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Who Invented the Linux-Based Wireless Router? 154

Posted by kdawson
from the depends-on-the-definition-of-'who' dept.
mtaht writes "I've just had the interesting experience of being deposed to talk about one of the first embedded, Linux-based, wireless routers. Our (free!) 1998 publication of how to make one predates patent #7035281, filed September 13, 2000, by someone else. Their patent was recently granted and is now being disputed in court, in part using our how-to as an example of prior art. The lawsuit continues; the case goes before a judge shortly, and a jury trial if necessary is scheduled for the spring. I find myself plagued with the question: So... who invented the embedded Linux based wireless router? What relevance does 'who' have, when there is such an enormous confluence of ideas from thousands of people? What constitutes invention, anyway?"
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Who Invented the Linux-Based Wireless Router?

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  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:17PM (#33988210) Homepage
  • Fireplug Computers (Score:5, Informative)

    by rcpitt (711863) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:30PM (#33988400) Homepage Journal
    Stuart Lynne and I were partners in Canada's first ISP, Wimsey.COM

    After we sold that company - and the purchaser tanked, we started up Fireplug Computers Inc. doing Linux for embedded devices, including "Thin-Linux" which was specifically oriented to being a router. I ran a version of that on a 486 system until it finally died earlier this year.

    We had wireless capabilities in this, with drivers for a couple of the then available wireless chips.

    Fireplug was sold to Lineo Inc. in 1999 - and I'm fairly sure that Lineo did some work on Linux wireless too.

  • by Diesel Dave (95048) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:35PM (#33988476)

    Certainly not the very first ever made, but likely the first mainsteam implementation that was available.

    I had a 2U 386SX 16Mhz Workstation with full length ISA 900MHz WaveLAN card, that ran LRP off 3.5" 1.44MB.
    Host name was 'Brain-Damage'. Some of the first LRP development was done on that back in 1997.

    The boys over in Latvia that went on to form RouterBoard were doing much more then me with wireless but I'm not sure if it was with Linux at the time.

    Dave

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:43PM (#33988590) Homepage

    Every new platform (almost by definition of the term "platform") allows it to be married to myriad other technologies. Unfortunately the USPTO does not seem to understand that each one of these secondary permutations does not (should not) constitute "invention".

    And, that's the problem with patenting some of these things. I fail to see how that patent should be allowed to stand.

    Routers existed. Linux existed. Wireless existed. Hell, TFA sums it up very nicely:

    My mental question remains. Did Greg, Everett and I really invent the embedded Linux based wireless router?

    All we did, basically, was take code that already existed, compile a new driver, install a board, make a few cables, and prove such a box could stay running in a world where people trusted IOS. We're just the first people that bothered to plug in a wireless card into a junked PC, boot Linux off of a floppy, run wirelessly 13.1 miles and then publish how to make it work, in plain english, a howto a more general public, and even a patent lawyer, could understand.

    Amusingly enough, our little howto hung off the far end of that wireless connection for years, dissipating electrons in the airwaves, for every one of the tens of thousands of hits we ultimately got. Everybody ate from our dogfood, in other words.

    They didn't "invent" anything. They did do something new, and then they shared it like nice people. I just fail to see how putting together three existing technologies in what is a fairly logical configuration merits a patent.

    I hope this patent gets dismissed. Of course, that would only be one of bazillions of patents which make no sense whatsoever.

  • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:46PM (#33988630) Homepage

    The patent in question seems to be for something specific and somewhat different from a regular ol' Linux wireless router, like we all use. Particulars from the patent text (all emphasis mine):

    • The device acts to provide connectivity between wireless backbone access points
    • It is a primary objective of the present invention to provide a piece of wireless equipment that can effectively connect a large WAN
    • Still another objective of the present invention is to provide wireless connections designed for outdoor use and flexible security

    There are other particulars, but this seems more like something to provide large-scale outdoor wireless infrastructure than simple home routing. The diagrams also show little pictures of houses being served by multiple routers as described in the patent.

  • Claims in HTML (Score:5, Informative)

    by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:52PM (#33988710) Homepage Journal

    a TIFF? Seriously?

    via Patent Storm [patentstorm.us]:

    Claims

    What is claimed is:

    1. A wireless provisioning device for use in public domain networks wherein the wireless provisioning device is accessible by a user of mobile computing devices, comprising:

    a chassis;

    at least one network card;

    at least one wireless card;

    at least one processor;

    an operating system, the operating system operably configured in the chassis to control the at least one, network card, the at least one wireless card and the at least one processor, which are operatively coupled with the chassis;

    a packet-switched interface capable of receiving a multiplicity of inbound framed packet-data to provide inbound packets and transmitting a multiplicity of outbound framed packet-data comprising outbound packets;

    a channeling controller, coupled to the packet-switched interface that channels the inbound packets based on the inbound address information and constructs the outbound packets and channels the outbound packets with the outbound address information, the channeling controller capable of being effectively connected to at least one network via the operating system; and

    an authenticator in operative communication with the operating system to allow authentication at the wireless provisioning device;

    whereby the user of a mobile computing device connects to the wireless provisioning device without having to first access the Internet.

    2. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein the channeling controller routes the outbound packets.

    3. The wireless provisioning device of claim 2, wherein the channeling controller routes the outbound packets.

    4. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein the channeling controller bridges the inbound packets.

    5. The wireless provisioning device of claim 4, wherein the channeling controller bridges the outbound packets.

    6. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein the operating system of the wireless provisioning device is an open source UNIX based system.

    7. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein the wireless provisioning device further comprises a second processor.

    8. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein the wireless provisioning device further comprises a memory device and a storage device.

    9. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein the network card, the wireless cord, the processor, the operating system, the packet-switched interface, and the channel controller are operatively disposed within the chassis of the wireless provisioning device.

    10. The wireless provision device of claim 9, wherein the authenticator is operatively disposed within the chassis of the wireless provisioning device.

    11. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein bandwidth to individual user can be controlled by the wireless provisioning device operating system.

    12. The wireless provisioning device of claim 1, wherein the protocol type of an individual user con be controlled by the wireless provisioning device operating system.

    13. A wireless provisioning device, comprising:

    a chassis;

    at least one network card;

    at least one wireless card;

    at least one processor;

    a LINUX operating system, the operating system operably configured in the chassis to control the at least one network card, the at least one wireless card and the at least one processor;

    a packet-switched interface capable of receiving a multiplicity of inbound framed packet-data to provide inbound packets and transmitting a multiplicity of outbound framed packet-data comprising outbound packets;

    a channeling controller, coupled to the packet-switched interface that channels the inbound packets based on the inbound address information and that constructs the outbound packets and channels the outbound packets with the outbound address information,

  • Re:How novel (Score:4, Informative)

    by gstoddart (321705) on Friday October 22, 2010 @02:52PM (#33988716) Homepage

    My own was FreeBSD, so clearly that has no relevance to a patent for something as brilliant as an integrated Linux wireless router.

    Actually, in the technical drawings they claim it to be a "Router CPU with UNIX derivative operating system" -- so, your FreeBSD would have violated this patent if it didn't exist before the patent was filed.

    I still continue to be baffled by patents. They invented none of "embedded", "wireless", linux" or "router". Doing it for the first time is cool (and mad props to the guys who were doing this and might bust this patent), but assembling well known components to do a well known job, but in a brand new configuration is an application of technology, not an invention.

  • Re:Obviousness? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Grond (15515) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:05PM (#33988920) Homepage

    Do they have to prove exact prior art, if they can prove that the differences between the prior art and the patent are obvious to a practitioner of the art?

    Proving obviousness requires showing that all of the elements of the claimed invention exist in the prior art or can be shown to be within the common sense or common creativity of one having ordinary skill in the art at the time. As you might imagine, there's a lot of subjectivity to the 'common sense or common creativity' part, but there must still be some rational explanation for why elements that can't be explicitly shown in the prior art would have fallen under common sense or creativity. The bottom line is that evidence must be presented. It's not enough to just have someone stand up and say "it's obvious."

    So why on earth should merely combining the words "embedded", "Linux", "wireless" and "router" make something patentable? These are not novel combinations that required a leap of creative insight, but rather extremely straightforward and obvious combinations.

    In this case it appears to have been a failure of the PTO to find the relevant prior art. The burden is on the Patent Office to demonstrate that an invention claimed in an application is not patentable, and the Patent Office is often not the best at searching non-patent literature (i.e., everything that isn't a patent or patent application), especially when the NPL is also not part of a regularly published scientific journal. This leads to a lot of open source projects falling below the Patent Office radar. As you can imagine, this is particularly problematic for patents that were examined before decent search engines like Google became available.

    For example, the bulk of the examination in this case occurred between October 2001 and November 2003. Google had just started to take off at that time (the IPO wasn't until August 2004).

  • by Temkin (112574) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:12PM (#33989018)

    The ampr.org domain dates to April 1988. Phil Karn's KA9Q NOS claims to date back to 1985. I know I established a routed connection from the east bay to Cupertino via a KA9Q "router" in San Jose using 1200 baud modems on 2m VHF radio around 1990 or 1991, and I was just repeating work that everyone else was doing.

    Temkin

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:49PM (#33989554) Homepage

    Yep. He's looking for prior art that pre-dates him, and he's asking how to prove and attribute prior art to someone.

    For this, there are some real common mistakes to avoid:
    * You have to find prior art for the claims, not the summary
    * You have to find prior art for *all* the claims
    * Good news is that acceptable forms of prior art include ads, manuals, magazine articles...

    It's not rocket science, but a lot of news stories like this end up wasting people's energy because people contribute their knowledge without knowing these simple rules, and it's all or mostly useless.

    As someone who's spent time scraping slashdot stories with 200+ comments for possible *useful* prior art, I can tell you that a lot of people don't know these basic rules.

  • Re:Nice Job (Score:4, Informative)

    by nickersonm (1646933) on Friday October 22, 2010 @03:52PM (#33989602)

    He already gave his deposition in August. It seems that he is simply asking the question here because he is curious. IANAL and have no idea if that can affect the use of it in the future, though.

    From the blog:

    After giving my deposition, I've thought deeply about what happened in wireless and Linux from 1998 forward, and done a bit of independent research. I figure, maybe, by publishing what I know so far, more of the history and prior art behind the "embedding Linux in a wireless router" idea will come to light, and head off the second patent at the pass.

    Also note that he's asking for different examples, not about the example that he is the source of.

  • Re:Obviousness? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Grond (15515) on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:03PM (#33990534) Homepage

    The USPTO needs satellite offices in tech hotbeds. San Francisco/Palo Alto, Austin, etc. Bring them to Alexandria for training, but have them work collaboratively remotely.

    Unfortunately it literally takes an act of Congress for the PTO to be able to do this.

    The Telework Improvements Act of 2010 (aka the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010) would allow examiners to work from anywhere in the country. While the bill has passed the House and Senate it still has to go through conference committee and be signed into law. That might happen during the lame duck session or it might happen next spring. Or it might never happen, since it's not exactly the highest priority right now and politicians prefer to argue over stuff that gets headlines.

  • Re:Obviousness? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Friday October 22, 2010 @05:14PM (#33990672)

    House version: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1722 [govtrack.us]

    Senate version: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-707 [govtrack.us]

    Grond: Thanks for the bill name!

  • Re:Nice Job (Score:3, Informative)

    by mtaht (603670) on Friday October 22, 2010 @09:40PM (#33993062) Homepage
    I am aware of the problems I may have introduced by speaking openly about the case, if it comes to a jury trial. However, I was engaged as a fact witness, not as an expert witness, and a deposition was also taken from the co-author of the howto. In that light, I felt it ok to ask the questions of my "tribe", publicly, that plague me, in the hope that I (and others) might learn from them. I am grateful to all the commenters here today that have taken time out to discuss the issues to the best of their knowledge and abilities. I have learnt more about patent law, prior art and about more prior art in the wireless world, in half a day, via slashdot, than in a month and a half of part-time research. There have been a bunch of links and other useful material posted here today that are GREAT. I will (ultimately) summarize on my blog, but quite possibly not until after the case is closed. Thanks again, all!

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