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No PodBuddy for iPod lovers 389

dniq writes "It appears that DLO (Digital Lifestyle Outfitters) are using their patent #6,591,085 to keep a PodBuddy, designed by DVForge, a product, competing with DLO's TransPod, off the market. Another example where patents are interfering with innovation and in the end - the end users are suffering the consequences, because far more superior product can't see the light due to dirty tricks of the patent owners :("
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No PodBuddy for iPod lovers

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  • Unbiased reporting (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Umbral Blot ( 737704 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:33PM (#12915101) Homepage
    Me thinks that someone may have a slightly anti-patent outlook on life. You are probably right, but generally I expect to see strong opinions down here in the comments section, not in the article itsself.
  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:38PM (#12915125)
    How about some patent reform? I thought these things need to be non-obvious...

    The patent system works. Yes, even for software patent. What the world needs however is patent reviewers that aren't orang-utang, actually verify the claims and the prior arts, and are given enough time to get familiarized with whatever the patent application is dealing with, and accept or reject said application fairly.

    With good reviewers, the one-click patent and the XOR patent would never have happened. With monkeys, they do, as well as silly obvious banalities like an FM transmitter.

    Perhaps adding a "patent meta-moderation" system like that of Slashdot, where professionals of the industry can deem a granted patent fair or unfair, and post additional comments, and allow a special USPTO committee to retroactively reject patents, would do the trick. An applicant would then apply for a patent, and know that for maybe 6 months or a year, the patent can be revoked.
  • Re:Timothy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MustardMan ( 52102 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:43PM (#12915149)
    Only the opinion was part of the quoted text, and therefore that of the article submittor, not timothy. Nice attempt to blame the /. editors though. Even got modded insightful for that troll. Bravo.
  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:43PM (#12915150) Journal

    A further requirement for the patent system to work is that it should be open to challenge without enormous financial resources.

    According to the designer's site, they believe that their product is not infringing on the patent, but can't afford the court case that would follow. Clearly this is a problem with the justice system.

    That said, the designer states that he offered to sell the design to the patent holders so that his work would at least see the light of day. If his product is not infringing, then he would be better off selling it to someone who could afford the court case. Just for the principle.

  • by DarthWiggle ( 537589 ) <> on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:44PM (#12915159) Journal
    Concerning "recovering costs", no, the US does not have a loser pays system, so DVForge would bear all attorney's fees in a patent dispute. They might be reimbursed for "costs", which are things like filing fees, but which are a trivial amount compared to what the lawyers would charge.

    The problem with this is that the patent system now seems to be used to protect general categories of goods rather than *very* specific inventions. If DVForge was copying the other folks, then, yes, their patent should protect the other company. But patents were never meant to preclude improvements to an invention or independent inventions that accomplish the same purpose but with different mechanisms.

    As for stifling innovation, the sad irony is that patents were intended to *promote* innovation, by allowing inventors to invent and then profit from their invention. Nothing wrong with that. But now inventors are using patents to protect their profits from that item *and* to force other inventors not to try to improve the item.

    Stupid situation.

    In other news, I was wanting to buy one of those PodBuddy things, since the competitor's item is, frankly, ugly as sin, and I don't need the FM transmitter part (DVForge has one without the transmitter).
  • by ravenspear ( 756059 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:45PM (#12915165)
    Another example where patents are interfering with innovation and in the end - the end users are suffering the consequences, because far more superior product can't see the light due to dirty tricks of the patent owners

    I must take issue with this.

    This description is exactly what patents were designed to do, protect the original product from imitators that intrude on its market position. Regardless of how you feel about software patents, in this case the patent concerns an actual product. So I would disagree with your logic of this being "another example" assuming you are referring to the previous patents covered on Slashdot almost all of which were software related. This is a different scenario, and one where I think patents are useful and necessary. Which brings me to my next point.

    Whether this harms consumers is another issue. I would say it does and it doesn't. It does in the sense that if PodBuddy is indeed a superior product they will of course not be able to buy it and will have to settle for the inferior original. However, it benefits consumers in another way. That is, if we had no patent system and anyone could produce anything they wanted without restriction you may not have been able to buy either product. If the makers of TransPod had not had the incentive of a patent in developing their product, it may never have been developed and PodBuddy would not have been made to one up it.

    Patents are a useful tool in protecting legitamite inventions and they do serve to create innovation there. Of course, whether TransPod qualifies as a legitimate invention is another matter entirely which I haven't touched on. But the point is don't just respond with a knee jerk reaction to any story about someone utilizing a patent with the assumption that they are a greedy monopolist, or patents in general are necessarily bad, etc.
  • Get rid of patents (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Seminal ( 698722 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:46PM (#12915169) Journal
    We have been informed by DLO that they consider our PodBuddy to be an infringement of their company's U.S. patent #6,591,085, and, that they will file suit against us, if we launch the PodBuddy.

    We disagree with DLO's claim, and, we believe that our PodBuddy is so utterly different from their company's TransPod product that there can be no question of infringement. But, we are not able to fund the sort of protracted legal battle that would be required to prove our point in court. So, we are forced to kill the PodBuddy.

    So a small company has a product, gets a letter threatening a lawsuit, and they fold because they can not afford a lawyer?

    I sure hope Walmart never takes this approach.

    Come to think of it, I wish they did. They should have patented the mail in rebate.

    I want to let the many thousands of you who have contacted us since January about wanting a PodBuddy that I have asked Jeff Grady, the owner at DLO to produce the product for you. And, I have offered him all of our development work, prototypes, production tooling, intellectual property releases, several purchase orders we have here from national buyers, and, our entire list of email inquiries from folks like you. Our price to Jeff?... the $23,000 we have invested in just the hard injection mold tooling. His answer?... No way. He is not interested.

    What? He can't sell his product, so he wants to sell his email addresses.

    My statement to Jeff was that the PodBuddy would likely sell about five times as many units as his TransPod. And, that, if we can't build it, then he should build it. After all, he's the one using a patent to keep a better, more desirable competitive product off the market.

    Now this is where I would like to hear from a lawyer. What if I have an idea. I have no plans to make this idea come to market, but I have an idea. Can I patent it and sit on it, like some people who buy websites and force a third party to pay a huge fee to buy it?

    And what about ideas that would naturally come to everyones mind? What if someone patented air conditioning in cars as blowing cold air? Or if someone patented cordless phones? There seems to be so many things which could be patented, then we would have only one choice in the market. Didn't the Sherman Act pass to stop these kinds of things from happening?

    It seems to me the more wording lawyers add to make patentes less prohibitive, the more prohibitive they get because only a lawyer will be able to support or defend a claim. We should just do away with patents all together. Let anyone who can build a product. Let the best product, the best priced product, and the one with most quality win. I bet the original will still gain market share for being first. After that they will have to compete. What is wrong with that??

  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:47PM (#12915178) Homepage Journal
    This is slashdot. The editors will tell you what to think. This will save you from having to think for yourself.
  • by asdfasdfasdfasdf ( 211581 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:48PM (#12915199)
    The DLO Transpod FM [] is available today, and it looks a whole lot like the iPod buddy. Sure, theres also has the fancy mounting device, but the rest of it looks like a direct rip of the Transpod-- right down to the LCD display with the FM frequency.

    I think this is a situation where the patent system works. The guy has prior art and a patent, what more could you want? The podbuddy people are free to patent a device that attaches an ipod to a cigarette lighter which is used as the anchor-- and they would probably be granted the patent. Then, it's up to them to license the technology if the patent owner allows it, or STFU.

    This guy is a whiner, and leave it to Timothy to come up with yet another unresearched, POS article.

    I hope that guy doesn't get paid.
  • by mathkicks ( 895227 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:50PM (#12915214)
    You can just sit on a patent if you have no plans to introduce a product, but that normally won't benefit you. One thing that patents are good for is being licensed to other parties. It would be a very bad business decision to not license a patent if you didn't plan to produce a product based on the patent.
  • by chochos ( 700687 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @02:58PM (#12915265) Homepage Journal
    I agree. The PodBuddy manufacturers should just license the patent from these guys. Isn't that what you're supposed to do if you have a product similar to something that's already been patented? Software patents are bad for a lot of reasons, especially because it hinders open source software development because if the author of a program is giving it away with source code and is using something patented, there's no way he can give the patent holder any money. But in this case, the podbuddy won't be free in any way, so the manufacturers can pay the license to the patent holders and add that to the price of their product. I know the patent holders are suing (or threatening to sue) the podbuddy manufacturers, but isn't that the usual way of saying "we want something" in the US lately? An actor wants a raise on a series, he sues. The series producers want someone out, they sue. The patent holders want the manufacturer of a similar product to pay for the license, they sue... it's kind of stupid IMHO but it seems to me that this guys took it too seriously. I don't see anywhere in the text a mention of trying to license the patent (and I was kind of expecting to read about that but the patent holder putting a price too high or something).
  • Re:But how long? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @03:01PM (#12915280) Journal
    Except for the one year term (which you have decreed to be optimal without providing a shred of evidence as to why), what you said is precisely how patents work.
  • by BackInIraq ( 862952 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @03:02PM (#12915284)
    Then again, if the DVForge guys thought they had a chance, I would think they'd push it in court (they could always recover the costs, right?). So they must feel they are actually on shaky ground, too.

    They wouldn't even recover court costs if they lose, and would need to pay for representation either way. And no, they probably wouldn't push it just because they thought they had a chance, because such legal battles are very high-stakes games.

    Imagine for a moment I walk up to you with one (six-sided) die. I tell you that 1-4 you win, 5 and 6 are mine. I'll give you even odds, so the edge is definitely yours. But the stakes are *everything you own*, and you only get to roll *once*. Would you take that? Really?

    Granted, in the legal system you might get to roll more than once...but appeals cost money. Money on top of what you've already spent for the original battle, which if you lost you probably don't have. Unless your lawyers are working pro-bono (which is unlikely in a patent dispute between businesses), this is an incredibly risky proposition, even if you think your case is solid. The smarter move for a small (an Apple or Microsoft would fight this in an instant, whether they thought they'd win or not) business is to just walk away.
  • by TravisW ( 594642 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @03:07PM (#12915313)
    Issues of the requirement of nonobviousness aside... If the PodBuddy is very similar to the original product, then the original is not "inferior" (design considerations aside), and the patent system is doing its job. It the PodBuddy is self-evidently superior, then the difference in functionality should prevent it from being covered by the patent. Again, the patent system is doing its job.
  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @03:15PM (#12915354)
    No, NOT even for software patents, because software is already protected by copyright!

    Why not? first off, copyright regulates the right to copy (hence the name), so it's another issue altogether. But imagine this: suppose I spend a lot of time and money developing some computing method that drastically reduce, say, the number of transistors in a CPU and its power consumption: why wouldn't I be able to patent my software method and make money out of it, if only to recoup my initial investment?

    I think you're making a judgement on the experience of current software patents (one-click, XOR, http...) which are beyond ridiculous. But complex, innovative, revolutionary methods can arguably be patentable to foster research and allow inventors to live off their inventions, just like mechanical or electronic discoveries.

    The whole issue here is being able to reject (or contest) stupid patents, and grant patents only to fundamental and important discoveries, which the USPTO isn't doing.

    You don't think authors get to patent their stories, do you?!

    A piece of software isn't a story. It's a computational method. More like a recipe.
  • Re:BFD! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Reaperducer ( 871695 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @03:17PM (#12915360)
    I almost agree.

    What I don't understand is where's the "innovation" in the DV Forge product? It's essentially the same as the one from DLO. How is DLO squashing DV Forge's "innovation?" Maybe they're restricting DV Forge's "knock-off" but I don't see what DV Forge did that counts as unique or special to deserve not to be held accountable. Further, the submitter has not demonstrated that end users are being denied a "far more superior" product, because his product is essentially the same.

    Sounds like a cry baby to me.

    Maybe if the DV Forge product was demonstrably different or better they might have a case. But then, if they did they wouldn't be moaning on Slashdot.
  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @04:06PM (#12915635)
    Fine, then software shouldn't be copyrightable! The bottom line is that it's ridiculous to give software TWICE the protections, when no other industry gets the same privilage. So either software gets copyrights OR pathents, NOT both, or the woman who writes the Harry Potter books ought to be able to patent stories about magical school kids. That's the only fair thing to do, you know.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2005 @04:17PM (#12915701)
    1. If you produce a product that infringes upon a patent, you will be held liable for much more damages if you knew about the patent in the first place. Thus, it would make sense for someone in their right mind -not- to do a patent search. Let the patent holders come find you, not the other way around.

    There are so many patents, it seems highly likely that anything you want to produce will infringe upon -someone's- patent. That patent holder may not have any interest in prohibiting your product though. For example, say someone like Motorola holds a patent on an interface converter for car accessories. They only use the patent for making cell phone adapters for cars, but they are so early in the market that they were able to get a patent that broadly covers all car interface converters. If you make a device that converts analog audio to FM radio so that an iPod can be interfaced to a car radio, Motorola may not even care to prohibit your product because it does nothing to hurt their own products marketshare, even though you are infringing their patent.

    2. This patent was filed on 07-17-2002, but that doesn't mean that it was available for the public to read on that date. Usually it is several months after the filing date that a patent application becomes available for public viewing. Even then, who knows if the patent will actually be granted?

    For an example, check out patent application 10/316,961. It was filed on 12-11-2002, but has an earliest publication date of 11-20-2003. Also, check out the Continuity Data, and you'll see a recently filed patent application, 11/071,667 on 03-03-2005, but you can not view patent application 11/071,667 at this time.
  • by Arker ( 91948 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @04:22PM (#12915726) Homepage

    I think you're wrong. The purported purpose of patents would be to promote the arts and sciences by granting a limited time monopoly in exchange for important disclosures.

    The patent application makes no disclosures that advance the state of the art that I can see. And anytime you have a completely independent invention (which this seems to be) forced off the market by a patent holder, the purpose patents are supposed to serve is clearly not being served.

  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @04:38PM (#12915837) Homepage Journal
    "I like the idea of patent meta-moderation."

    I like the theory of it, but I still see some stupid-ass moderations around here.
  • by ravenspear ( 756059 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @04:46PM (#12915884)
    Again though, if you are referring to the ones on /. almost all of those have dealt with software patents. I just don't think analyzing that one category can give you enough information to determine if patents are good or bad in the general case. It certainly demonstrates one of the ways they can not be helpful, but that may not be sufficient cause to pass final judgement on all patents.
  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hal_Porter ( 817932 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @06:46PM (#12916527)
    You have to wonder whether it would work actually. Remember that you're asking people that the patent office considers to be industry experts to moderate. Realistically, they'd be people who already have patents, and are thus likely to have a strong pro patent bias. It'd be like a kind of anti-slashdot. E.g.

    Patent - Method for obtaining gaseous oxygen via inhalation.
    +100 Highly original, Benefit to Mankind.

    Complaint - my son suffocated after the patent, we couldn't afford the $1000/year license here in Ghana
    -100 Whining, Communist, Unamerican, Dirty Gnu Hippie.
  • Vintage Jack... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @07:18PM (#12916698)
    "My statement to Jeff was that the PodBuddy would likely sell about five times as many units as his TransPod."

    Hype and bluff. Sliver-tongued as ever.

    "And, that, if we can't build it, then he should build it. After all, he's the one using a patent to keep a better, more desirable competitive product off the market."

    Erm, he's exercising his rights under the patent granted. Just like you would. And a patent search could have saved you all of this nonsense.

    "It seems to make sense to just let the guy have it, if he's so scared of the PodBuddy being sold. I would rather do that than have thousands of our customers disappointed, and, see such a terrific product just die."

    It's not your call, Jack. He's the one with the rights, you didn't do your homework. This inching your toe right up to the name-calling line is typical.

  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gessel ( 310103 ) on Sunday June 26, 2005 @09:34PM (#12917266) Homepage
    This is the fundamental question: what are patents and copyrights for? The answer is right there, clearly in our constitution: "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts."

    Most people, most patent lawyers, most congress people, most patent holders, certainly all representatives of the copyright industry would love to erase those simple words.

    Because patents and copyrights are not, have never been about rewarding creators for the act of creation.

    It is this fundamental error, promoted by the copyright industry, that poisons copyright and patent law to consider inventions "property." We do not, as a people, offer inventors "embarrassing monopolies" on that which intrinsically cannot be subject to ownership, the "fugitive fermentations of the individual mind," as a reward and certainly not ever as a right.

    It is a mechanism by which we reward creators for sharing their work with us, for enriching the public domain, not for creating it in the first place. We as a society do not automatically gift inventors with ownership of their ideas, the very idea is preposterous, we grant them a temporary monopoly for the act of sharing. It is not the moment of invention, which is itself worthless to society, but about sharing an invention with society.

    This leads to the most obvious test: no copyright law, no patent law is constitutional if it does not optimize the value of the public domain. If so doing means revoking all patents and all copyrights than we the people have that right "without claim or complaint by anyone."

    If we applied that test the economically irrelevant entertainment industry would not be allowed to retard the progress of society with idiotic laws like the DMCA, laws which not only fail to meet the constitutional test but which obviously directly contradict it.

    As for patenting software vs. simply copyrighting it, the whole issue has become muddied. The reason for not issuing patents is that you cannot patent a discovery, that is something you did not actually invent but merely found. Mathematical algorithms are found, they always existed, they are not invented. Software loosely fits the category of an extended mathematical algorithm, but perhaps not usefully. The constitution provides a clear guide out of this seeming quagmire: if the public domain is most enriched by copyright protection, than copyright should be used; if the public domain is most enriched by patents, then patents should be used. If the public domain is most enriched by stripping all monopoly protection, then all monopoly protection must be stripped.

    Patents still reference their constitutional reason for being, unlike copyright anymore: patents speak of teaching the art in exchange for a temporary monopoly. Failing to properly teach the art (how to accurately and precisely implement the idea being protected, and to do so by the inventors best known method) is cause for revoking the patent. Copyrights are granted on inventions believed self-evident, so there's no parallel test. A book or song is the book or song, not the method of it's production (design patents are a bit of a fly in the ointment of this argument, but I'm choosing to ignore them). Copyrights were originally issued for 17 years, same as patents; it's an amazing testament to the power of graft that Disney and Grewshwin got their monopoly rights extended without showing any benefit for society.

    As for obvious and poor patents, there are complex issues as to the cost of litigation. It's not immediately clear who should pay the cost of careful review, though the cost of such review relative to the value of the system as a whole is small, and would seem a prudent investment for society, at least if the system would actually work for society instead of for the "special interests" that own the legislative process.

    If it were up to me:

    • Copyrights owned by the inventor (creator) would be for the life of the individual.
    • Copyrights transferred to any other entity would last for 20 years from the date of registration.
    • All material to be copyrighted must be registered.
    • There would be a nominal fee for registration.
    • All unregistered work available to the public is in the public domain.
    • Patents assigned to inventors would be subject to nominal fees.
    • Patents assigned to anyone other than the inventor would be subject to the full cost of careful examination.
    • Patents would not automatically have uniform terms; software patents would last only 5-10 years.
    • The term of patents (and copyrights) would be reviewed and adjusted periodically to maximize the total value of innovation to society.
    • Patents would be subject to review by a public (domain) defender acting in the interest of the public.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 26, 2005 @10:59PM (#12917611)
    And why does it promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts????

    Well because it offers protection in the form of a temporary monopoly. Really, it's not that hard to see. You even said it yourself. The incentive that the patent system uses is protection so that you can make money. Sure the OP may have not had the best wording but anyone with some commonsense understood what he meant by it.

    So you trying to use legal speak to undermine his argument is pretty pointless. He still has a valid argument and you proved to have about zero insightfulness. Think before you post. Just because someone's opinion doesn't agree with yours doesn't mean you should simply bash him or her because they didn't use proper legal terms or the official definition.

    He brings up several good points and is very reasonable. I see no real flaw with his post, as all of it is self-explanatory. You may know the "real" purpose of it but by giving it a quick look over you will realize that his and the "real" purpose are very close. Remember laws are not rules and are therefore dependant on the interpretation of the law. In this case his interpretation is valid for the issue at hand. That issue is patent infringement by Podbuddy. In another case one could use a different interpretation that better represents the issues under consideration.

    Any one with basic knowledge in law is aware that laws are written as such so that they may encompass as many variables and situations as possible. Since things change laws must be written this way. For this situation, podbuddy is infringing on a patent that was issued to the manufacturer of the original product. Now if it is or is not the original product is not the issue. The patent system in this case is protecting the believed original manufacturer and inventor from competition.

    See does that make it easier for you to understand. See how his interpretation of the patent system holds up in this circumstance?
  • Re:"One-click"? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by IsoRashi ( 556454 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:03PM (#12921161)
    No one else will probably see this, but it reminds me of something my dad said this weekend... I had made a comment as to how our justice system was all sorts of fucked up, and he replied, "We don't have a justice system--we have a legal system."

    Just thought I'd share...

New systems generate new problems.