31 posts categorized "August 2011"

Hackathon Planning

Breaking news: an hour ago, Ben Doernberg posted a primer on planning hackathons.

He writes that the guidelines reflect the advice of "hackathon whisperers" John Britton and Frank Denbow.


Ben wrote a guest post on this blog early this year about the Comcast / NBC-Universal merger. That public policy stuff is near and dear to me but it's even more exciting to see Ben turning his attention and imagination to "on the ground" stuff.

Check out Ben's post!

Photo by Elena Olivo of HackNY Student Hackathon, April 2011.

Recorded Music

New social media service?

I'll try it.

I try almost every one I am invited to or hear about.

Some of them - Twitter, Foursquare, Path, G+, Trover - stick.

Digital music services? Not so much.

I think I may have signed up for Pandora once, but lost interest in about 10 minutes.

Someone invited me to Spotify, and I claimed the wac6 username. That's all.

I don't even like downloading music from stores. iTunes is as exhausting as going to a suburban shopping mall. (Though not as depressing.)

I see more live shows as an adult than I did in college, but I don't listen to recorded music now as much as I did then. Pretty much the only place I listen to CDs is in my car, and then on weekends (weekday commutes are for radio news).

But something new may be afoot.

My friend Rob Dent, drummer for the awesome band Stag, gave me a vinyl single of the band's two newest songs.

Songs I've heard the band play at shows.

Songs that have not been pressed on CD!

You can guess what I did.


And not only did I purchase a turntable. I got the most analog, mechanical turntable I could find.

2011-08-28_13-52-18_216With the simplest design I could find.

This one doesn't even have a switch to change speeds. To go from 33 rpm to 45 rpm or vice versa, you lift the platter off its base and loop the belt over a different rim of the "stepped motor pulley" (pictured).

The record sounds great! As good as the band in person? Better than a CD!

By the way, Stag plays tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle.

Patent Warfare

What a difference a month makes. In an earlier article, I analyzed the mega-patent sale of the Nortel portfolio for the unprecedented sum of $4.5 billion by what appeared at that time a Microsoft led consortium. I declared Google the major loser of the auction, as it left it and the whole Android ecosystem even more vulnerable to patent tax and litigation. But a lot has happened since then!

Let's look at the Nortel deal again, now with the benefit of some modest distance; and let's look how Google has responded.

Deconstructing the Nortel deal

Some of the backroom deal making aspects of this auction are fascinating and show how competitors will gang up against a common enemy (here Google) when it is in their interest to do so. The auction lasted 3 days and saw 19 rounds of bidding! There were 4 initial bidders, including one non-practicing entity (NPE), i.e. RPX (bidding as ‘Norpax’). Intellectual Ventures was conspicuously absent because many of the bidders have funded IV and are therefore in large part shielded from litigation should IV have bought the Nortel portfolio. The opening bid was actually based on Intel’s tender (most people didn’t know Intel was even in the mix). As the 5th round opened,” Rockstar” (the Microsoft/RIM/ Erikson/Sony and EMC group) did not place a bid and therefore was actually out of the picture. But then, Apple which was bidding against Rockstar up to that point, asked and obtained permission to join forces with Rockstar and the new ‘friends’ used the Rockstar vehicle for the rest of the auction. The auction went for another 2 rounds before Intel bailed out, but the same phenomenon happened and Google asked and received permission to team up with Intel. There were thus only 2 bidders left and they exchanged bid for another 12 rounds by $100M increments! (One would think it must be a lot of fun raising the paddle like this when it’s not your money). After 19 rounds, Apple/Rockstar placed a bid for $4.5 billion and the Google/Intel group finally gave up (which means they went as high as $4.4 billion contrary to what was initially reported).

Now that the dust has settled a bit on that transaction, although it faces antitrust review in Canada and the US, we know from their SEC filing that Apple paid the lion’s share of the money ($2.6B), followed by RIM ($770M) and Erikson ($340M). This means that Microsoft, Sony and EMC will be splitting the rest of the tab, a paltry $900M. The big difference however is ownership. Not surprisingly, Apple gets full ownership of the 6000 or so patent it bought, and the other companies get a royalty- free (at least you’d hope) license. In other words, this deal was so strategic for Apple to protect its “ifranchise” against the Android based devices that it was ready to forego enforcement (and associated revenues) of those patents against 3 direct competitors in the phone business in order to block Android makers such as Samsung and HTC around the world (which it was done with some success lately in Europe and Australia).

Google’s pay to play moves

Google didn’t take time to go to Plan B. Actually, part of Plan B was already in place, but we only heard about it later. A couple of weeks after they missed out on the Nortel deal, Google announced it had acquired over 1000 patents from IBM, for a sum still undisclosed, but which is estimated to be in the $1B to $2B range. Someone actually went to the USPTO database of assignments and studied those patents carefully: conclusion; most of them are directed to and most probably read on some Apple products. You can’t fault Google for not learning fast

Fast forward to this past week and the whole patent world is upside down once again with the announcement of Google’s acquisition of - so far unprofitable - Motorola Mobility for $12.5B. Pretty much everyone involved and every analyst concur that the main driver for the deal (and the 63 % premium on Motorola’s shares) is Motorola’s 17,000 strong patent portfolio, mostly around new wireless technology such as LTE. As one analyst was quoted, “Patent is Power” and Google, after clamoring for years that patents are worthless, has now agreed to pay, in matter of weeks, no less than $15 billion simply to earn the right to enter the sandbox and flex their own IP muscles.

What’s next?

The Motorola deal, if approved by regulators, is likely to create a couple of parallel and apparently conflicting phenomena: a decrease in law suits between the main protagonists and an increase in NPE based litigation.

On one hand, now sitting on close to 20 000 issued patents (it had fewer than 1000 a month ago!), Google has the war chest required to retaliate and force Apple and others to enter into cross licensing discussions. So no one should be surprised to read that some of the ongoing litigation has been quietly settled this way. This could take between 1 and 2 years however, as normally difficult negotiations and valuation issues are compounded here by the sheer number of unfamiliar patents to review. In the meantime, it should not be lost of anyone either that Google, who has never been a plaintiff in patent cases, inherits dozens of ongoing litigation between Motorola and Apple where Apple is on the receiving end. This must feel good to Google’s patent lawyers who have only been playing defense so far.

On the other hand, these recent deals should only accelerate the appetite for NPEs to acquire more patents in the mobility space, either to protect their members by taking these patents off the market (this is RPX and AST’s model for instance), or to resell or license them to the companies above at what should now be much higher “multiples” per patent family. This should also have a trickle effect on other areas of technology as well and the average price per patent family should be significantly higher than it was a year ago as a result of these recent deals. However, this could also mean that there will be less money available for acquiring patents outside of the most active fields, as companies will tend to keep their dollars for strategic portfolios a they have all reached critical mass in terms of patent quantity. Finally, I think it is inevitable that Google will start offering IP indemnification to its OEM, either in its agreements or by making sure any settlement or cross license extends protection to its channel. The other question everyone should ask themselves as whether they will have to start charging for its OS, like others do. Now that they have reached 43% of phone OS penetration, it would be tempting to try to recoup some of this $15 billion . . .

What about me?

What does this all mean to us, simple mortals who don't have billions to spare? For one, if there was ever a business owner or investor still doubting the strategic importance of IP in modern business warfare and the high price late comers to the game must pay in order to protect their franchise, seek no more a more tangible proof.

For those of you who are fortunate enough to be sitting on some patents that may read on a smart phone, tablet or other large volume devices, you should pay your maintenance fees to avoid losing any rights and probably start exploring ways to capitalize on what is likely to be a cyclical bubble.

And if you happen to broker patents like I do, it has been a very busy summer! ;-)

Louis Carbonneau is the founder and principal of The Point Law Group, the CEO of Tangible IP, an IP advisory and brokerage firm, and an adjunct professor at the UW. He is the former GM, IP Licensing at Microsoft Corporation. This post is a republication of an article that first appeared last week in the Point Law Group newsletter. This post copyright 2011 Louis Carbonneau, used here with permission.

"Angel Trivia Daily" Is Now "Startup Trivia"

My fellow Seattle Dude and partner in the mobile app formerly known as "Angel Trivia Daily" is, as of late last week, unmasked for the marketing genius he naturally must be.

Photo (3)Looking at the sluggish download rates for both our Android and iPhone apps, he suggested we just call the app, "Startup Trivia." Which is really a better description for the content of our daily Q&A, anyway.

Jason Thane of General UI accomplished the switcheroo for us on the Android Market and iTunes (yours truly is the laggard who has yet to get the new version up on Amazon).

Would you believe Android downloads are up several hundred percent?

Though the app by any other name would play as sweet.

Screenshot is of an answer to a recent question on the app.

Totem Poles in Memory of John T. Williams

On a tip from KUOW, I went to Pier 57 on the Seattle waterfront yesterday over lunch, to check out the work on totem poles that are being created in memory of John T. Williams.


Williams, a member of the Ditidaht tribe of Vancouver Island, was killed a year ago by a Seattle police officer in an incident that troubles everyone and no one can make sense of. The Justice Department is investigating.

2011-08-26_12-42-13_183Williams' brother, Rick Williams, has led a project to carve totem poles in John's memory. The first totem pole has been completed, and a ceremony is planned for this coming Tuesday, August 30, 3:30pm, at Pier 57, to bless it.

At the pier yesterday, I met Michael, a friend of the family who has been on site for (if I recall correctly) the past 120 days. He told me a lot about the project and how Rick has made it a mission to teach others how to carve. There are nine different poles or projects in process at the site as of now.

Tom carving pole designated for Steinbrueck ParkI also met Tom, who told me he came to the project a couple of months ago because he wanted to have a part in helping the family and the city heal and he wanted to do something other than just give money (though I'm sure the project can use money).

Tom is pictured here working on the kingfisher portion of a second totem pole. The second pole is designated for Victor Steinbrueck Park. Tom told me he had never carved before joining this project. I asked Michael later if Rick had taught Tom and Michael said he had.

There's a really nice spirit to the activity I witnessed at the pier. There are some banners up with history about John T. Williams and the master carving lineage from which he came. There is information posted, too, about the art and the symbolism of the figures on the poles. Everyone is allowed to touch the poles, the completed pole and the work in progress. (I wish museums could be like that about large works of sculpture.)

The small image inset to the right, above, is a detail, also a kingfisher, from the completed totem pole.

More Coverage of Patented Absurdity on NPR

Another good piece on NPR about patent wars: "Patent Wars Could Dull Tech's Cutting Edge."

It's running this morning on "Morning Edition."

Among the points made by Laura Sydell to Renee Montagne in the four minute story:

  • Speaking of the $12.5 billion Google's offered for Motorola Mobility and its 17,000 patents: "That's 12 and a half billion dollars that basically didn't go into making new products, it didn't go into hiring anybody, and it will probably show its head, maybe when you go to buy the Android phone and the price goes up."
  • This war among tech giants impacts consumers, not only by raising the price of products, but also by working to "stop the next cool thing from happening" (you can take your patent portfolio and sue small companies, too, that are coming into your market with competitive products).
  • It gives life to walking dead companies, like Kodak, companies whose patents may be worth more than their operating businesses.
Are these anti-competitive problems addressed by Congress in the patent reform bill that the President has made a big deal about? I don't think so.

Verifiable Identities

Reading a slew of posts this week about online identity. And they are not resonating with me.

Controversy around Google+ requiring use of a single, normative name; partisan debate over the social utility or antisocial aggression of pseudonymity; the quest to unify disparate identities across platforms: I don't find the fulcrum in these arguments to lever me into a particular camp.

@id-61Perhaps my complacency is the tolerance of someone who's perceived himself, since late adolescence, as a poet. "Poet" in the sense of a person who thinks feelings, ideas and spirit can be embodied in words. Words that have the specific weight and bite of coins in a pocket. 

I do have a problem with anonymity. If you're going to post, at least have the imagination to fabricate a backstory!

Image from The Unreliable Narrator.

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