Monday, February 20, 2006

Privacy, what privacy?!

The American company of video-monitoring began to use microchips inserted in the body of its workers, as a form of control so employees cannot accede to restricted secure parts of the company. The silicone chips, which are presented as allowing control of employees as well as access to medical history of its carriers, have already raised controversy in the United States. These microcircuits are work of the VeriChip Company, a subsidiary of Digital Applied Solutions, Palm Beach (FL), which in October of 2004 received the consent of the FDA to commercialize the product. The company works fundamentally on two applications of this technology: for identification, as in the case of, and for its use in hospitals, where it claims could be a very useful machine for patients with difficulties to communicate, as those with Alzheimer. The capsule, which is inserted under the skin of the arm or the hand with a syringe, contains a number of 16 digits that allows access to the medical file of the carrier. This chip, according to its promoters, will facilitate to hospitals, doctors and patients to improve the attendance and to avoid errors, with precise information on each patient and its health condition. In addition to these uses, we can find that the Ministry of Justice of Mexico already uses this type of technology to identify its employees. The "chip" also has other less altruistic uses and, for example, the discotheque Baja Beach Club of Barcelona uses these capsules with its clients VIP. It allows to identify them in the entrance and to have their consumption paid directly from a special account. It is said that approximately 2,000 people in the world already have these microchips inserted in their bodies.
But what are the privacy implications of this futurist technology? It can be argued that having something implanted in the body that cannot be turned off, implies a total invasion of privacy, but what it is more worrisome is the possibility of combining this technology with other initiatives like ID cards, CCTV and many other control devices and regulations. If now the US Administration is claiming the right to monitor Internet and telephone use without a warrant, what will stop it from monitoring the moves of individuals implanted with the Chips?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

USPTO, five interconnected empty buildings?

Andres reported in his Technollama Blog about yet another ridiculous patent granted by the USPTO, but it seems that the list is far longer than previously thought and makes one wonder whether is anyone actually working there or if the USPTO is really and empty building (well, actually they are moving from 18 buildings to five interconnected new ones) where whoever applies for a patent gets it granted by some sort of automatic brainless stamping machine.
One of the extremely ridiculous that can be found is US Patent 5,443,036, which claims the rights over a "Method of exercising a cat" that consists of "directing a beam of invisible light produced by a hand-held laser apparatus onto the floor or wall or other opaque surface in the vicinity of the cat, then moving the laser so as to cause the bright pattern of light to move in an irregular way fascinating to cats, and to any other animal with a chase instinct". Not only is ridiculous but it is as obvious (does satisfy the requirement of non-obviousness established in 35 USC 103) as being able to be found in a book catalogued as humour in Amazon that was published 11 years before the patent's filling date. But what really beggars belief is the fact that the same USPTO has granted at least other three patents for almost the same thing to other people: 6,505,576, 6,557,495 and 6,651,591 (Pet Toy, Laser Pet Toy, Automatic Laser Pet Toy and Exerciser respectively). What part of the Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution have these people missed? the promotion of the progress of science? the part that refers to useful arts? or the part of discoveries?
The lesson that can be learned about the whole "aquelarre" into which the US patent system has degenerated is that the convenience of basing the funding of an organization whose main role is to assess the quality of some product, on the number of applications its receive can be severely questioned. Such a system creates the incentives for the organization to lower the standards used to measure the referred quality, what in turn would encourage more applicants and would result in higher revenue. And the results speak by themselves...

BlackBerry case(s) across the Atlantic.

According to The Times of London, the High Court of England ruled in favour of T-Mobile and RIM and invalidated InproÂ’s UK Patent (originally filled in EPO as EP 0892947B1) that the Luxembourg-based patent troll had obtained in 1996 on the grounds that it was invalid because of a lack of novelty and because it was "obvious", which followed RIM's victory in the Germany's Federal Patent Court for the same issue. The case referred to a different patent from the American one, but it shows the willingness of the courts to challenge software patents on the basis of lack of novelty.
On the other hand, the American Government has asked the Court to not shut down BlackBerry until a plan to exempt Government users can be worked out. But Judge James R. Spencer has said that he could make a decision on February 24th and repeated hisunwillingnesss to wait for the US Patent and Trademark Office to decide on the validity of the patents in question. The odds are quite high that the USPTO will finally invalidate all five patents, but probably after they cause BlacBerry to be shut down... wait a minute!
A global service that according to the US Department of Justice is vital to the US economy and security might be shut down for infringing a patent that its seems should not have been granted in the first place?! If something like that happened in a Latin American country and an American company was involved, somebody in the US Department would be crying foul and complaining about the lack of legal security and would be asking for the judge to be sacked...