Patents, Podcasts, and another word that starts with P


Patenting Humans

National Geographic got the scoop that 1/5 of human genes have been patented. Some people think that patenting genes is a gross overstretching of patent laws. People in the bio-chemical and drug industries don’t, considering the huge invesetments it took to find what these genes do in the first place. I’m somewhere in-between. If these companies are taking active steps to solve these genetic issues, then let them patent away and fix these problems. If not, then there’s no reason to offer the patent, is there?

I like to imagine that someday somebody with a genetic disease that has been patented sues one of those companies claiming prior art. "Yes, your honor. I have Type I Diabetes, have had it for 50 years, and those people think they invented it five years ago." Heh..

But even moreso, I remember something that happened to the OpenGL board… (OpenGL is a 3D programming language.) Microsoft claimed that they had patents on certain 3D rendering technologies that were going to be incorporated into OpenGL. Rather than extort the other board members for money, MS said that they’d licence the patents as long as other OpenGL board members would recipricate. About a year later, MS quit the OpenGL board claiming (rightfully) that OpenGL was moving too slow for them without explicitly saying that.

To this day, I still think that an all-out patent war could break out in the computer graphics world. Or better yet, a new computer graphics company could come along, then all the other patent holders could sue them out of existance before they even produce a piece of silicon. And then I think the same thing could happen with this human gene patenting thing. I really don’t like that thought at all…

By the way, if you want a different look into the world of patents, check out The Patent Files by David Lindsay. It’s a great book, and you can join in his adventure while he describes his failed patent attempts including patenting himself. (No, his parents didn’t claim prior art on his DNA.)

Chip This!

The Australian Supreme Court ruled that modding your PlayStation 2 console is totally legal, throwing another curve into the question of, "Do you control it if you own it?" Modding or chipping your PS2 is often used when people want to play illegal copies of games, even though it does have some legal uses like running home-brew software. In the UK, chipping your console is illegal. In the US, nobody has tested it in court. Yay conflicting rulings! I’m certain this will be resolved by WIPO in the near future to the detriment of chippers everywhere. In the mean time, start stockpiling those chips. If you’ve ever wanted to become a black market entrepreneuer, let me tell you about your future in the mod chipping market…

Adopt This!

According to USA Today, 29% of US households are first adopters of new technologies. After I stopped laughing, I checked their graphic which shows that large and tech cities are most likely to have the highest proportion of first adopters. (If someone has the skills, I’d love to see that chart correlated with the 2004 election results by county.)

What’s a good measure for determining first adopters? USA Today chose wireless Internet and TiVo which shows why they got 29%. By comparison, a Yahoo survey showed that 28% of Internet users (presumably Yahoo users) know what a podcast is, and 2% actually listen to them. Two percent of US Internet users is about 4 million Americans. This oddly correlates to a Pew survey (those badasses of surveydom) that said 11% of Americans have MP3 players and 29% of those have "downloaded a podcast or Internet radio program," which comes out to about 6 million Americans. Podcasting is probably a better measure of "first adoption" but I guess that eluded USA Today.

By the way, I’m still not convinced about the longevity of podcasting — at least not until more than 11% of Americans get MP3 players. And computers. And Internet service. And given the price of gas these days, I think that may be a while.

Gimme gimme gimme!

Everyone wants in the profits from an iPod — from hardware to downloads. Now five Hollywood unions, including the Screen Actors Guild, are calling for a bigger cut of the iPod Video royalties pie. I’m sure this is partly because they’re pissed about the deal they got over DVD royalties. (Look for an article about "DVD Sales Figures Turn Every Film Into a Mystery" in the LA Times.) Funny… Apple has about 75% of the music sales in the market but a smaller percent of the hardware market. (iPods are big in the US, Japan and UK and that’s about it.) You might think that it’s in everyone’s best interest to diversify — make some new video download services — but to me, I just like the visions of vultures flying over the carcass of Apple… Or is that Apple flying over the carcasses of the entertainment industry? Who knows…

MS shows the future

The Daily Princetonian has an insightful interview with Bill Gates — insightful in the sense that it shows what Bill is thinking. Take a close look at his comments about Blu-Ray and Apple for a peek at what MS and the entertainment industry have in store for us. And make sure you read what he has to say about drug pricing. Right on, Bill. Right on…

Oh my god… Did I just agree with Bill Gates? Fuck… Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?

Google’s Master Plan, the next phase

Google updated their privacy policy earlier in October. As if to confirm my suspicion after I saw their WiFi privacy policy, the new policy clearly shows that Google is collecting info about you across their varied services. First, I want to know how I can opt out of Google’s information collection. Don’t I get a choice about whether or not my Google use is recorded? Second (and this is a compliment), I’m glad that they’re being honest about what they’re doing. Now if every web site was as blatantly up front with their privacy policy, I’d be a lot happier.

iPod Video is officially not the next big thing

The porn industry is the bellweather of new technologies. If the porn industry likes it, you can be certain the that technology has a bright future. They were way ahead on VHS, DVD, and the Internet — so far ahead that when those technologies came into the mainstream, a bountiful supply of porn was there waiting for us. And I personally want to thank them for their foresight.

But not the iPod video. Wired says that the porn industry is staying away from the iPod video. This is an absolutely clear sign that the iPod video has a dark future. And quite frankly, I couldn’t be happier.

By the way, if you want a tip, I hear that mobile phone porn is gonna be huge.

Stories from the week that was

That is, if you care about this stuff…

China goes big time

Not to get too political, but The Newshour with Jim Lehrer aired an interesting series recently about the rise of China’s economy. One part of the series included Wu-Mart, China’s home grown version of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart offers American style shopping. Wu-Mart is more like the Chinese expect it, including people barking out the prices.

However, there’s one more big difference that separates the two. Wu-Mart contracts out their services locally, while Wal-Mart has tried to re-create their U.S. operations overseas. Chinese regulations require that stores use local suppliers for many goods, such as fresh produce, requiring Wal-Mart to learn some new tricks to operate in the Chinese economy. If Wal-Mart acted like Wu-Mart in this aspect, I wonder if people would be so angry at Wal-Mart.

A new global IP plan?

The Bush Administration recently announced a new initiative to curb IP infringment, infringement which costs an estimated $250bn and 750,000 jobs a year. Part of this would include sending US intellectual property experts around the world to "advocate improved intellectual property rights protection." Another is to train IP enforcers on the US way of dealing with IP infringement.

Where the hell did they get those monetary and job loss numbers from? My guess — the Business Software Association, who thinks that, much like the music industry, that every infringed intellectual property work is a lost sale. Let’s not forget there are plenty of people who will never pay for those things in the first place because it’s too expensive for them or because they don’t want to support some overpaid executive’s third cabin in Aspen and the H2 that will get him there.

The misconception here is that you can’t compete with piracy except by harsher punishments for IP protection. Thankfully, Warner got a clue and is now going to release DVDs at or near the price of pirated DVDs in China. I seriously hope it succeeds, but Warner is only doing this half-heartedly — they’re releasing just 125 titles this way.

As my former professor Yale Braunstein once said to me in class (or something like this), you can’t sell a textbook in India for $80 since many of them don’t even make that much in a year. Instead, publishers sell books in black and white for much less with big stickers on them that say "not for export" which still somehow make it into the US for dirt cheap. Same applies to any intellectual property protected stuffs like movies, music, drugs, and software — prices are different around the world because people have different abilities (and willingness) to pay.

Why do we pay tons for drug prescriptions, $80 for textbooks, $20 for DVD, and $15 for music albums? Because we can afford to. Why do IP holders go livid when they find out we want to import drugs from Canada, buy books from India, and DVDs and music from China? Because we’re supposed to buy the U.S. priced versions…

An iTunes war lurks

The big labels in the record industry, taking 70% of the gross from iTunes song sales, still aren’t satisfied with the money they’re getting. First, they are subtly suggesting that when their contract with iTunes is up, they’re going to demand that Apple charge more for songs (and send them an appropriate increase in per-song royalties). Next, they’re insisting that digital radio providers XM and Sirius pay royalties for producing players that can record broadcast music.

Meanwhile, Archos, Creative, and other manufacturers producing media players that can record FM radio are not being demanded to pay royalties. The RIAA is after anyone with a subscription model, because they think they deserve part of the subscription fee even though they’re not the company providing the subscription. Even worse, some music execs want a cut on anything that produces revenue, like from advertising that accompanies downloads. I don’t think I need to point out the hubris and greed that this exhibits.

I do want to point out this: The success of Apple’s iPod video will almost entirely be whether or not you can play movies on it, and Apple and the MPAA have not yet come to terms on fees and royalties. (If they had, I’m certain that Steve Jobs would have announced it at the grand unveiling of the iPod video last week.) In other words, the MPAA is listening to the RIAA’s complaints and will demand more from Apple. Apple can’t say ‘no’ because without the MPAA and feature length movies, the iPod video will be just some other video playing portable device. But if the MPAA’s demands are too extreme, then movies will cost too much for most people to pay.

If the RIAA gets their price increases, Apple will have several million pissed off customers because no other online stores provide big label downloads (read as: Apple’s DRM) that are compatible with iPods. In other words, Apple has a locked-in customer base which may see big price increases for buying tracks next year unless the RIAA has a big change of heart or Apple can stay profitable making less than $0.30 a track. And Real, who reverse engineered Apple’s DRM to allow iPod users to play Rhapsody DRM tracks on an iPod, is in court with Apple over DMCA violations. I smell potential for disaster, or maybe an opportunity for some upstart music service to figure all of this out and make a mint by solving this problem once and for all…

There can only be six

I was going to write a full, extended length rant on the iPod and rumored iPod video, but instead it got mashed up into this post. This is a paragraph that I cut from the longer version (emphasis added):

This is not the end of Apple’s video migration. Apple is not stupid, and I can’t imagine they’re going to start selling video and not develop a version of their operating system specifically for TVs. Think of an Apple PVR or media center, because what good is it if you can’t play all your paid for music videos on your TV? Complete with the $100 Apple remote control which will have only one button. (Yeah, that’s a mouse joke.) I bet this is what Intel had in mind when they signed a deal with Apple to supply CPUs and such, especially with Intel’s new Viiv marketing — an Intel hardware based, Apple software powered media center. If I’m right, you heard it here first. If I’m not, then I’ll deny I ever wrote this.

Imagine my chagrin when I saw this: Apple announced that they’re releaseing a media center application for OSX with a remote control. The remote control will have… six buttons. Is it me or does that look conspicuously like the iPod Shuffle?

Catching up, next take

Aren’t you tired of this by now?

Oh bright and joyful day! Fiona Apple’s new album has hit the stores! There are two reasons why you might care about it. First, it’s her first album since 1999. Second, it’s receiving tons of free press because the album was leaked to the Internet last year among rumors that her record label was unhappy with it. I would not at all be surprised if this was intentional — an attempt to dredge up more publicity for the album. Commentators have made remarks like, "of course it’s a great album. The record label was stupid to shelf it; those companies want nothing but top ten hits, not serious music. They wouldn’t know a good album if it fucked them all night long and left a benjamin on the nightstand." Or something like that.

Funny thing is… I haven’t seen any kind of statement from Epic about what happened other than one they made while the spat was ongoing — something like, "the album will be ready when it’s ready." According to Fiona, she wasn’t happy with the album, had a spat with her label, quit, then went back when Epic ponied up more money following the album’s release on the Internet. I’m sure Epic Records wouldn’t like that made public, so they instead opt for the silent treatment? Hmph… As much as I appreciate artistic integrity, most bands would get dropped from their label for that kind of maneuver faster than you can say, "my contract says Poland Spring bottled water, not Evian!" All in all, free publicity. And now I’m a part of it too. Damn…

In less exciting news, a virtual plague has broken out in the World of Warcraft. Because I can’t make this shit up any more, here it is straight from the source:

In his death throes Hakkar hits foes with a "corrupted blood" infection that can instantly kill weaker characters.

The infection was only supposed to affect those in the immediate vicinity of Hakkar’s corpse but some players found a way to transfer it to other areas of the game by infecting an in-game virtual pet with it.

This pet was then unleashed in the orc capital city of Ogrimmar and proved hugely effective as the Corrupted Blood plague spread from player to player.

The day that a story about the happenings on World of Warcraft makes it to the front page of the BBC News web site is a very, very sad day in the history of humanity. Of course, what I want to know is who had unprotected sex with the infected pet to transfer the disease from pet to human… Fine, so they didn’t have sex with their virtual pets, but if virtual disease isn’t perfect material for parents who worry that their kids might be having cybersex, I don’t know what is.

The disconnection between DRM and musicians is making the big time. CNN reports about musicians helping their fans to break DRM methods used to prevent people from making MP3s from thier CDs. What most people don’t realize is that some copy protection schemes break the red book standard — the appropriately named book produced by Philips which describes the format of a CD Audio disc in verbose detail. Philips has warned companies about this almost three years go now, but that hasn’t stemmed the tide of DRM protected CDs, including CDs that won’t play correctly in some CD players.

I know a lot about CD protection methods from my work on CDRMooby – a plugin that lets people use CD images (on your hard drive) as though they were real CDs in PlayStation emulators. PCs, game consoles, DVDs — really any kind of media — they all use different methods to prevent you from doing things that companies don’t want you to do, acts that may be legal or not. So as a public service to my readers, in future posts I’ll go into unnecessary detail about how some of these systems work so that you can take that knowledge and spread chaos into the world. Or copyrighted music. Or movies. Or porn, whatever you prefer.

Lastly, our US Patent and Trademark office has decided to make youth targeted anti-piracy videos, complete with appearances by Jon Dudas – Director of the USPTO, pop star Margot, an innocent yet stupid-looking youth, and *ugh* even a pirate. How they ever got Margot to sign up for this is unknown to me, but apparently her rider includes private dressing room, two scantily clad male models, and a crate of Reddi Wip. (The Reddi Wip trademark is "Let the fun out.") Seriously though, if this is the future of our anti-copyright infringement efforts, we are in deep, deep trouble. Remember to use my instructions for dealing with the rtsp links on that page, and try your favorite search engine for a copy of Real Alternative to play it back. Or better yet, don’t watch the video. It’s crap. It’s almost as bad as the video made by the Software Publishers Association back in the 90’s.