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Just a Thought - Leeches


- March 18th, 2005

Coming Of Age

One of the best 'coming of age' movies of all time, at least in my humble opinion, is Stand by Me, the big screen adaptation of Stephen King's The Body. The plot centers on a group of pre-teen boys who set off on a journey to find a dead body that is rumored to be washed up on a river bank several miles from their homes. There's one memorable scene I've just got to tell you about:

On the way to satisfy their rather morbid curiosity, the boys find that they are forced to wade, chest deep, through a pond of stagnant water. When they emerge on the other side they find that their bodies are covered with blood sucking leeches.

They hurriedly strip down to their briefs and help each other remove the suckers. One kid, however, feels that there something not right in his underwear. He reaches in and pulls out the biggest leech of the group.

The poor kid faints.

When you think about new technologies, like the iPod and the iTunes Music Store, it is easy to liken them to pre-teens; they are maturing, they have not yet reached their full potential, they are coming of age.

And just like the kid in Stand by Me, these technologies may have found a few leeches in its drawers.

Produce Nothing But Revenue

It seems to be the trend in business these days: Individual patent owners and companies who believe they own the intellectual rights to key technologies prefer to sit and wait in obscurity while those technologies blossom; they hide like bottom dwelling parasites, sitting idly by, producing nothing (except perhaps more bottom dwelling parasites), waiting in the technology pond for some unsuspecting warm blooded victim to happen by that they can latch on to and start sucking; sometimes sucking the very life from its victim for its own personal gain.

Let me say up front; if a person has developed an idea and has gotten it patented then that person deserves to reap the benefits of his or her idea. It's only reasonable, it's only fair, and fair is the key word here.

Two companies are currently suing Apple for claimed patent violations, and at least on of them does not seem to understand the concept of fairness.

Advanced Audio Devices is suing because it claims that Apple's iPod infringes on a patent it holds on portable jukebox devices. Another company, called Pat-rights, has also leveled a lawsuit against Apple claiming that Apple's iTunes Music Store login and authentication process is covered by a patent owned by that company.

What's Real and What's Not

The patent behind Pat-rights' suit against Apple describes a system that allows people to buy exclusive use of software. The system uses log-on identification and passwords to authorize the use of the purchased software. It's just my opinion, of course, but that sort of sounds like the login system for Apple's digital rights management system, FairPlay. Pat-rights is asking for 12% of Apple's iTunes and iTunes Music Store profits.

As for Advanced Audio Devices: Its patent for a portable music jukebox sounds like it might be something like the iPod, but if you read through the patent, you'll find that the device they describe sounds nothing like an iPod at all. Again, that's just my opinion, and I should remind everyone that I am not a patent attorney.

No word publicly how much AAD wants from Apple.

The courts will have to decide who has a valid claim, but in the case of Pat-rights, valid claim or no, I believe that Apple would never willingly give away 12% of iPod/iTunes Music Store profits just to use a tiny bit of code.

You Suck

It's a fine line, actually, that separates technology parasites from bona-fide innovators looking to profit from an idea. I may be wrong in lumping Pat-rights and Advanced Audio Devices into the same phylum as earthworms and bloodsuckers; after all, these folks may be just trying to protect their assets. Protecting your assets is one thing, gouging a technology is another. And it is my hugely biased opinion that Pat-rights, if not Advanced Audio Devices, is not only attempting to gouge the portable music player market, they are trying to suck it dry.

Make no mistake; if Pat-rights wins out against Apple, you expect other lawsuits from them targeting Microsoft and Napster. You may also see other lawsuits pop up from obscure companies whose only worth resides in its patent portfolio. Apple is only the test to see how tender the market is.

The shame is that there is little anyone can do about leeches, except to tolerate them. Patent laws designed to protect the little guy from greedy corporations must remain in place, Lawd knows that companies, even Apple, can have an unscrupulous side and will try anything to maximize profit. But perhaps now, new laws are likely needed to protect corporations, and ultimately its customers, from this new breed of parasites.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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