software patents suck

February 26, 2008 under Blackboard, Desire2Learn, software patents

My former employer, Desire2Learn, has lost the patent suit that Blackboard filed against them. Here’s a little bit of background on the patent suit, and this is the latest development in the case.

While the suit was ongoing, D2L employees (myself included) were forbidden to discuss the suit with anybody outside of the company. Even talking about it in the office was discouraged, and we were told to carry on with “business as usual”. Now that I no longer work there, I can give my opinion.

Said opinion is this: software patents suck. Badly. And very much so.

A hundred years ago, patents made some sense. The goal of patents was to rouse the inventive spirit so that inventers could have exclusive rights to their newly realized concoctions and contraptions like Velcro, quartz clocks or incandescent light bulbs. The thing about inventions such as the ones I just mentioned is that they are very specific and concrete. For example, Velcro consists of a series of plastic hooks and small fuzzy plastic loops and when applied to each other, adheres. Its form defines itself.

Software is drastically different, so let’s first establish what it actually is. By definition, software is a collection of instructions that computers will execute to perform a given task or action. This software can be anything from a web browser and spreadsheet application, to a video game or your car’s diagnostic utilities. Yet if we take a step back for a moment, it’s safe to say that process of developing software truly involves translating human ideas and concepts into a manner that a computer will understand with the intention of being used, in turn, by humans. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – programming is hard 🙂 The point I’m trying to make, though, is that primary “inventions” in software are not anything concrete. Instead, software contraptions and concoctions are actually ideas and concepts. Can you patent a thought or concept? According to software patents, sadly, it is.

The suit against Desire2Learn basically came down to that sort of battle over concepts and ideas, and so Blackboard paraded their crazy patents that they miraculously invented in a court down in Lufkin, Texas that is known for processing patent suits quickly and favouring plaintiffs. Would you like to know a sample of Blackboard’s life-altering inventions? Please have a seat because you will surely be blown away by this, and I don’t wish to be held responsible for any bruises or concussions sustained as a result of learning this astounding information. Blackboard allegedly invented the super fantastic amazing concept of…a single person having multiple roles in a Learning Environment System, such that a person could have privileges of a Teacher’s Assistant in one course and those of a student in another course. Wow! A user having multiple roles – what a concept!

[—- sarcasm snip —-]
I don’t think anybody has ever come up with an idea such as that, except for maybe early multiuser operating systems like UNIX, Microsoft’s Active Directory, Web-based forum software, majority of Web-based Content Management Systems, Software Configuration Management systems, IT Software Management systems, Customer Relationship Management applications, Facebook groups, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing games and thousands of other software applications. Blackboard truly are blazing trails by using a well-entrenched concept and extending it to the context of an LMS. Bravo!
[—- sarcasm snip —-]

Much of the technology industry, and I do mean that in the broadest sense (computer/networking hardware and software, the Internet, gaming consoles, embedded systems in cars/medical equipment/microwave ovens/etc), would not be where it is today without the ability to build and improve upon existing ideas in quick and efficient ways. Software patents stifle innovation, requiring developers and architects to constantly to engineer solutions that don’t step on the toes of lame patents, which are of course, just concepts and ideas. Something to keep in mind is that Blackboard is the market leader in the field of Learning Management System and Desire2Learn is their primary (and much smaller) competitor. Blackboard spent the last couple of years purchasing competitors and filing patents, while Desire2Learn chipped away at their market share. Software patents introduce a poisonous mentality into our profession; don’t innovate, litigate.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
comments: 2 »

rim and [some hot company] sittin' in a tree

February 15, 2008 under LinkedIn, RIM

Barry alerted me to this blog post, in which the author pines for RIM to purchase LinkedIn.

Social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace have grown in popularity over the past couple of years. They provide a means for people to maintain contact and interact with those that they chose to as well as meet new people with common interests.

It’s fair to say that most of RIM’s Blackberry users are in the business sector, so LinkedIn makes more sense than Facebook or MySpace. Probably the best application of using LinkedIn would be as an external contact manager. Being able to call or email from a centrally managed contact list, like LinkedIn, could prove to be handy. Plaxo would be a candidate to partner with in these regards, too.

The real gotcha would likely come from IT departments who have implemented the Blackberry Enterprise Server to centrally manage and support their Blackberry users via integration with Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino or Novell GroupWise. External contacts coming in from LinkedIn could possibly give CIOs and CTOs many a sleepless night.

A deal with a social networking site like LinkedIn might make sense for RIM’s much smaller consumer market to up the “cool” factor of the Blackberry service with devices like the Curve and Pearl.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
comments: 0 »

pain in the neck

February 13, 2008 under Hockey, Richard Zednik

Even if you’re not a hockey fan, you’ve probably heard about Florida Panthers forward Richard Zednik. Maybe you’ve even seen the footage; either the complete scene or the less-gruesome clip. Either way, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Zednik’s carotid artery was partially severed by teammate Olli Jokinen‘s skate accidentally. Zednik will be fine and is slated to be released from the hospital in the upcoming days.

What annoys me is that the media will make a huge issue about this. Even worse is when people who don’t follow hockey condemn the sport for being violent and barbaric. These same people showed up when Todd Bertuzzi sucker-punched Steve Moore. While there’s no denying what Bertuzzi did was wrong, it does take some knowledge of hockey to be able to step back to see why the event occured. Non-hockey followers won’t understand why an isolated incident like that happened. They also won’t understand why the NHL isn’t scrambling to change equipment regulations in the wake of Zednik’s injury.

Nineteen years ago, Sabres goalie Clint Malarchuk had his jugular sliced by a skate blade during a collision in his crease. I was thirteen years old when that happened – I recall watching the game and the incident as it unfolded. It was gruesome and I remember that immediately afterwards, all players on teams that were part of the TMHA were instructed by our coaches and trainers to purchase neck guards. Come to think of it, when we played teams from other cities and towns in Ontario and Quebec, all of their players were wearing neck guards, too. Neck guards have been mandatory for minor hockey ever since. Although no incidents of cuts necks occured in minor hockey since the neck guard mandate, I can remember an incident occuring before the mandate either. Are there no cut necks in minor hockey because of players wearing neck guards, or is it because if such an accident were to happen, it truly would be a freak accident? An argument in favour of spacious reasoning such as this is captured perfectly in the “Much Apu About Nothing” episode of the Simpsons:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a
charm.
Lisa: That’s spacious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn’t work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
[Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
[Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]

Canucks forward Kevin Bieksa had his left calf lacerated by a skate blade earlier this season. While a serious injury, it wasn’t life threating in the same way as Zednik’s injury. It’s hockey, folks. Skates have blades on them. You can’t wrap the players up full-body protection and skate blade-related injuries are few and far in between. Hopefully those who aren’t hockey fans cease to chime in on this, since they only show up when necks are cut in hockey games, and that only appears to happen once every twenty years.

To add, I haven’t purchase a neck guard since Zednik’s injury and have no plans to do so.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
comments: 0 »

arcade on fire

February 8, 2008 under arcade, Gaming

Peter Hirischberg, an AOL software engineer, has created his very own 80’s-styled arcade, complete with over 60 arcade and pinball machines that he restored.

http://www.youtube.com/v/MTXgQE7XcXg

Seeing this arcade makes me nostalgic for the days when gaming-related networking involved bumping elbows and face-to-face conversations instead of TCP/IP. Peter’s pride and joy looks like a faithful representation of the arcades that I grew up in, minus the drug dealers.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
comments: 0 »

smarty pants

February 5, 2008 under Intelligent Community Forum, Waterloo

The City of Waterloo was recently awarded the distinction of being the most intelligent community in the world. A nonprofit origanization that focuses on economic development, the Intelligent Community Forum, bestowed Waterloo with the 2007 Intelligent Community Award.

Waterloo undoubtedly helped their cause by being home to UW, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Centre for International Governance Innovation, Institute for Quantum Computing, Research and Technology Park and numerous high-tech companies.

It’s only fair to state that these institutions and companies are not intelligent on their own. The human talent is what makes the community successful. Taking that into account, I live in Kitchener but I work in Waterloo – does that make me at least a little bit intelligent by proxy? 🙂

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)
comments: 2 »