Defending Patents Against Patents

Some news in the tech patent world yesterday, where Jared Favole and Brent Kendall reported in the Washington Post (Obama Plans to Take Action Against Patent-Holding Firms) that

The White House on Tuesday plans to announce a set of executive actions President Barack Obama will take that are aimed at reining in certain patent-holding firms, known as “patent trolls” to their detractors, amid concerns that the firms are abusing the patent system and disrupting competition.

Mr. Obama’s actions, which include measures he wants Congress to consider, are intended to target firms that have forced technology companies, financial institutions and others into costly litigation to protect their products. These patent-holding firms amass portfolios of patents more to pursue licensing fees than to build new products.

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement

Original patent for the first pedal-driven bicycle, filed by Pierre Lallement

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A Different Kind of Cord Cutting

I don’t tend to think of myself as a tech dependent guy. I’m probably fooling myself, of course. I use my computer and iPad a ton. I watch television and listen to digital music.  But the big thing for me is that I don’t have a smartphone. What I have may not even rank as a feature phone: a $14.99 special on a pay-as-you go plan. There’s not much to check on it, so I tend not to pull it out. So I’m not addicted, right?

But last week my email was acting up, probably because of distributed denial of service attack on Spamhaus.  That reminded me really quickly of how much I need email, especially for communication with students.

But it could be worse. As David Meyer wrote on March 28 at Gigaom:

According to the Associated Press, on Wednesday the Egyptian Navy detained three scuba divers in a dinghy near Alexandria, who were “cutting the undersea cable” of local telco Telecom Egypt. This was confirmed on the Navy’s Facebook page. Egyptian news agency MENA identified the affected cable as SMW4: the same one whose cutting caused an internet slowdown in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia…

Incidentally, the SMW4 cable more properly known as South East Asia–Middle East–Western Europe 4 or SEA-ME-WE 4 was also involved in a very serious outage five years ago, which cut the capacity of the main Europe-Middle East connection by 75 percent. This one appears to have been less drastic.

So, we are literally hanging by a thread. A thick thread, but a thread nonetheless.

On the upside, both the digital and analog hacking incidents have passed and systems seem to be back to normal.

Maybe I should just stick to my feature phone.

(For more coverage, check out Om Malik’s piece as well.)

Tech Press Flubs the Ed-tech Story (Again): Minnesota and Coursera Edition

This past week saw some fireworks over changes in the language of the Coursera license agreement. Seems that they were contacted by the state of Minnesota about registration of degree-granting institutions and decided to change their terms of service. Ok.

Here’s my paraphrase of the story that the tech press told: Minnesota won’t let its citizens take online classes. Obviously, Minnesota is a fascist state that wants to control every aspect of people’s lives, including how and when they think. How dare a state stifle innovation!? This sort of stuff was the core of quite a few stories that felt, to me, reactionary, off the cuff, melodramatic, and snarky. Ars Technica seems to have been the first organization to research the situation. The title of their story says it all: No, Minnesota did not kick Coursera out of the state. (Check out the transcript of the letter to Coursera from George R. Roedler, Jr., Manager of Institutional Registration & Licensing in the churnalisticly titled story “Is Minnesota cracking down on MOOCs?” )

So, what gives?

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