange both deliver to various grids. HGExchange can actually take goods from one grid and — if the merchant allows — deliver them to some other grid. Cariama, right now, only delivers goods in the grid where they're added — merchants have to have operations on mutliple grids, and upload the content separately on each one, in order to sell to multiple grids.

      So HGExchange actually came *after* Double Dutch. If SpotON3D gets a patent to this, it would be MUCH more damaging to OpenSim than the viewer-plugin-wrapper patent.

  4.' The Flying Nun says:

    Erm, Ilan….Didnt I read on another blog (where you were spewing vitriol as usual) that you filed for a patent yourself some years ago?

    I dont see the issue with patents to be honest. Why the fear and butthurt? SO will only receive a patent if their application passes examination, simple as that. I find it rather hilarious that there's so much angst around and absurd claims being made when most of those making the noise clearly have little understanding of the patent system and zero idea of the details of the technology this patent is for.

    This episode really confirms a belief I've had forming for some time now – that the OS technology is in real danger of just withering on the vine because most of the grids are run by basement dwelling empire builders who have little business sense and even less of a sense of the big picture. In any mature area of business the first questions management would be asking themselves is "How can we benefit from these developments" and "What alliances may be possible" and even more importantly "What's the facts of the matter?"

    They certainly wouldnt be wasting time pouring ill-informed, self -interested bile into the blogosphere!

    •' sargemisfit says:

      @The Flying Nun:

      From what I understand, the Patent system was created to help protect innovators and inventors from having their creations ripped off. But, there are loopholes and abusers. Look at what goes on these days. Patent trolls suing everyone in sight, no matter what level of legitimacy their claims may have. People like me, one of your "basement dwelling empire builders", can't afford to fight such litigation. What if I create my own web viewer plugin? Do you truly believe that SpotON3D will NOT sue? How many people will not visit my yet-to-be-launched little grid because I can't afford to license the proposed viewer plugin.

      Btw, as for your belief that the OS technology is going to wither away, that's what people said about Linux.

    • The Patent office is known for granting very spurious patents, which are then used to shake down legitimate businesses. Now congress is considering a bill that would replace the current "first to invent" with a "first to file" system, making prior art irrelevant. Open source advocates are worried that this will result in a land rush — folks with deep pockets rushing to patent everything the open source community has invented.

      Meanwhile, Nun, I recommend that you read up on some of the controversy about method patents (i.e., software patents) and why many other countries don't grant them at all, and the problems and high costs they cause for the tech industry.

      These are all legitimate concerns that folks are raising. It's not a lack of understanding of the patent system.

      But it is true that we have few details about what the details of the technology are – because SpotON3D has declined to release them.

      For example, SpotON3D has filed for a patent for its "Double Dutch" delivery system, which delivers content to multiple grids. Say they get this patent, even though it may seem obvious to outside observers. (The Patent Office has a history of granting obvious patents.) Then every business that has been built on top of the idea of delivering content to multiple grids will either have to shut down operations, figure out a way around the patent (which, if the patent is broad enough, can be extremely difficult), or pay SpotON3D licensing fees.

      There are plenty of worthwhile uses for patents — drug research, for example, manufacturing, robots. But "business method" patents in particular are extremely prone to abuse.

      I don't know whether SpotON3D will enforce its patents or not. (They say they will.) I don't know if they will hurt innovation or not.

      But people are legitimately concerned about this.

    •' CiderJack says:

      How much do you know about the patent system or the “big picture”? Care to enlighten us “basement dwelling empire builders who have little business sense and even less of a sense of the big picture”? See my comment further down this page. As to “what’s the facts of the matter” it’s pretty clear who here is “wasting time pouring ill-informed, self -interested bile into the blogosphere!”

  5.' Ilan Tochner says:

    Hi The Flying Nun,

    Yes, I was involved in writing several patent applications during my first full time job back in 2000, you can check my LinkedIn profile to see some of them mentioned. I've never hidden this fact. When I was young I worked at a startup that had a patent-guy inhouse and, like many other VC-backed startups at the time, it sought to get patents.

    The patents do not belong to me, and never have. They belong to the company that bought the company that bought the startup I worked in when I was in my early 20s. I've since learned of the evil that is software patents and now try to combat them whenever I can.

    When I was young I thought that software patents actually protected the little guys and helped innovation. I've since learned how wrong I was. Software patents don't help create more innovation they stifle it and create a legal tax burden on people who actually build things. Once your competitors start getting them you are forced to get them yourself in order to have a deterrent from being sued, thus creating a cold war that takes resources that should have gone into R&D and wastes them on creating anti-competitive legal fortifications and attacks.

    For SpotOn3D to force the OpenSim community to enter a patent cold war is just wrong. The fact that I worked at a company that filed for patents more than a decade ago doesn't change this fact.

    People commenting in blogs about SpotOn3D's patent threats are thinking about the big picture. If you took a step back and learned more about software patents and the impeding legislation in several countries then you would see that the community is reacting in a very mature way.

  6.' Rob Knop says:

    SpotOn3D is using the fact that they have an IP lawyer on board…

    Worse than that. The CEO is a patent lawyer. No surprise that their business model is going to be trying to make themselves look as juicy as possible to investors by building up a patent portfolio.

    And, yes, supposedly patents are supposed to foster innovation. Today, though, it's just the opposite. That building up of the investment portfolio is at the expense of innovation everywhere. Read this article at The Economist about why patents are bad:

    Maria : whether or not SpotOn3D enforces their patents– and with them saying they will and a patent lawyer at the helm, it would be absurd to assume they won't– it doesn't matter. They're a small company. Small companies go out of business, or have their assets acquired. There are plenty of patent troll companies out there that do nothing but apply for patents and then shake down other companies for protection money. It's part of why the entire system is so sick and broken. Once the patent exists, it's a threat, even if the patent is owned by somebody who claims to be a good actor– and SpotOn3D, by their own statements, is not going to be a good actor.

    Here is my musing on the matter, and my amplification of my call for a boycott of this terrible company:

  7.' Myopengrid says:

    @Maria, Maria said – "So HGExchange actually came *after* Double Dutch", I don't know when the Double Dutch was "invented" if you can say that way, but we have our market place since 2008 that was and still here we actually changed the name to HGExchange and are reformulating the website and add more features.

  8. COMPETITOR says:

    I recommend to fellow community OpenSim and Second Life community members or International businesses in this space that they make it a habit of periodically searching the website for any such SpotON3D patents. The moment a patent number is resolved, submit an opposition to the SpotON3D patent before it gets a chance of being approved for registration.

    Any patent for a plugin or software that restricts development of a 3D Web Viewer for either OpenSim or Second Life in principle – despite claim to protect the interests of their own grid – represents a serious concern, and would certainly attract international opposition and/or legal suit from my I.T. company.

  9.' alexsandro says:

    I dont need much to see that this grid you are talking about is doing all this to enforce their patents on other grids and get the competition out of their way. Cheap shot!. Simple and clear.

  10.' CiderJack says:

    @FN (and any others who are unclear on why software patents matter), please allow me to offer this far-from-thorough (and somewhat rambling) summary of a few of the basic points:

    The patent system was originally a Good Thing when it was first ‘invented’ (before the existence of software & electronics) to protect inventors so that they could possibly recoup their R&D costs as well as earn a living from their contribution to society. This approach spurs innovation and competition in a healthy, balanced economy. Patents can still be a Good Thing when applied to most physical inventions. Unfortunately this system creates major negative impacts when applied to software. Exacerbating these impacts is a biased, lopsided economic system, a corrupt political system, and a broken legal system. I won’t bother to go into the economic & political angles here, but there is no way to disentangle patents from the law.

    Unlike physical inventions, software is no more than communication of ideas, much like a book or an article which obviously cannot be patented. It has also been argued that software is merely elaborate mathematical equations, or proofs, which (wisely) are not patentable either. However, as the law stands, software is allowed patent protection.

    This means that if programmer A writes a piece of software that does the same thing as programmer B’s software, and B has a patent, they can not only prevent A from distributing the software, B can sue A. As it is the idea that has been patented, it doesn’t matter that A wrote the code without even knowing about B’s software, and even if the code was in a completely different programming language (doesn’t even matter if it’s better), B can sue A. This not only stifles innovation, it actively punishes innovation and has a chilling effect on creativity. You know those clunky old programs that you wonder why nobody has improved upon? Exhibit A.

    Add to this an increasing number of legal loopholes allowing companies to patent ideas that they have no intention of using (except as legal hammers), and the ability to amass hundreds of thousands of unused patents, and you have the classic copyright troll. Far far more common than most people know, I suspect. Again, these software patents hinder progress and punish inventors, while protecting nobody.

    Current copyright law is more than strong enough to protect software, and so software patents are not only unnecessary, they provide nothing but a burden to the marketplace, driving up costs for everyone and hindering technological progress. And guess who’s pockets any profit funnels into – that’s right, the patent attorneys’.

    Software patents are antithetical to the open internet and destructive to not only online community, but society as a whole. This particular company’s patents are additionally an assault against OpenSim.

    Unethical behavior, political & legal connections, extortion of obscene amounts of money by use of threats, “protection”… sounds a bit like a Hollywood cliche, doesn’t it?

    Given the format I’ve had to over-simplify the issue of course, but it’s a complex topic. Books have been written about this. The solution is straight-forward though: Law should not allow software patents, and in the meantime boycott companies who include software patents in their business model.

    •' CiderJack says:

      Sorry, days late on this but paragraph 5:

      “…and you have the classic copyright troll”

      Should read:

      “…and you have the classic patent troll”

      Clarifies the meaning a bit better that way.

      Thanks for pointing that out ( you know who you are) 🙂

  11. troymc says:

    Dear SpotON3D,

    If you continue along the path you’re following, you may end up killing off the very market you’re trying to corner. You’ll be the monarch of a tiny island with lots of cannons.

    You still have time to shift course. Let the canon-maker go work for Oracle and join forces with the innovators, who are competing based on quality, customer service, perseverance, and hard work — amidst a spirit of cooperation to grow the total market for everyone.

  12. anon says:

    patent filed aug 11 2011 date significant?

  13. @iliveisl says:

    SpotON3D are a bunch of douche bags . . .

  14.' Vanish says:

    Hi Maria,

    I don’t know if you saw it, but it seems SpotOn will have another open panel tomorrow in Second Life. I posted the details here:

    I think that’s a nice second opportunity to maybe get some answers, or otherwise have fun, so it would be great to make more people aware of this event, as it’s somewhat buried in that Expo schedule.