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ATPM 17.09
September 2011





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by Wes Meltzer,

Software Patents Make the Troll World Go Round

This American Life Explores the War over Software Patents

A few weeks ago, This American Life aired a fascinating investigation into patent trolling—and they landed at the epicenter to investigate Intellectual Ventures, owned by Nathan Myhrvold. Regular readers familiar with the Lodsys-iOS developers saga may have heard the name; IV sold the patents at issue to Lodsys. Now their story is really about Oasis Research, but Lodsys provides a fascinating entree into the reporting. Both companies (Oasis and Lodsys) have their headquarters in an office park in Marshall, Texas, a small town—and share the exact same address, in fact, down to the suite number. According to reporters Alex Blumberg and Laura Sydell, the entire building was vacant. Marshall is in the infamous Eastern District of Texas, which is a notoriously patent troll–friendly jurisdiction. They got Myhrvold to go on the record to talk about the case, and his defense is worth noting (that his company helps business-unsavvy developers monetize their innovations). It’s a good listen.

Four Changes Macworld Wants to See To the Apple TV

Jonathan Seff of Macworld outlines what changes he would like to see for the next Apple TV: playlist support for movies (and other media too); allow you to buy, not just rent, movies on the Apple TV; allow streaming of previously purchased movies; and add some more content sources. (I heartily endorse the idea that they should support Amazon Instant Video. Seriously!)

Apple Gets Preliminary Junction in EU Against Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

Apple sued Samsung in German court over design-related intellectual property rights (not patents) that they claim the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 violates. Florian Mueller explains that this has to do with the design of the product. (And, although I don’t speak German, probably also the design of the packaging, based on Apple’s suit against Samsung in the US.) This means that Samsung cannot sell the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the European Union until they either settle with Apple or the injunction is lifted, excepting the Netherlands, where a separate suit is pending. In other Samsung-Apple news, he reports that Apple is also suing Motorola over the design of the Xoom tablet. And the US case is moving, just slowly; Samsung is trying to get a sizable chunk of Apple’s lawyers disqualified on grounds of conflict of interest.

Charles Arthur Wants to Know Why Intellectual Ventures Won’t Answer Questions About Lodsys

Following up on the Lodsys-Intellectual Ventures nexus, Charles Arthur demands to know why IV won’t answer questions about its relationship to Lodsys. It’s fascinating, as he points out, that IV is not involved in any lawsuits where it asserts its own patents. Instead, it appears to transfer or sell them to other companies (and Arthur argues, as This American Life did, that many of these are shell companies; and that Lodsys and Oasis are shells) which then exercise the patents. Arthur quotes a report that estimated IV may have upwards of 1,100 shell companies. What the “shell” means is that IV is really pulling the strings, not the shell companies. Arthur—a big name in the technology-journalism field—can’t get Nathan Myhrvold or the company to answer even simple, factual questions, like “What form did the transfer of patents to Lodsys take: simple sale and complete title, or some other arrangement?” It would be good to know what IV’s stake in the Lodsys case is.

Trouble in Patentville: Google’s Side

We’re starting off with more patent updates. Google lost a fairly major bid for Nortel’s patent portfolio, to Apple, Microsoft, and a consortium of other companies. After they lost this bid, they lashed out at their competitors, basically arguing that the other companies (especially the other two mobile-platform vendors in Apple and Microsoft) are trying to stifle competition. They don’t really admit to the fact that they also bid $3.14 billion for them.

Microsoft’s Reaction: Well, Google Did Bid Too

Microsoft’s general counsel’s reaction, in Twitter length, to Google’s complaint about the Nortel patent deal: Well, Google did put in a bid, too.

Paul Thurrott Sees a Parallel

I think it’s interesting that this whole Android patent brouhaha has brought Apple and Microsoft together. As Paul Thurrott points out, the whole case has creepy overtones of past history: the Microsoft-Netscape debacle. He observes that Google gives away Android, but that they’re basically encumbering their partners with legal issues in the process. And Netscape’s best argument about Microsoft, that giving away for free something that had value simply because you could afford to, writ large, was anti-competitive, is basically what Google is doing. Interesting.

FTC Investigating Anti-Competitive Allegations Regarding Android

Speaking of antitrust, the FTC is investigating anti-competitive behavior regarding Android: is Google favoring its own search results? Are they engaging in anti-competitive behavior by making device manufacturers agree to certain stipulations in order to use the best, non-open components of the Android OS?

An Analysis of Google’s Purchase of Motorola

You’ve all heard about Google’s blockbuster purchase of Motorola. It’s a pretty big deal! It’s Google’s biggest buy. It’s their first foray into non-software buying. But there’s another angle to this: what does Google intend to do with them? Horace Dediu takes a look at the pitfalls of selling your own hardware and, at the same time, trying to license that same software to your competitors? There’s no obvious parallel, but loyal readers of ATPM probably remember the days when Apple licensed the Mac OS. How’d that go?

Because There’s Never Enough Tablet News

United Puts iPads in Cockpits

Here’s a little lighter news. Pilots bring 12,000 pages of documentation on flight charts on every flight, according to Macworld. Isn’t that hard to believe? United is going to issue pilots iPads, and they can use software that shows charts of the approximately 50 miles surrounding airports. The pilots will use the software (in lieu of paper) for their takeoffs and approaches, subject to the 10,000-foot electronic-device rule. They can’t use them outside that radius because, United says, they’re simply too complicated for electronic devices.

TechCrunch Sees Amazon’s Rumored Android Tablet as a Threat to Google, Not Apple

I had a feeling this day would come: some enterprising company would make a radical fork of Android and totally de-Google-ify it. If they succeed, they will totally neuter Google. It looks like Amazon may do this; MG Siegler suggests that Amazon has the underlying infrastructure available to totally rip the guts out and integrate the device from top to bottom with Amazon. If he’s right, it will use your Amazon account like an iTunes account, with one-click Prime access and Amazon’s Appstore, movies, Kindle books, etc. If Amazon really wanted to stick it to Google, he says, they should even contract out the search to Microsoft instead of Google. A device like this might or might not eventually be a threat to the iPad—but it would immediately be a threat to Google and the Android-verse, especially Samsung.

Do Androids Dream of Electric iPhones?

Is Android “Good Enough”?

Horace Dediu ponders the question, when is a platform “good enough” to keep its users loyal, i.e., they don’t switch to another platform? The data seems strong that RIM’s BlackBerry platform is not, along with Windows Mobile, Symbian, and PalmOS; and iOS may be, because of the “stickiness” of buying a large suite of apps. Operating systems are a textbook example: 90% of personal computing users think Windows is good enough, and most of the rest are Mac users! Is Android good enough to keep users from switching to another platform? That, it seems, is the central question. He suggests that neither platform may be good enough—but that Android doesn’t benefit from the stickiness of apps.

Why Ben Duchac’s Mom Exchanged Her Android Phone for an iPhone

Writing in the New York Observer’s tech blog, BetaBeat, photographer Ben Duchac describes the process of buying his mom an Android phone, and how she ended up exchanging it for an iPhone. Apparently the phone she bought, a Samsung Charge, is really bad. The battery life is really bad, the stock Samsung software is terrible, and he spent hours trying to clean it up—plus, software that he knew worked on his Android device kept failing on him. The death knell was when the answer he ran into on user forms was, well, jailbreak the device and install a new kernel. He writes: “To make the phone work right I have to possibly void the warranty or brick the phone and load a customized operating system? I refuse.” Ouch. He argues that Google should offer a badge for devices that they’ve tested and approve of.

Horace Dediu: Apple Captured Two-Thirds of All Mobile Profits in the Second Quarter

This one doesn’t take a lot of explaining: everyone’s favorite Apple financial analyst, Horace Dediu, says that based on his analysis, the Mothership claimed 2/3 of all mobile-industry profits in the second quarter of 2011.

Is Google Winning the Smartphone Wars?

In Forbes, Timothy B. Lee writes about the difference between Apple’s and Google’s approaches. In it, he rehashes an old argument about open source vs. closed software (and hardware): the cathedral and the bazaar. He suggests that Google is winning—given the last item, not sure if that’s true—because they’re more focused on “broadening the experience.”

Nokia Gives Up on Symbian in the U.S.

Not that this will really surprise anyone, but Nokia is officially giving up on Symbian in the US. All future smartphones will run Windows Phone 7. It’s hard to believe—I remember when Symbian and PalmOS, now both dead, were the only smartphone platforms—but here we are.

Ad Data Shows Verizon Customers Shifting to iPhone

I’ve written a lot about what impact the iPhone being available on Verizon would do to Android device sales. John Gruber’s theory (that Android devices were a substitute good) seems to be proven out by ad (and sales) data: now that the iPhone is available, as Verizon users upgrade or users switch from other networks, they appear to be buying iPhones.

Lion Boot Discs

How to Make Your Own Bootable Lion Disc

Macworld’s guide to making your own bootable Lion disc or USB memory stick: basically, you burn the installer inside the installer. I’m sorry this didn’t make it into last month’s Lion roundup—hope it can still help some of you! Unfortunately, this particular tips requires that you not have installed Lion yet, because the Lion installer deletes itself. Also this month, Apple releases info on how you can do this after installing Lion!

Apple’s Instructions for Making a Lion Recovery Disk

Following up on Macworld’s instructions, if you have already installed Lion, here’s how you can make your own Recovery Disk.

Odds and Ends

Sachin Agarwal: Apple Doesn’t Care About the Pro Market Per Se

Sachin Agarwal, the CEO of Posterous and a former Apple designer who worked on Final Cut Pro, writes about the negative reaction from professional videographers about Final Cut Pro X since its release two months ago. He points out that Apple is always happy to sell to professionals, but that the “pro market” is irrelevant to Apple in and of itself; they want to sell Macs, and the way to do that is to have “prosumer-level” software. What the pro video editors want is a long list of features, and that’s not Apple’s game.

AT&T to Begin Throttling Data for Top 5% of Data Users With Unlimited Data Plans

One of the problems with the explosion of cell phones in this country is that the network operators are now charging the same amount of money for less service. Hidden inflation, I guess. AT&T is going to begin throttling the data access for users with unlimited data plans who are in their top 5% of data consumers for each month. Early reports were that this would affect all data users. Do you monitor your data use? You might benefit from saving $5 a month, or putting that extra $5 a month toward the $15 for tethering. You can see how much data you’ve used by logging into the AT&T Web site.

Amazon Offers Alternative to App Store for Kindle Reader: Web App

In an attempt to end-run Apple’s requirement that the company share 30% of all its sales through in-app purchasing in the Kindle Reader app for the iPhone and iPad, Amazon first updated the app so that it no longer sends you to Amazon’s ebook store. But their second volley came today: they released a Web-app version of the Kindle Reader, optimized for the iPad. It doesn’t appear to be available for the iPhone. Macworld points out that the interface isn’t as swank, but the access to the ebook store is much, much better—better, in fact, than shopping on Amazon’s Web site! (It’s true, buying ebooks on their Web site is a terrible experience.)

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