Dec 29 2010

TechKnow Year In Review 2010

It is that time of year where we reflect on the accomplishments of the passing year and look forward to the one to come. Here is a window into the past year in technology through this year’s popular posts on TechKnow Juixe.

Programming Rants

Products and Features

Tutorial and Resources

Patents and Trademarks

Code Conversations

Retweet 2010

Random Thoughts 2010

Year in Review

Oct 25 2010

US Patent: Virtual Currency

Zynga is one of the fastest growing social gaming companies. Zynga is the maker of compulsion loop filled social games such as FarmVille, CafeWorld, and Mafia Wars. These games have proved to be like crack for people bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now Zynga has patent the novel idea that has been around for decades of virtual currency. Zynga’s file to patent Virtual Playing Chips in a Multiuser Online Game Network. They claim that real money can be exchanged for virtual currency. The virtual currency can be used to purchase virtual goods between any two users. A user can be credited or debited virtual goods based on the outcome of events in games. The virtual currency can’t be exchanged back to legal money.

There are, and have been for a long time, games that thrive because of the virtual economy built into the game. Games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, which have been released since 2003 and 2004 respectively, depend on virtual currency to a large degree if you want to get far in the game quick. Within these games you can virtually work and earn currency or simply buy in-game money to buy virtual property such as a house or armor or whatever you like. The maker of Second Life have gone as far as to name their currency after themselves, the Linden Dollars. According to Wikipedia, in 2009 the Second Life economy grew to to half a billion dollars!

Outside video games, virtual currency has been used in real life scenarios such as at amusement parks and or places like Chuck E. Cheese’s or Dave & Buster’s. Chuck E. Cheese’s has game chips that you purchase with real legal tender while Dave and Buster’s uses smart cards to debit and credit in-store currency. In both franchises, the in-store currency can be used to play games priced using the in-store virtual currency. Two users can exchange and gift the in-store currency and based on the results of such game you win points that can be used to purchased goods.

All of their claims have been around for years and have been implemented in a variety of systems for years. Another real life example is iTunes. At most retailers, people can purchase iTunes gift cards. The virtual value that can be redeemed from a given iTunes gift card is usually given at a rate of $1 iTunes dollar to $1 real dollar. But some retailers, such as Costco has rates of $1 iTunes dollar to less than $1 dollars. The iTunes gift card will be used to credit a user with some amount of value which can later be used to redeem virtual goods such as songs, movies, and apps through iTunes, the online network application.

Outside of games that force you to tend to virtual crops for virtual money, in other words virtual share cropping, virtual currency has been used to control runaway inflation.

Oct 19 2010

Cease and Desist Trademark Craziness

Let me first state that I am not a legal scholar but that doesn’t stop me from having my own opinions of legal case study, especially when it doesn’t make any common sense. That said, I think there is a lot of value in trademarks, just like there is some intrinsic value in copyrights and patents. But the use of trademarks, copyrights, and patents are a common good and like most common goods it falls victim to the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of patents are it’s patent trolls. The tragedy of copyrights are these perpetual copyrights for works that were original derived from public works. The tragedy of trademarks is that you can say one sentence without infringement on someones trademark, or at least that is what the lawyers want you to think.

One of the most heavy handed and ill conceived use of trademark law was by Microsoft against Mike Rowe, a 12th grade student that owned and operated Microsoft based their 2004 trademark case in that MikeRoweSoft sounds like Microsoft and that this might confused consumers, maybe blind consumers.

More recently there have been too many unfounded trademark suits filed by large corporate entities against operators of small website operators. One recent case pits Facebook who filed suit against, an online forum for teachers, for “misappropriating the distinctive BOOK portion of the Facebook’s trademark.” This makes no sense at all. Facebook has trademarked the term facebook, not book, but they claim that the book portion of the name is distinctive enough that they can sue another company that uses the term book in their domain name. This is a clear example of an overreaching use of trademarks. This also indicates that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerborg intends to claim any domain of the form [\w|\d]*book. Teachbook is an online forum for teachers, not for FarmVille addicts. Teachbook does not in any direct way compete in the commercial space with Facebook.

Perhaps following Facebook’s legal precedent, it has been reported that eBay has issued a cease-to-exist to a website operator because the domain name ends with bay. The owner of posted the cease-to-exist, go kill yourself, which reads in part, “Arbitrary use of the word BAY in a domain is problematic if the connected website is used in association with a business making use of eBay or operating in the same sphere of business as eBay.” Again, some law firm is protecting consumers because is confusingly similar to the giant auction website eBay.

Another similar case that grabbed my attention was of Matt Cooper, owner of Which company would you think sent Mr. Cooper a cease and desist? No, not Google the maker of the Android mobile platform. No, not Motorola, the maker of the Droid branded phone. Yes, you guessed it, Lucas Arts! You see, George Lucas owns the trademark to Droid, a pay on the word android. From what I understand from his defense Mr. Cooper claims that the term Addroid is a plan on the general term Android, and does not infringe on Lucas Arts trademark droid.

I want to trademark the ampersand (&) symbol so that I could file a trademark infringement to all law firms with names of the form Dumb Dumber & Dumbest. That said, I have to acknowledge that there is value in protecting your trademarks, as well as copyrights and patents. But the legal cases listed here are not executed in good faith of trademark laws. I believe that trademark laws, much like any legal code, is a public good that if abused by loopholes, bullying tactics, or partiality hurt people’s faith in those laws.