Wednesday 4 August 2010

patently absurd, I invented the media player

I am an avid consumer of technology news on the internet; one of my daily routines is to scour my favourite Technology sites each day for stories of interest I am particularly fond of the following sites.
cnet, ars technical, techdirt, zeropaid, zdnet (aust) delimiter (aust) there are obviously a lot more but these are my most prominent and often clicked book marks.

One issue that is getting a lot of coverage is that of patents and the effect that patents are having on this sector, most articles seem to focus on the negative effects that patents have wrought and the huge costs of defending your patents against others trying to exhort damages for patent violation. There is talk of the relative ease to get patents granted on obvious business practices, though to the use of the patent system to stifle competition all articles try to point out how these very things seem to go against the very reason that patents were created, to encourage innovation. The biggest issue in my opinion is the one of patenting business practices, or how to instructions (software) on things that are either obvious or prior art exists (the device or practice precedes the patent request). They do this not to protect a unique idea but to lock out competition or as is the case a lot more lately to sue companies that actually make a product into licensing agreements for what is nothing more than an idea or solution to a problem that any technically knowledgeable person in this field would have come up with.

I have long been concerned enough at this practice and I yearned to write an article addressing this issue. I however never really thought that I could bring any thing new to the discussion  I however have decided to give it a go, because I think I can now add a unique perspective. So since I am going to cover it from a different perspective, I don’t think it is necessary to rehash the many other discussions and articles that have preceded this attempt but if you are interested you can check at all the ars technical articles here and the techdirt ones here.

Firstly I am not a technical adept person, I love technology, I used to be able write basic computer code and have worked in IT, but I am a consumer of technology. I have a very good imagination, and I believe that I have excellent problem solving skills, I can work with existing stuff to imagine better ways of doing things. I am an ideas person; I seldom implement the ideas that I imagine/create because being a non technical individual I lack the skills to create the desired outcome but that does not stop me thinking and tinkering.

I used to think that patents were all about the invention, that is if you came up with an idea of how to split the widget, you had to design and build the machine to do just that, and I thought and righty so that you have to demonstrate a working prototype to prove that your idea was sound and workable.

It would appear that I was mistaken and that the mere description in as broader terms as you could possible use to describe a process to archive an outcome is enough. It does not matter if the said process described is obvious to all nor that prior art proves existence of this process already existing. No it would appear that all you need to do is submit the a patent, and oh maybe add to it over time as new and better ideas surface for it to be rubber stamped and approved.

The other troubling thing is what companies that have these patents do with them. It used to be about protecting intellectual property. These day’s patents are a business in their own right. You can trade in them, you can licence them, or you can litigate against others who you claim almost always have a wilful disregard of your intellectual property. It would appear that the biggest fans of patents would be patent attorneys as since the system is so abused the logical outcome is to ask the courts to sort it out.

So to prove the point of how silly patents have become, should have I patented the media player and by default should I also claim some ownership of the media server. Should I sue Sony, Dlink , Western Digital, Microsoft, Apple Inc and the countless others that make devices and software that enables my idea. I came up with the idea for a media server, I can’t recall when but it was at least couple of years ago maybe 6 or 7.  I have not pursued registering the patent as yet, a mere formality I hear. I just thought I’d run the story past you first.

I built my first media server/player my self, it was not a high tech set top box that connected seamlessly to the TV but it did do the job. It was basically was a pair of media sender/receiver with a computer configured remote control; the sender was connected to a TV port from the computer with the audio signal shared from the speaker’s port, the receiver which also doubled as an infrared sender that allowed for an infrared remote to control the computer. At the television set the receiver was connected to an auxiliary port on the amplifier that then on connected to TV. I did not have a dedicated remote for the computer, but was able to buy software to convert a remote that functioned for a TV Card, to control the computer.

It was a very basic setup that allowed me to control my computer from the lounge room. This set up preceded my need for routers or the establishment of a home network. It was really about my ingenuity in solving a perceived problem, with out bringing the computer to the lounge room. It was a real nifty solution and it worked. My complete and growing collection of Div X encoded video was now free to watch on my TV, with out the need to burn each show to a DVD, it was brilliant. I built this or more correctly I constructed this solution myself, because there were not any off the self solution available back then.

So as you can see I did build a media server myself, I used components that were readily available, but it was me who made the leap. OK I concede many others may have also made the leap and created their own media players. I was actually quite pleased when in Windows XP launched it had its own media server service built in. It was great to see an original idea of mine was being refined and improved. I never felt ownership, I thought what I had done was oblivious and eagerly embraced a Dlink media player when it first hit the shelves. I later updated to a PS3, and now also have a Western Digital Media player in the bedroom.

I think the whole patent system is absurd, I encourage you to read as much as you can on this interesting topic using the resources that I have linked to above, I hope you enjoyed this article and please leave a comment of any inventions that others have stolen from you.

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