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Things that raised a chuckle

BY  Ivo Vegter , 3 January 20120 comments


Apple might patent speech

It didn’t take long before some hacker – using the term in its original ‘clever coder’ sense – cobbled together a clone of Apple’s new voice-operated search function. Apple calls its ‘personal assistant’ Siri. The reverse-engineered clone, which runs on Android phones, is called Iris.

Of course, Siri wasn’t first. As ITWeb notes, speech interaction with devices, both as input and output, has been done before. It has long been a mainstay of accessibility tools for people who can’t, or won’t, use keyboards or screens.

It certainly isn’t particularly non-obvious. But then, criteria such as prior art and originality are no longer very important in the litigious swamp of patent lawsuits.

Microsoft has a patent on ‘tabbing through various screens’ as a ‘natural way of interacting with devices’. Apple has just received a patent on the idea of a touchscreen gesture to unlock a phone – as if there’s any other way, obvious or otherwise, to achieve this on a touchscreen device. British Telecom once tried to enforce a patent on hyperlinks, claiming that the entire internet infringed on it.

The idea of a property right in the product of original work, in the form of patents, has merit. It is hard to imagine why anyone would invest substantially in major innovations if the competition could simply copy the work for free. And even when the social utility argument doesn’t hold, it is hard to see how it is fair to someone who invested time and money in an original idea to permit others to copy it without compensation.

However, if this notion is to survive, it must stop looking stupid. Obvious patents for patently unoriginal things are reducing the IT industry to a litigious swamp infested with lawyers and other worms. I’m fairly sure that someone is infringing on someone’s patent on writing by pushing buttons as we speak.


The Gauteng e-tolling debacle rolls on, with fleet operators the most recent group to rebel against the fait accompli of gantries and tariff tables.

Among the arguments put forward by the Road Freight Association is that it does not make sense to spend between R6 billion and R14 billion to collect R21 billion.

We’d like to differ. A 100 percent to 250 percent return on investment is pretty decent in the current economic climate. Road freight companies are probably just jealous that they can’t extort the same profit margins out of customers, lacking the legislative power of government.

Squirming about porn hackers

It’s rather awkward when outlaw vigilantes go after targets that lawful authorities (and most sensible citizens) also want brought to book.

Anonymous is an anarchic network of self-important hackers infamous for targeting governments and large companies that don’t fit its vision of, well, anarchy or something. It has recently taken to polishing its image as the underground good guys by targeting child pornography servers and drug-smuggling rings.

Faced with random acts of vigilantism, some of which have merit, security experts and law enforcement spokespeople have had to dig deep to find ways to say, ‘Great, but...’.

They can’t condone anonymous vigilantism, but it won’t do to provoke the ire of anonymous Anonymous vigilantes.

No, not Greenpeace!

In the wake of widespread service outages, RIM, the maker of BlackBerry mobile devices, hasn’t been able to catch a break.

Mobile operators like Vodacom have tried to weasel out of its famous flat-rate data contracts as users tap increasingly deeply into the social web. Google has announced it would cease development of its native BlackBerry Gmail app. And to add insult to injury, Greenpeace listed it as the least environmentally friendly of the 15 consumer electronics companies it evaluated.

Perhaps the BlackBerry should be added to the IUCN Red List of threatened and endangered species. On the other hand, if the fate of rhinos is anything to go by, that would probably guarantee its extinction.


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