Wednesday, June 30, 2004

LAW - Your Boss Does Own Your Brain

Back in the winter of 2002, I published an article in the John Marshall Journal of Computer & Information Law entitled "Does Your Boss Own Your Brain? - A Casenote on Alcatel v. Evan Brown." The gist of the piece was that a Texas trial court got it wrong when it held that Evan Brown's employer, DSC Communications (later known as Alcatel) owned the rights to an idea for a piece of computer software that Brown had developed.

The facts of the case showed that Brown had worked on this idea since he was in college, and that he came up with the final pieces of the puzzle while working for DSC. The court held that the program belonged to DSC under a contract that gave the company ownership over inventions that Brown developed in the course of his employment.

The appeals court affirmed the decision. It's clear from reading it that the court didn't really address the issues at all. Despite prior decisions ruling that continued at will employment cannot constitute consideration for an employment agreement (DSC made Brown sign the invention disclosure contract or else it would fire him), the court decided that the company's at will employment of Brown for the next 10 years created a unilateral contract that bound Brown to the terms of the agreement. The court also apparently ignored the fact that the agreement did not adequately define what an "invention" was and that Brown's "solution," as he called it, didn't work yet. Don't know if Brown is planning to seek certiorari to the Texas Supreme Court or not, but if he does, I wish him well.

SCHOOL: Free at last! Free at last!

I finished my thesis! Actually, I finished it last week, on June 25, 2004 and e-mailed it to my committee at 6:00 PM, CST. I haven't heard back from them yet, but we'll see what happens.

This is the end of my John Marshall tenure and boy, does it feel good. I still don't have a new job yet, though. The hiring manager for the consulting position I applied for through Lexis has been out on business for the past two weeks or so. Still, this is a lot of stress that I don't have to deal with anymore.

Now to get this thing published...

Thursday, June 03, 2004

NEWS - Patents for Spam Filters?

It seems that that Network Associates, makers of McAfee, have managed to extract a broad anti-spam patent from the USPTO. And it gets better. Apparently, the patent covers Bayesian filtering, which Paul Graham started talking about in August, 2002.

I would say that this is unbelievable, but it's completely consistent with every other way the USPTO has dropped the ball with all things online. It's not entirely their fault. Forbes ran a great article on the life of a patent examiner that lays the problem out there.

These are human beings. They have lives too.

What the USPTO needs is a way to find prior art without having to look for it. Personally, I think it should open up patent applications for notice and comment as if they were proposed regulations under the Administrative Procedures Act. Patent applications are already published after 18 months anyway. Why not let people submit what they think is prior art? I think it would make life much easier for the people at the USPTO and prevent a lot of things that shouldn't be patented from getting locked up for 17 years.

NEWS - New DRM for CD's

According to CNet, the RIAA is investigating more technology that will limit the number of times you can burn a CD and stop people from copying burned CD's. This is all well and good, but the article leaves a lot of questions:

Will the technology prevent people from format shifting (ripping the CD audio to a compressed format like MP3) for use on digital music players (like the iPod)?

While the article mentions that the RIAA also wants to incorporate the technology into legitimate music-download services (like iTunes), it doesn't say whether or not legitimately-ripped digital music tracks will have it tacked onto the new files.

I'm all for reasonable limitations on CD copyight, so long as they're not unduly restrictive, but it sounds like the RIAA wants to control the development of technology again. In order for a scheme like this to work, CD burning software is going to have to recognize the technology. Software used to rip CD tracks to digital format will also have to recognize it and incorporate it.

Fortunately, the RIAA hasn't quite been able to pull off this level of technology control. I don't think it would be a good idea for any parties concerned. If the RIAA adopts a standard and technology companies are required to use it, the RIAA is just begging people to crack it the same way they cracked Fairplay, the iTunes DRM system. What's the point of a standard if it won't actually do anything? Shades of DeCSS, anyone?

It seems, however, that Apple may have figured out how to beat Playfair, the program used to strip the DRM off iTunes music files.

This is a good thing. It proves that the technology industry can, in fact, keep up with the pace of technology. And Apple didn't have to resort to a DMCA lawsuit in a futile bid to keep Playfair offline, much like the one the movie industry tried with DeCSS.

The RIAA should just give it up. Let the providers themselves make the DRM decision. There are lots of standards out there. Sharing space on our computer hard drives hasn't brought our systems to a screeching halt. When there are lots of locks to choose from, a skeleton key that only opens one of them is a lot less useful.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

HUMOR - Diebold

It's pure genius, I tell you! Pure genius!