The Great Patent Race

By J. Cafesin

A new patent office opened in Silicon Valley, and everyone is cheering. The viral ignorance is it’ll make it easier for all those young entrepreneurs at Stanford and such to get their ideas protected from corporate thieves, enabling them to launch their start-ups and shed their inventions of technology upon the world.

The truth is, more and more patents will prevent technology from being actualized, limiting new technology and inventions to only those that can afford to submit, pay for, protect, and defend their patents.

Case in point:
A developer friend works for a growing tech start-up which has been aggressively filing patents for the last couple of years. He and his colleagues are encouraged to write patents on all their ideas, in fact, he gets a substantial bonus for every patent he writes for the company no matter how obscure or feasible they are. Patents are granted on ideas [with methodology for execution] alone. They do NOT need to be tested or functioning ideas, or even in the process of development. The start-up my friend works for spends in the range of $10,000-$30,000 in filing, bonuses and legal fees on each patent for the following reasons:
–More patents make the company more valuable to investors.
–Patents on their ideas gives the company time to develop them, if they choose to do so.
–Patenting ideas protects the company from anyone else actualizing them in the near [or sometimes distant] future.
–Patent protection enables the company to protect themselves against future infringement suits, and counter-sue for frivolous claims.

The tech company gets to protect their designs from anyone else developing anything even similar to their patented ideas, initially for 14 yrs after the date the patent was granted; or 20 yrs from filing date for virtually everything else, and can be renewed with extensions for many years to come. All the company needs is money to pay for the lawyers to defend existing and pending patents. Very few start-ups have this kind of cash, even fewer inventors have the resources to compete with, challenge or defend against Apple or Microsoft.

Apple spends millions annually, suing Google, Motorola, Samsung and many other large and small companies for patent infringement to prevent other businesses from creating a competitive market for Apple.* But they are not alone. Large corporations to trending start-ups are playing the patent game, spawning hindrance of progressive innovation. My friend’s tech company is growing rapidly, and are fighting more and more Patent Trolls, about four a week now, that’s 200 yearly, suing them for patent infringements, not only for the settlements, but to hinder development.

The patent race is running rampant in the Valley now, and another patent office is not necessarily a good thing without stricter regulations on what is patentable. From my friend’s venture-backed tech start-up to Apple and Google, tougher restrictions on term length protections and curbing frivolous lawsuits meant to stall progress are necessary for the role of the patent to spark invention and innovation on a mass, multilateral scale, as the patent was originally meant to.

*Steve Jobs ripped off the initial idea for the first Apple computer from Xerox PARC, and the MP3 player from Creative Technologies and who knows what else, yet Apple aggressively plays the patent game that restrict others from pursing creation of even vaguely similar technologies.

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Sentiment Analysis Exposed

By J. Cafesin

I made it with Max last night! Mary texts her BFF Shelly.

OMG! Welcome to womanhood!! How was it/he? Shelly texts back.

And right about now, Mary’s mom gets a ‘notification’ on her cell phone that her daughter is texting sexual references, and displays Mary’s texts with Shelly upon mom’s request.

Mom spends the rest of the day at work fuming, conjuring dialog with her daughter for later that evening when they’ll be home together. Mom doesn’t like Max. Never did, and told Mary not to see him.

Sentiment Analysis is the latest hip, slick, and trendy software in the Valley. In a nutshell, it classifies text messages, tweets, blogs, FB and social media updates into categories such as ‘positive, angry, happy, sad, drug and sexual references’…etc. This information is purchased by businesses, or political campaigns to determine public sentiment about everything, from Mitt Romney to HP. SA has been going on for quite some time, but only recently has it filtered down to the individual level, and this is where it becomes dangerous.

Along with analyzing public sentiment, now you can analyze your employee, child or spouse’s text messages, whether they know it or not, if the phone bill is in your name and you pay the monthly SA app fee. You are instantly notified through your computer or cellphone if your child is texting about drugs, sex, or perhaps chatting with someone you don’t like, or bullying, or getting bullied. You are notified if your employee is texting his wife instead of attending to your customers. You can assess your husbands mood before seeing him that evening from the SA report on the aggression level of his texts for the day.

Smartphones now have built-in software that tracks all activity, including motion, i.e. whether you’re sitting, walking, driving…etc. SA services not only alert their customers of “inappropriate behavior,” but allows them to remotely control all the phones on their plan as well. At work or on the go you can now monitor and control behavior 24/7. Don’t like the boy your daughter does. Block his number. Don’t care for a site your employee visits. Block access.

SA service companies are popping up everywhere selling all kinds of crap, like ‘it’s for the safety of the child’—know what your teen is texting, and with their classifiers you’ll get to know your kid. Track your employees for greater staff commitment and productivity. And while SA features such as being able to shut your kids phone down when they’re texting while driving is unarguable beneficial, using sentiment software to spy on, and then rely on it to assess behavior is irresponsible at best.

If your child is texting while driving their irresponsible behavior is most assuredly reflected in others aspects in their life. Invest the [life]time to teach your kids right from wrong and you’ll know, or at least trust when and what they text is in appropriate range. Talk to your kids and you’ll learn what’s important to them and why, and you may just be wrong about who is good and bad for them. Get to know your employees, what your direct reports need from you to inspire their staff to excel. If performance is optimal, what the hell difference does extraneous phone or online usage make.

Part of the marketing blitz with SA services is it saves the customer time by pulling only ‘relevant’ information from the average 60 texts a day sent by teens, and ever increasing number of adult texts. Anyone who knows code knows a computer is blank until someone programs it—tells it to do something. With sentiment software, ‘notifications’ of ‘inappropriate behavior’ becomes a construct of SA programmers and the sample groups that define the classifiers. Clients can input keywords and other preferences such as number of alerts a day…etc, but the SA program has its own sets of keywords, and more troubling —algorithms that analyze patterns of word usage to determine what should be flagged.

While SA programmers purport a 93% accuracy rate in the best scenarios, tests have been limited to small sample groups, and rely on few users to rate the success of assessment. It is beyond arrogance to think we can quantify human emotions. Mom may find out that Mary made it with Max (or not, as Mary may be bragging about something that never happened). But this information does not tell Mom why, beyond her daughter’s previous texts that he’s ‘so hot.’ DH texting something sexual to someone other than you? The real time alert on your iPhone may reveal infidelity, but will not illustrate the communication gap between you two that was clearly ignored. And watch out for that 7% SA software is flat out wrong…

Now, more than ever, we are privy to a spectacular array of communication tools with the potential to connect us all for greater understanding and tolerance. SA software is counterproductive for open dialog at best, and fundamentally corrosive at worst. It is sure to infuse discord, distrust, paranoia, and eventually disconnect today’s devices from their magnificent potential.