Yeah, What They Said 4/01

Yeah, What They Said, links to interesting stories that I don’t have time to write about. Some people call it “link sharing.”

Online Odyssey Stoking Interest In New NIN Album: Summary of Nine Inch Nails’ don’t-call-it-a-marketing campaign for Year Zero, the new concept album. Contains a jab at the RIAA for stifling the plan even though it has the blessing of NIN’s label.

100GB drive for iPod with Video: I had a massive iTunes library even before Apple added video to it. My music alone won’t fit on my 80GB iPod. If you’re like me, then, PDASmart’s 100GB upgrade drive might just be the ticket. Available for all iPod with Video models: 30GB, 60GG and 80GB.

Atomic Scientists Bring New Life to Old Vinyl LPs: Real Audio or Windows Audio stream of an NPR story about nuclear scientists discovering a method for restoring the sound quality of vinyl records.

And something a little off-topic:

The facts behind the infamous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit. It turns out in addition to being borderline negligent with its serving practices, the company was also a poor corporate citizen.

A Big List of MP3 Patents (and supposed expiration dates)

So, by now, large portions of the internet are abuzz with the Federal jury decision that Microsoft has been violating some of Alcatel-Lucent’s patents on the MP3 file format, which ahas been the backbone of the digital music revolutions and without which iTunes and the iPod would not have been possible.

I couldn’t help but note the timing of the ruling, since I had been been researching MP3 patents a couple weeks while working on a recent post. I came across the realization that the MP3 patents will soon start to expire, as early as this year in one case. So last week’s news got me wondering two things:

  • whether there is an aspect of “cashing-in-while-possible” going on with the current suits
  • just what the are all the MP3 patents, and when do they expire?

I can’t really speculate to that first point, but for the second, it’s fortunate that Thomson, the company that handles MP3 licensing has a neatly compiled list published at Of the twenty patents listed there, eighteen are filed in the U.S., to which this list is limited. These are the patents that everyone who makes an MP3-related product has licensed. We’ll get to those.

First though, here are the Alcatel-Lucent patents that Microsoft was found guilty of violating. This information was taken from the US Patent and Trademark Office. Since I’m no patent attorney, all expiration dates are best guesses based on quick summary research. Changes to U.S. patent law and the GATT treaty in the mid-90s (while mp3 was being developed) complicates matters. Additionally, I have not a clue as to how to handle continuations of abandoned applications, so some of these could be way off.

If anyone more knowledgeable wishes to correct any of my guesses, I will happily revise this page. These are much too technical, both in legalese and technology for me, but still I find them fascinating from a layman’s point of view.

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Let’s Speculate: Apple vs Cisco in the courtroom

What’s more fun than speculating about the outcomes of court cases? Well, most everything. But it does pose an opportunity for a healthy debate. So let’s play What If…

What might happen if Cisco and Apple in up in the courtroom?

Leaving aside for the time being that “iPhone” is a pretty weak name for a product that’s much more than a simple phone, it does appear that Cisco has been the proper registrant of the iPhone trademark since 2000. Based on my understanding of trademark law (note: not a lawyer), there’s no legal mechanism for Apple to seize the mark for itself.

However, Apple’s argument seems to be that the product category of cell phone is sufficiently different from Cisco’s offerings that it’s not infringing at all. That’s the reason why Dodge Viper and Viper car alarms co-exist peacefully, even though they exist in the same industry. However, considering that the iPhone is more than just a cell phone (revolutionary communications device that uses WiFi and IP when available) I’m not sure a judge would agree with that claim.

So based on what I know (again, not a lawyer), here’s what I think could happen, if the two companies don’t settle out of court:

Judge agrees with Apple

In this situation, the court decides that the products are not enough alike and Apple’s use of the name does not constitute infringement of Cisco’s trademark. Both companies can then legally use the same name on different types of products. Cisco cries a bit and is prevented from offering a product similar to Apple’s iPhone.

Judge agrees with Cisco

The reverse happens. The distinction between the products is held to be too fine and the iPhone name is deemed to be exclusively Cisco’s mark. The company is possibly awarded damages. Apple then has to negotiate for use of the name, or rename its product.

Judge rules that iPhone is too generic for trademark protection

Wired Pete at Cult of Mac makes the argument that because “the public,” after months of speculation and fantasizing, already identifies the iPhone name with Apple.

One could make the argument that the incredibly small portion of the general population that trades rumors about future Apple products hardly makes up “the public,” but lets run with it. Popular sentiment would not be sufficient grounds to award an exclusive trademark to Apple. In this case, a judge could rule that the trademark is now too diluted and generic for any one entity to own. “iPhone” would then mean “any kind of internet-enable communication appliance” not any one specific device.

Apple is not likely to argue this. “iPhone” would not mean much to the company then and any other company could release a similar product with the same name. Plus, it could lay the groundwork that i- product names in general are too generic to trademark protection. Admittedly, that’s my largest legal stretch, but once again: not a lawyer. Feel free to debate it though.

But that all just fun speculation. This is not likely going to make it to court, but it is providing a lot of press for both companies.

That’s my take. Feel free to kick it around.

Update Jan14: Check this post at TechnicallyTrue for lots of deep background on the iPhone fight.