Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NeoMedia Wins One For the Dark Side

UPDATED 30 Apr 09: Interestingly, this post sat dormant for weeks and just today three new replies came in a flurry. What a coincidence! One talks of how TinyURL infringes on NeoMedia's patent. One is a reply to another commentor. And one, why, one suggests that I have no testicles! At all! Which is true! But rather a mundane fact to point out, and so angrily (also, Jim, water is wet!). And also, things may be "getting legal", yowza! Not sure what that means but it sounds scary, doesn't it? Eek!

Clearly this economy (and swine flu!) is affecting everyone, creepy mouthpieces for random strangers coincidentally interested in NeoMedia's "interests" and barcode bloggers alike.

Like I said, all y'all folks with dogs in this fight: I'd be taking notes and backin 'em up to hard disk if I were you.

After protracted review, the US Patent & Trademark Office recently ruled in favor of evil attorney cabal tech company NeoMedia. For years NeoMedia has argued that they own absolutely everything having to do with barcodes + cellphones, and they own all barcodes + looking them up on the intertubes. They also own a patent on you. And your dog. And your mom.

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation valiantly begged to differ, devoting years and miles of effort, funds and reason to disputing this sort of mercenary dipshittery, it's all over now but the crying.

"Overbroad and invalid patents threaten to chill important innovations, especially for startups and other nascent entrepreneurs. It's important that technology in the public domain stays there." EFF Senior Staff Attorney Jason Schultz said in 2007.

The US PTO has changed all that in one fell swoop of patent validation. NeoMedia can now threaten and actively initiate lawsuits against anyone who creates, uses, promotes or dreams up anything having to do with their special corner of the auto-ID universe. Pay the NeoMedia licensing fee/s now, or pay them after a financially crippling lawsuit- it's entirely up to you!

This would be marginally acceptable if NeoMedia had created a unique technology of their own. But they didn't; these patents are based entirely on murky, factually-suspect claims of prior art. They now have a patent on using barcodes that they didn't create (which are based on font and image technology that they didn't create), with camera phones (which they didn't create) that take photos of said barcodes, the phone applications (that they didn't create) which translate those pictures into data (which they didn't create) which can be used to direct the user to a database (that they didn't create, and don't own) on the internet.

This means that if you scan a barcode that has a URL in it with an app on your cellphone, NeoMedia may attempt to squeeze cash from every developer in the chain: the maker of the barcode, the cellphone app developer, the cellphone maker, the cellphone carrier, and the owner of the destination internet database. Also, of course, your mom.

This means you, Google. NeoMedia's sure to go after the big guys first, right? Some dude who's running from blog to blog threatening lawsuits sure thinks so. Wonder if NeoMedia knows he's picking fights with some very big dogs on their behalf? Of course he could be NeoMedia's president and CEO for all we know (either way, I'd be making a hard copy or ten of all such blog and forum comments if I were, say, Scanbuy or ShopSavvy or ZXing..).

Whatever happens, it will certainly be interesting to watch. Pop some corn and pull up a chair.

US patent #6,993,573

US patent#7,383,209

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Barcodes That May Just Prevent Vomiting (and Death)

Two University of Rhode Island researchers and a company called SIRA Technologies have teamed up to create temperature-sensitive barcode ink.

The fancy "proprietary thermochromic printing ink, printed in a non-scannable color..emerges to a scannable, deep magenta when activated. It is therefore capable of adding a temperature and shelf-life monitor to any other barcode thus preventing the sale of contaminated food and archiving the incident."

In English, this means that your grocer can't try to kill you/make a buck with expired products because the barcodes will change color and become unscannable. Man, barcodes really might save the world.

Monday, February 09, 2009

This Friday the 13th is also 1234567890 UNIX time!

In a couple of days it'll be Friday the 13th. Not just any Friday the 13th. It's also 1234567890 in UNIX time at 11:31:30pm UTC (11:31:30 here in Seattle). Read all about it on Slashdot (where else).

This should give all the 666 Mark of the Beast nutjobs something else to ponder.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"Two Steps Forward, 1,400 Steps Back"

An interesting article in Business Daily Africa takes a hard look at how increased business efficiency can lead to a slump in customer service.

"..modern technology came to their rescue by introducing the barcode. Today, every supermarket worth its salt has a scanner system for reading these codes.

In addition, virtually all manufacturers now print the barcodes on products to make it easier for supermarket staff: the bulk packages are now simply unwrapped and the items taken to the shelves directly. This saves a lot of time.

Unfortunately, a new problem has emerged: in the hurry to display products, workers do not take care to ensure that a price tag has been posted on the shelf next to the items.

[]The workload increases as demand for their products rises. Consequently, management begins looking for ways of making work easier for the company. Many times the improvements are made at the expense of customer services."

It's an excellent reminder that progress in business should always be tempered with an eye to that most valuable of creatures, the customer.