Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monopoly, Patents, & Business Methods

Today's Wall Street Journal article, "How a Fight Over a Board Game Monopolized an Economist's Life" presents the ins and outs of Ralph Anspach's trademark battle with Hasbro, the makers of Monopoly. Professor Anspach and Hasbro have different perspectives on the history of the game and the patents that cover it. We wonder if what is really disclosed is a business method.

Hasbro cites a patent issued to Charles B. Darrow, a heater salesman as the origin of the game. That patent, 2,026,082, was sold to Parker Brothers in 1935. Parker Brother's registered the Monopoly trademark in the same year and went on to sell over 750 million copies.

Professor Anspach cites an earlier 1924 patent, 1,509,312, invented by Elizabeth Magie Phillips as the real origin of the game.

Aside from always executing a strategy to buy the utilities and railroads, having to have the Top Hat or the Dog as my game piece never having the stamina to finish a game, I found the claims interesting. I think Ms. Phillips is the inventor of the corner space and that Professor Anspach may be on to something here from a prior art perspective if in fact Mr. Darrow saw a version of the Phillips invention. But there are no records to determine if the two inventors ever went to the same trade show or crossed each other's paths.

The Landlord Game disclosed in Ms. Phillips patent has the following claim:

A game-board provided with corner spaces, intervening spaces of different denominations and values, some of the spaces of the different series corresponding and distinguished by coloring or other markings, so that the corresponding divisions may be recognized, a series of cards of changeable value, two or more of which are alike and which relate to two or more certain spaces on the board, a series of movable pieces to be used in conjunction with the spaces of the board and controlled by dice, so as to determine play.

The Monopoly patent introduces the concept that the spaces are arranged together in groups by color, that they have value, and that if you own the whole block you can extract more money:

In a board game apparatus a board acting as a playing-field having marked spaces constituting a path or course extending about the board, said path affording a continuous track for the purpose of continuity of play, certain of said spaces being designated, as by position, or color so as to constitute a distinguishable group, there being a plurality of such groups each differing from the others and each having its spaces adjacent on the same side of the board, the apparatus having indications of the rentals required for the use and occupancy, by opponent players, of space of one or more such groups, which rentals are subject to increase by the acquisition of an additional space or spaces of the same group by the same individual player, thereby making it possible for the possessor to extract greater payments or penalties from any opponents resting or trespassing thereon.

Mr. Darrow may have disclosed a business method. But does anyone have the McDonald's Broadway piece?

Where are the patent numbers rant: The WSJ used one of the drawings from the Darrow patent in the article but once again didn't provide the patent numbers.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hope..With Someone Else's Image - Nope!!

It's been a busy week on the intellectual property front.

First, David Young, chief executive of Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group, one of the country's largest book publishers pronounced that he would like to see legislation that would prevent the sale of books below cost. At issue is the price war between Wal-Mart and Amazon for some of the book titles expected to dominate the holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart is selling books below cost. Amazon is cutting costs and selling the digital versions for $9.99. The issue is economic. Independent booksellers and new writers will suffer when books are sold below cost. Wal-Mart appears to be paying the full price, the copyrights are being protected, and the authors are getting paid.

Then we have artist Shepard Fairey, who designed the famous Barack Obama "HOPE" poster, who, according to AP, admitted Friday that he didn't use the Associated Press photo he originally claimed his work was based on, a photo taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia, on assignment for the AP, at the National Press Club in Washington.

Mr. Fairey appears to have pulled in some serious money selling posters, autographed posters, and a whole range of stuff featuring his work. For more info on the emergence of the poster as a cultural icon see:

Ben Arnon: How the Obama "Hope" Poster Reached a Tipping Point and Became a Cultural Phenomenon: An Interview With the Artist Shepard Fairey

Mr. Fairey apparently had artistic amnesia when he said he didn't use the photo that featured a single image of then Senator Obama as claimed by AP intead saying used a picture with two images, one of Mr. Obama and another of actor George Clooney. By saying he used the picture with two people in it rather than the one with only Mr. Obama, he tried to claim he significantly modified the picture and was not infringing AP's copyright. He claimed that his work was covered under the fair use doctrine. But it now turns out he altered the single photo and added the word HOPE across the bottom.

His legal team lead by Mr. Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University -- withdrew from the case and said the artist had misled them by fabricating information and destroying other material. I can tell you this, when your lawyers quit on you because you didn't give them the straight story, it's not a good thing. When your lawyers are from the Fair Use Project and you misled them and destroyed material its a very bad thing.

Mr. Fairey earned much critical acclaim for his work, vandalism of public property aside (do you remember all those posters that showed up all over the place prior to the election?), Mr. Fairey earned quite a bit of money from his use of AP and Mr. Garcia's work.

In determining which of this week's intellectual property happenings is cause for concern, Mr Fairey wins. Mr. Fairey is the one who absconded with someone else's work without paying for it. The book publishers might be concerned that their product is being undervalued but at least it's being valued. In the case of AP and Mr. Garcia's work, they received no value. That's a greater concern.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Man Walks Into a Bar

A leading patent attorney who is deeply involved in the In Re Bilski case and has written an amicus brief on behalf of one of his clients advocating that business methods that don't result in a transformation - things that can be done with pencil, paper, a calculator and a brain - shouldn't be patentable. He can cite plenty of patents and pending applications that he believes are ridiculous but since we were chatting at the end of the day and he was heading to Happy Hour with a colleague, he offered the following cocktail business method story.

He's decided to litigate the hypothetical Man Walks into a Bar business method patent. The patent describes a business method where a man walks into a bar and interfaces with the alcoholic beverage dispensing system. The interface supports input of specific cocktail configurations based on published and customized ingredient lists. The alcohol beverage dispensing system's component selection device selects appropriate alcoholic beverage subcomponents from the alcoholic beverage inventory control system and executes configuration specific combination instructions to assemble the components according to the specific cocktail configuration. When the configuration process, which may involve introduction of other supplemental components to optimize the specific cocktail configuration, the specific cocktail configured by the alcoholic beverage dispensing system is rendered into an appropriate container based on its content, measured in size and based on ornamental accessories required for the specific cocktail configuration and output by the alcoholic beverage dispensing system.

The method may also include rendering alternative specific cocktail configurations wherein the alcoholic beverage subcomponents may be non-alcoholic subcomponents including but not limited to ice, limes, umbrellas or pink flamingo shaped stirring utensils.

While I was contemplating an after work adult beverage he added the following:

Under Bilski, a method is patent-eligible if “ ‘(1) it is tied to a particular machine or apparatus, or (2) it transforms a particular article into a different state or thing. If the apparatus is a bartender and the article is a fine bottle of tequila, the transformation occurs when the tequila is combined with lime and transformed into a cool margarita.

So, the apparatus is the bartender and the transformation is the combination of ingredients and the transformation is the shaken not stirred and dispensed into the glass. It's a stretch but he makes his case that business method patents have gone too far.

Under this hypothetical business method, every bartender taking an order, mixing a drink, and serving it in a frosted glass with a pink flamingo or an umbrella would be infringing the Man Walks Into a Bar Patent.

Happy Friday.

Knitwear, Software and Convergence

We are proud to know a lot of inventors at Coronado Group. Sayuri Doi is one of those inventors. The only thing is I knew her long before she was an inventor. We grew up together. While the rest of us were struggling with how to sew on buttons and figure out how to crochet, Si would see a sweater she liked and whip out her knitting needles and make one for herself refining it to match her unique vision. She took her skills to New York and Hong Kong creating amazing knitwear while staying on top of the latest trends. Si is an inventor, a trend watcher, a sweater designer, a visionary and a friend from the old neighborhood and proof that convergence is everywhere.

Si's unique perspective is that everyone has their own style. Her patent, 6,721,545 is for an ornamental attachment to a mobile phone that provides a way to customize the appearance of the device in a more personal and unique manner. Who needs a boring brick of electronic stuff in their hand when you can personalize, customize, accessorize?

Today this inventor is creating her own new intellectual property of the warm and cuddly variety at her new adventure Rain+Jack. At the corner of Ranier and Jackson, Si and her friend and partner Helen Sharp are launching their new enterprise. Innovation and amazing design are alive and well and living in Seattle. A new type of software from Washington.

Si is also a new media practitioner. See her Flickr stream at

Monday, October 12, 2009

Big Data

Today's New York Times article "Training to Climb an Everest of Digital Data" offers insight into the challenges of Big Data in a world where home users have 1 terabyte disk drives for their pictures and music, and Facebook is managing 40 billion photos for is users. Universites are attempting to teach their students how to work with massive amounts of data. Lots of talk about data. Not a lot of talk about information. Soon there will be so much data that it will obfuscate the information it contains.

Search paralysis will be alive and well. Big data demands tools for creating information. Just organizing the data into bit (byte?) sized chunks isn't going to cut it. Users need ways to navigate through the data and see what it means.

Here's some of the best visualizations of big data from Hans Rosling's presentations at TED. The first is from June 2007. The second is from 2006. Enjoy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It's All in the Cards Part 2

Several commentators asked me about the It's All in the Cards post. "What's with the cards?," they asked. Then a conversation on their personal experiences with the card catalog. Mostly in college. It was usually accompanied by the tiny hand motion of your fingers flipping through cards in those tiny drawers.

There were comments on using the card catalog to fill in a bibliography when jammed for time, a function that Amazon's book section provides for contemporary late night crammers. There was discussion about navigating before and after the target book just to see what was out there. But the most interesting commentary went like this; "It seemed like it was a lot easier to find what you were looking for back then."

Was it really? Was the library classification system a more straightforward way to organize information? Could it adequately handle the mass confluence of information going on today? But that single threaded, one person at a time in the drawer thing made searching a wait and see exercise. You couldn't add comments on how useful the resource was or if the author was a bozo for those that came after you to use as a guide post when determining whether to invest time to read the book. So search technology marches on.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's All In The Cards

The University of South Carolina is beginning a year-long series of events honoring the card catalog, it suse in the transformation of knowledge, and the people who created and used it. The South Carolina card catalog has 3,991,680 cards in 3,168 drawers. To celebrate the hidden gems in the card catalog they are publishing new "Featured Card of the Day". They are having a contest to see what you can do with the cards. Can you search in the digital world the way you browsed the card catalog?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Digital Ink and $6 Newspapers

The Sunday New York Times now has a $6.00 price tag. What is the tangible and cerebral value of the physical newspaper that you don't get with the free digital ink version. Why do you spend $6.00 for something you can get for free?

Today's $6.00 NYT was bought at the local Starbucks. Unlike the electronic version, you can hold it in your hand, spread it out in front of you. What you get is its layout, its physical presentation, the placement of the stories and the ads, and even how the sections are set up in the bundle. The two most timely sections - news and sports - are on top, on the outside of the bundle. The book review, travel section, and magazine are buried in the middle because they were finished first and waited for the rest of the paper to be built around it.

The NY Times starts with international news as you go through the news section and then moves to the US, then to the Regional News and then the New York news. This is the exact opposite of how the Washington Post's physical news section is laid out. You don't get this flow when you look at the digital edition even though all the pieces are there. Is the value of the paper this flow?

You spread all the sections out, browse across the sections deciding on your reading strategy, what to read first, what to save for last and then begin the ritual. Browsing is easier, there is a more intuitive sense of flow than the digital version and you can actually read more than one section at once without having to have a big screen monitor and two browser windows open.

You hold the paper in front of you as you watch the people coming and going. No one reads People at the Starbucks. Books and newspapers. Unless they are staring at their laptop. Are people in coffee shops more intellectual or do they just look that way? When you leave you fold up your paper and carry it out of the store prominently displayed. It makes a statement about being intellectually engaged (or maybe economically stupid.) You can't do that with a Kindle.

But here we are. To write this post you need the digital version. You need the hyperlinks, permalinks and digital browsing. The current state of affairs for books, newspapers, music, inventions, copyrights, patents, and all other forms of intellectual property and their existence in the physical and digital worlds is being driven by the New York Times question: Why do you pay $6.00 for something you can get for free?