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June 27, 2012

Patents and IT industry

Till couple of years back patents wasn't a much heard of term in regular conversation and it was considered a geeky thing that few intellectual people induldged into. Interestingly patents date back to as much as year 1450 and probably was when some of the initial rules started to formulate. By 1790 rules were well established and grant of patent granted protection of 20 years to the inventor.

Since substantial effort and budget can go into innovations, a 20 years protection was a good way to repay the inventors and allow them not to worry about someone else grabbing the baked ideas and start commercializing. Anyone wanting to commercialize the ideas can do so by typically paying royality to the patent owners.

Till some years back, many startups were just getting their products out and not worry about patenting, which made sense as well, as you need to get the product out quickly to get maximum time advantage. However not worrying about or filing patents is now actually becoming a big problem and more so because of patent trolls.

Patent Troll is a term used for individuals or campanies that are seemingly only in the business of filing lawsuits against others for patent infringement. Patent lawsuits when awarded can rake in money and hence some organizations seem to make this as their buisness. However even if someone were not doing this and contesting a patent for really genuine reasons, it is a time consuming process and distracts focus from work to fighting a legal battle to protect the work. In the past year or so, we have seen significant rise in the patent lawsuits between the Apples, the Microsofts, The Googles, The HPs, The Samsumgs etc of the world

Those who try to validate their work againt existing patents are in for another surprise. Pretty much everything seems to have been patented and some of them incorrectly so as discussed in this article. As discussed, there are many patents that are not worth a penny, but will be treated as valid till someone contests these in court and invalidates the claims. From the time of filing to the grant of patent, it typically takes 3-4 years. Then there are different laws as per different countries and patent in region may not be valid in another region.

When the initial laws around Patent were laid down, around 2 decades ago, the industry in general was slow moving and a patent lifespan of 20 years probably made sense. Given the enormous shift the industry has seen in just last 1 decade the question arises is 20 years the right timeline for patent protection or better still do we really need something like patent protection?

Is it really worth patenting? If your intention primarily is to sell some product in market, then you need to focus more on if you are not infringing on anyone else's patent. If not, and you have something worth patenting, you can still ignore that, As you can possibly build and market your product much faster. Once it is published and public domain no one can patent it anyway. Having patents however does allows you to hold onto your methodology and if anyone wants to use it, they need to pay you money. So while patent is an expense initially, it can become an additional revenue channel.

There is however still the question that I asked earlier: Should there be a patent law? It was created in good interest and made sense then. In today's fast changing world, I strongly believe we should relook at it and if not scrape it, at least bring down the validity to maybe 10 years max. In the age of snail mail (remember that?), telegrams made sense. However in today's mobile and always connected age, telegrams are mostly becoming defunct. Point being in earlier years when innovations were low and slow, 20 year patent made sense. However in today's fast paced world, a technology may actually get wiped out during this time.

In their call for papers Cutter is also asking similar questions. What are your views on this?

June 19, 2012

Microsoft Surface Tablet

Microsoft unveiled the Windows 8 Surface Tablet yesterday. One interesting feature along with it being on Windows 8 is the built in paper thin keyboard on the cover. However since it is so thin, it seems to have the same problem like the screen/virtual keyboards and i.e. of no tactile feedback. Probably they should look to integerate with this

I read this article, but could not really get much understanding of what this tablet has got to do with the earlier Microsoft Surface device? I looked up additional articles herehere and here.

They all talk about Microsoft Surface Tablet but nothing much on the earlier Surface. It looks like that the Surface product line is being rebranded to the tablet on Windows 8. The official MS Surface website is also now displaying information on this tablet. The erstwhile Surface now is known as Microsoft PixelSense. The latest sdk is still being called as Surface 2.0, but the device is now PixelSense.

Am not sure how this changing of brand names will help. Microsoft Surface 1.0 wasn't successful due to various reasons like performance, niche hardware, high cost and horizontal only orientation. With Surface 2, some of these issues were taken away. However the usage probably still got hampered due to delays on availability of Samsung SUR40 device.

Is using this brand name, that wasn't highly successful, for a new tablet device (an area that Microsoft is already late to enter) a good choice? Do share your thoughts.

June 15, 2012

Microsoft Surface for the hospitality industry

This is the fourth installment in a series of blogs where I have been touching upon applications of Microsoft Surface across industry verticals like banking, automobile and retail stores. Here let's take a look at how Surface has been creating an impact in the hospitality industry - essentially hotels and food/beverage establishments.

Hotel chains have been taking interest in providing Surface at their lobbies to improve their overall customer experience. Sheraton Hotels in the US was one of the early adopters of Surface and installed the device at several hotel lobbies allowing customers to discover city highlights, play music videos and view information about Sheraton hotels worldwide (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/press/2008/aug08/08-13SheratonMSSurfacePR.aspx). A video can be found here. Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts has been leveraging Surface to provide concierge services, information on points of interest along with interactive maps to its guests (http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/news/presskits/ds/docs/ihg-surface.doc). Hotel 1000 at Seattle is another example where Microsoft Surface has been successfully leveraged to engage customers (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/surface/archive/2008/12/15/hotel-1000-and-microsoft-surface.aspx).

Having looked at hotels, let's see some other hospitality industry examples. A striking example of an integrated digital experience based on Microsoft technologies is Red MR, a chain of karaoke bars in Hong Kong. They have gone all out in providing the very best of the digital world to their customers by providing a combination of Microsoft Surface, Kinect, Phone and cloud computing. Using the Surface application customers can order food and drinks, select songs and play games. The video is quite interesting. Similarly, Hard Rock has installed Surface at several of its outlets and uses it to showcase the thousands of music memorabilia to enhance customer experience. See the video here. The iBar at Rio all-suite Hotel & Casino at Las Vegas has leveraged Surface to provide games, shows and local information (http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en/us/casestudiesrioibar.aspx).  Here is the video

With these examples, we see that Microsoft Surface is indeed a significant differentiator for hotels and food/beverage establishments, while providing better customer experience. With the new 2.0 version of Surface, we can expect increased interest and adoption in the days to come.

June 11, 2012

Desktop Apps for Windows 8 on App Store

Some weeks back we had read about side loading of enterprise applications and that the app store was mainly for uploading and sharing metro apps. There is an update to that now whereby we can list desktop apps on app store as well. Do note there is only listing support. Desktop apps will not be deployed via app store.

An Individual user can probably use this and then get to the desktop app's main website to download and install it. An enterprise user will mostly still rely on side loading as it is unlikely that enterprises will allow direct access to app store to install either Metro apps or search desktop apps.

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