Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Intellectual Ventures Inventor Profile

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Intellectual Ventures for a story about my work as an inventor. I have been looking forward to seeing it posted in their new Inventor Spotlight area. Unfortunately, I still have to wait a bit. My story was one of the first to be written, but my deal was fairly complex, and they want to work up to that. So, while I wait for them to present the story, here is a teaser.

For those of you who have not been paying attention, Intellectual Ventures is remaking the patent business. They have gradually become less secretive -- having raised $5 billion to acquire over 30,000 patents since 2000, they are having a huge effect, much of it yet to be seen, and are still viewed with awe by some, and fear by others. Their story has been covered extensively in the press.

As an inventor, and a believer in what technology can enable, I think they are changing things very much for the better.

Some of my history as an inventor -- my twelve year struggle from conception to monetization of my first patented invention -- was outlined in a 2008 blog post. That did not get into how I partnered with others to develop my patents, leading to a sale for $35 million. I faced most of the challenges of the lone inventor, unable to get large companies to a reasonable deal without litigation, even with professional partners to lead and fund the effort. I always viewed litigation as a very unpleasant and wasteful prospect, and two years into a hugely expensive and draining case (even with other people's money), I was eager to end it as soon as possible.

That is where the market came to the rescue. The IV case study will give more details, but, in brief, I saw them change the game from a brutal, zero-sum battle (attractive only to lawyers) to a win-win business proposition that was beneficial to all. They brought unique insight into the market forces, great cleverness in structuring deals that I understand to have been first of their kind, and mastery in moving the warring sides to a deal quickly, overcoming many stumbling blocks.

The deal provided my company, Teleshuttle, with the resources to let me focus on my work as an inventor, which is the work I love and do best.*

I look forward to seeing the story of this landmark deal on IV's Web site, and to IV's contribution to developing the market becoming more widely known and understood. IV deserves credit for leading the way toward a world in which invention is more sensibly valued, rewarded, and stimulated -- to make life better for all of us.


*For example, there is my current work on the FairPay pricing process, described extensively on [the FairPayZone**] blog: I have patent filings related to this, but they may or may not ever have any value. Nevertheless, because some of my patents have brought in funds, I can develop FairPay essentially as a pro-bono project, just because I think it is an idea the world will benefit from.

There is a parallel here: Just as IV found a way to arrange a fair value exchange between me as innovator and those who benefit from my ideas, I put forth FairPay as a way to arrange a fair value exchange between those who create content/services and those who benefit from that.


[**This post was originally posted on the FairPayZone blog on 4/27/11, but has been moved here as more fitting. 

Comments:  a few comments can be found on the original posting at]

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Squeeze More In" for Video Devices -- Never get stuck again!

Wouldn't it be nice to have a video device with infinite capacity that never got full?
  • Have you ever shot so much video that your phone/camera got full and made you stop?
  • Did you miss getting something on video because the phone/camera was full and you did not have the time or opportunity to upload or delete some video to make space for more?
  • Has your DVR ever erased a show you wanted because you lacked space for a new recording?
  • Has your DVR ever failed to record a new show because all your old video was marked "do not delete"?
If so, what you need is Progressive Deletion -- a compression method that lets your device "squeeze more in."  Of course it is not infinite, but it can enable a lot of squeezing.

Progressive Deletion is a new spin on video compression that is the subject of one of my recently issued patents.  It is not yet available on any device, but I am seeking manufacturers who want to offer this new feature to their users.  If you are in the video industry and know people who might build this, please let me know -- and tell them!  If you are a user who likes the idea, I am interested in hearing that also.

Background on Progressive Deletion is on the Web, but briefly, here is the basic concept.
  • Many image compression algorithms allow for varying levels of compression, where the more you compress, the less the quality retained, and many cameras and DVRs allow you to set any of several levels of compression.
  • Generally you pick one, and are stuck with it.  But more flexibilty is applied in "progressive" video transmissions, where you might receive only a high significance layer if you have limited bandwidth, to get moderate quality, or additional lower significance layers if you have more bandwidth.  The added layers add more quality when combined at the video player.  
  • But either way, once you have the video saved on your device, it can't be made smaller without reformatting, and that takes time (if enabled at all)
  • Progressive Deletion methods take this one step farther by storing video in your device layer by layer, so that an entire layer can be instantly deleted if you want to sacrifice some quality to free some space.
Thus you can "squeeze more in" by simply telling the device to delete some low significance layers, and just keep on shooting or recording.  That could also be set as an automatic operation -- your device might indicate that you are reaching a deletion point, and just do it if you keep shooting or recording, with no interruption at all.  Of course you might also be given the option to select specific videos to be squeezed or not.

All of this is done without changing the compression method, just by changing storage order (from by time, to by layer). It maintains compatibility with standard formats by just exporting the standard ordering when video is uploaded or transmitted (or importing from standard ordering when downloading).

Friday, April 08, 2011

TVs, iPads, Time Warner Cable, and Viacom -- Copyright vs. Copyrape

The latest overreach of copyright owners over the Time Warner Cable iPad TV app is an interesting encapsulation of all that is wrong with the current excesses of copyright.

I see this as a key policy issue relating my theme of "user-centered media" -- one that gets to the heart of the social contract behind copyright and all intellectual property. The key question is the balance of what is good for users, and what is fair incentive to content creators. The Constitution wisely embraced that balance, but many have lost sight of it.

The case reported by the NY Times Media Decoder is a classic of overreach (and one in which I find myself in the surprising position of supporting the cable companies).  As the Times reports, Viacom pleads that Time Warner Cable’s actions “will interfere with Viacom’s opportunities to license content to third-party broadband providers and to successfully distribute programming on its own broadband delivery sites.”  Let's think about that, both from a technical and a policy perspective.  This is not really a question of TWC vs. Viacom, but of the public vs. the rights-holders.

First, an quick look shows how silly this is from a technical perspective:

  • Doesn't Time Warner's distribution of Viacom channels to TVs in the home limit "Viacom’s opportunities to license content to third-party broadband providers?"  If I could not get The Daily Show from TWC, I would certainly be much more inclined to use Hulu for it.  Why does Viacom allow that?
  • How is an iPad different from a TV?  (Answer keeping in mind that this is the 21st Century.) 
  • I have a Blu-Ray player and a Mac Mini both HDMI-connected to my TV, so I can watch any "third-party broadband provider" programming on my TV, and don't need TWC if Viacom is available through other providers. I can view such broadband provider content on any screen I like, and they are completely free to compete with TWC.  (Such any-screen connectivity will soon be the norm.)
  • Why should TWC be locked off the iPad when Hulu is sold rights to distribute Viacom programming to any Internet-connected screen, including both TVs and iPads.
  • Remember also that both TWC cable TV and broadband in TWC-served homes both arrive as RF signals running in different channels on the same coaxial cable!
  • Once more, what century is this?
But this is really a deeper question of policy, and both content owners and content users seem to forget the basic social contract that drives copyright.  Let's step back to those basics:
  • Copyright is designed to maximize social welfare by encouraging content creation
  • Copyright owners are given limited rights as their incentive to create content
  • The public pays to compensate creators for content.
  • The public also may pay distributors and device manufacturers for facilitating access to content, but that has nothing to do with copyright.  (I have to pay for a book of Shakespeare plays or the Bible, or to download it to my cell phone in Timbuktu, but the content is free.)
Thus various parties have rights to compensation:
  • The creators of Viacom content have rights to compensation for their content.
  • Viacom is entitled to collect such copyright-related compensation, as well as compensation for their contribution to distribution (as well as some profit).
  • Distributors and device providers are entitled to compensation for distribution and devices (which, again, has nothing to do with copyright).
But the viewer who pays for content has purchased the right to enjoy that content.  That can take a number of forms, but none are tied to what screen the viewer is using.  For a single viewer (or household, or whatever unit is bought):
  • I can pay for time-limited access (such as a streamed subscription) or for permanent access (such as a download or DVD).
  • Those costs may be bundled with distribution and device costs, but the underlying copyright fee is a simple and distinct component of that bundle.
  • Any copyright-based limitation to content by device or location or technology that goes beyond the simple distinction of time-limited or unlimited access is without foundation.  Such limitations might be forced by technical limitations, but once those technical limitations disappear, they have no basis.
So if I pay for a Viacom program (content) one time, for a month, or forever, I should have unlimited rights to enjoy viewing that content, one time, for that month, or forever.  There might also be software fees for apps, and bandwidth fees for distribution, but there is no basis for any further content viewing fee.*

The copyright owners seem to have forgotten that the maze of licensing that they have so many lawyers working on is mostly an accident of technological history.  Hopefully the courts will not lose sight of the basics and let the tail wag the dog, now that technology is liberating us.  Hopefully they will not let copyright turn into copyrape.

Content does not want to be free, if its creator wants compensation (subject to his limited copyright).  But once I have paid for a license, I should be free to view it as I like, for whatever amount of viewing I have paid the creator for.  Watching multiple times might be a multiple use, but watching on one screen rather than another is not a different use.

Ask not for whom the copyright tolls, it tolls for thee -- for the public welfare.

*A related issue is the current idea that cable-sourced access might be limited to in-home viewing.  That too is an artificial limitation,with no inherent justification.  It may be hard to prevent abuse of licenses, if I can let all my friends view my TWC content in their homes, but as long as TWC has the technical means to limit viewing to valid subscribers (and those viewing with them) why should there be any geographic restriction limiting out of home viewing?