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Friday, 10 September 2010

Wishing you Blessed Eid Mubarak

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Dear Reader

Thank you for visiting this blog once again. I would like to wish all Muslim readers a blessed "Eid Mubarak". As we say it in Malaysia, "Selamat Hari Raya!" Here is an evergreen Hari Raya song, often heard in shopping malls at this time of the year.

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Saturday, 4 September 2010

Check for Plagiarism with Search Engines

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Dear reader

Plagiarism is a problem for content providers. Sometimes companies or publications pay for independent writers to provide write-ups for their website, only to find that the articles provided to them are lifted from other sources. This would not be so bad if the articles were paraphrased or summarized, but in some cases the articles are reproduced word-for-word. This is known as "plagiarism" and should not go unheeded. It is embarassing for the purchaser of the content who has unknowingly purchased stolen content, on the belief that the article is original and genuine.

Once, I was informed by a lecturer at a private college that plagiarism among students is also a problem. Some of these students do not want to, or could not be bothered to, do their own research and come to their own conclusions. They find the art of writing articles or white papers too boring. Who can blame them? This is the generation of youth that was raised in an always-connected environment, where entertainment is just a click away. Fail to engage their attention within 5 minutes and they start looking for an exit. (It used to be thought that attention-deficit syndrome was confined to certain hyper-active children.) The problem is that these students cut and paste from various sources and call it "research". This is definitely not the proper way to write a paper.

I was told then, and am suggesting to you now, that the way to find out whether the content of a document, or article, or paper, that you are inspecting, is original or not, is to enter certain key phrases into the search engine. Of course we know that not everything is available online. Sometimes even "subscription-based" databases make their listings available on Google, but accessing the articles themselves (in full) is another story.

One plagiarism-focussed search engine I came across recently is CopyScape. It works by you entering your website address (for the relevant page) and then it searches online. It is different from Google and other search engines in that your input is the URL of the website, and the search engine does the computation. It's a little like handing your article to the librarian and trusting that s/he will somehow magically pull out from the shelves those articles which copyright infringe or have been infringed by the article.

On 14th February 2008, an article at compared the performance of five (5) different search engines in an effort to gauge which search engine was more efficient at detecting plagiarism. The test compared the ability of the search engines to detect plagiarism of various types of content based on their length and wording. Yahoo! and Google finished at a tie; whereas (Microsoft's search engine) was unrepresented. This is due to Bing being launched only on 1st June 2009. Incidentally, shortly after its launch, on 29th July 2009, Yahoo! and Microsoft announced a deal where Bing would power Yahoo! in its search engine. (Having said that, interested readers can read the article dated 3rd June 2009 which compared the performance of Bing, Yahoo and Google in detecting plagiarism.)

For the interested reader, here are links to some articles on how to use the search engine to detect plagiarism.
  1. Wikipedia entry on plagiarism detection, includes a few links to both free and commercial online plagiarism detection systems.
  2. Search Engine Journal's article , "Top Online Plagiarism Checkers - Protect Your Content". Dated 27 October 2008.
It may be of interest that in 2001 Microsoft filed a patent on a method of comparing two texts for plagiarism. This appears in US patent no. 7356188 "Recognizer of text-based work" under claim no. 7.

Other computer-based systems for plagiarism detection have also been patented or applied for. But that is a discussion for another article. What is certain is that when there is plagiarism, the law that applies is copyright. Plagiarism is an infringement of copyright.
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Saturday, 31 July 2010

Fairouz - Disputes Over Song Royalties

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Dear Reader,

On 31st July 2010 the Dubai-based Gulf News reported that famous Lebanese singer, Fairouz, was embroiled in a dispute over song royalties. The iconic singer, who sang songs of justice, freedom and love, has given hope to many Lebanese during their 15 year civil war.(Ref: Gulf News, 31st July 2010. Fight over royalties could silence Fairouz forever.)

Most of Fairouz's songs were penned by her late husband, Assi Rahbani, and his brother Mansour, together known as "The Rahbani Brothers," and now her nephews are accusing her of not asking their permission to sing that repertoire or paying them the necessary royalties.

Assi died in 1986 and when Mansour passed away in January 2009, the long simmering family dispute boiled over.

This summer, Fairouz had planned to perform at the Casino du Liban Yaish Ya'ish (Long Live, Long Live), a 1970 musical written by the Rahbani brothers. But her nephews sent a letter to the Casino's administration reminding them that such a performance would require the approval of the heirs.

Mansour's sons — Marwan, Ghadi and Osama — decline to say how much money is owed, but they are demanding remuneration for each time the diva performs songs or any of the musical plays from the Rahbani repertoire.

"All what we are asking for is our intellectual property rights and this is something we will not give up" Osama, also a musician, told the AP.

(Source: ibid.)

To get an idea of the type of songs that Fairouz sang, here is a video of her song, Sanarj3ou Yawman. The English subtitles are grammatically correct.

The Rahbani family is known as a musical family. In 2000, Fairouz's son, Ziyad Rahbani, was described as "currently, perhaps, the Arab world's most luminous musician" by Egypt-based Al-Ahram weekly news portal. (Source: Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 10-16 August 2000. Levantine contradictions.)

Completely reworking old favourites from the Fairouz repertoire (composed by his father, the late Assi Rahbani, and written by his uncle Mansour), Ziyad also offered more recent features of his own ... The concert was attended by no less than 12,000 seasoned and other listeners longing for contact with the singing phenomenon and Lebanese and Arab icon. Fairouz's status, in fact, is comparable only to Umm Kulthoum's, except that the former celebrity has lived through the Lebanese civil war, and frequently played a national role through her concerts and songs. "Ziyad gave voice, in these Rahbani tunes, to aspects that were latent or secret," Wazin wrote in the London-based daily, Al-Hayat (6 August).
(Source: ibid.)
A more recent piece at Al-Ahram, penned in 2010, pays tribute to Ziad Rahbani, the son of songstress Fairouz and her late husband Assi Rahbani. (Ref: Al-Ahram Weekly Online, 18-24 March 2010. And all that jazz.)

Song royalties are often a matter of dispute, as composers (or, in this case, children of composers) demand what is rightfully due to them. Even though songs are intangible objects, they often evoke very real emotional responses. Composers, too, feel that these songs are their creations, and would like to benefit when others perform or air their songs. Similarly, recording artistes feel that their recordings should be recognised and some degree of remuneration given to them. Indeed, copyright can give rise to a continual stream of income.

In many jurisdictions in the world, there are bodies set up and authorised to collect song royalties. These copyright royalties will then be disbursed to the songwriters and the performers. Going back to the case of Fairouz, her daughter had made a comment that said, essentially, her cousins should claim their royalties from the body that collects royalties.

Rima Rahbani, a director and the daughter of Fairouz and Assi, accused the heirs of greed and said there was no formal system of direct payments to the brothers from Fairouz herself.

In a telephone interview with The AP, she said Mansour's heirs should collect their money from Sacem, a Paris-based organisation whose job is to collect royalty payments and redistribute them to the original authors. Mansour had joined Sacem in 1963.

"Sacem should collect the fees from the producers, not from Fairouz, and after the performances are made, not before," she said.

"Name one artist in the world who has to ask the permission of the heirs when they want to sing songs that were written for them," she said.

(Source: ibid.)

Whether or not an artiste has to seek permission to perform songs written for them, is perhaps another issue altogether. This is clearly not an issue of the right to perform but the right to collect royalties.

In Malaysia, the Borneo Post has been encouraging Dayak songwriters, composers and performers to take positive steps so that they can collect their song royalties.

In Malaysia, once the music is recorded, it is protected by the Copyright Act of 1987. But to benefit from it the owner of the copyright material must be a member of Music Authors Copyright Protection Bhd (MACP). All song writers and lyricists must be members of this organisation to get any form of benefit from the royalty collected by MACP.

There are only a few Dayak songwriters and lyricists who are members of MACP. Some of our leading artistes/songwriters are not members. Maybe they don’t care. Or maybe they do not realise how much they have lost from unclaimed royalty.

A song written and recorded now may earn the copyright owner a small amount, but it can add up to a substantial amount over the years. Add to that, no one can predict what would happen 30 years from now. Just look at those Malay songs from the 60’s. Many are still popular and got re-recorded and aired over TV and radios. Our copyright law gives protection up to 50 years after the death of the owner.
 (Ref: Borneo Post Online, 6th July 2010.  Dayak Music: When royalty is not collected. The article is worth reading because it has much information regarding royalties in Malaysia.)

On 6th July, 2010, an Australian court ruled that the Australian band, Men At Work, had copied a flute riff from a children's song and incorporated it illegally in their hit song, "Down Under". The court ordered the band to pay 5% of their song royalties to the publisher of the children's song. The publisher, Larrikin Music, had originally sought 60% of the song's royalties. (Ref: The Star, 6th July 2010. Band penalized for copied riff in "Down Under" hit.)

An article by Tan Sri Sulaiman Mahbob also lamented that the late Tan Sri P. Ramli could have become a very rich man simply by collecting royalties or fees for airing his movies or performing his songs. Unfortunately the late Tan Sri P Ramli did not benefit from today's consciousness that respects intellectual property. (Ref: The Star, 19th April 2010. Intellectual capital as source of wealth.)

Copyright royalties have also been cited as a burden to some business operators. In Sibu, hotel operators specially requested that their television royalties be lowered, in compassionate view of the economic recession. (Ref: The Star, 19th March 2010. Hotels want lower television royalties.) Now we know why some hotels have disabled the radio console -- to avoid paying radio royalties on top of television royalties.

An article about songwriting duos noted that Paul McCartney and John Lennon had come up with a solution to the royalty problem: They would both be credited as songwriters of any song they wrote so that both would equally enjoy the royalties. (Source: New Straits Times, 14th June 2009. They come in pairs.)

For further reading, here is an article about "How Do Songs Make Money?" at the website of a radio show, I Write The Songs: click for link.

We end this article with the music video for Men At Work's Down Under. Bear in mind that the flute riff has been inspired by -- or lifted from, depending on how you look at it -- a children's song.

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First Synthetic Organism Created

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Dear Reader,

Meet Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0. Also known as "Synthia".

In May 2010, Wall Street Journal reported that scientists at the J Craig Venter Institute had created the first synthetic organism. (Ref: WSJ, 21st May 2010. Scientists Create Synthetic Organism.) Here is an excerpt.

Heralding a potential new era in biology, scientists for the first time have created a synthetic cell, completely controlled by man-made genetic instructions, researchers at the private J. Craig Venter Institute announced Thursday.

"We call it the first synthetic cell," said genomics pioneer Craig Venter, who oversaw the project. "These are very much real cells."

Created at a cost of $40 million, this experimental one-cell organism, which can reproduce, opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, several researchers and ethics experts said. Scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for a generation, producing a menagerie of genetically engineered plants and animals. But the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life, they said.

Its genome is entirely synthetic. It has vast commercial potential. However, moral issues of "Playing God" have always plagued society, as early as the cloning case of Dolly the Sheep. There is no doubt that Dr Venter knows the "moral and ethical debates about whether it is right to manipulate life forms—which arose with the advent of cloning, stem-cell technology and genetic engineering". (Ref: ibid.)

Dr Venter intends to patent the experimental synthetic life form on the basis that "They are pretty clearly human inventions". The WSJ article clearly states how the synthetic lifeform was created:

To make the synthetic cell, a team of 25 researchers at labs in Rockville, Md., and San Diego, led by bioengineer Daniel Gibson and Mr. Venter, essentially turned computer code into a new life form. They started with a species of bacteria called Mycoplasma capricolum and, by replacing its genome with one they wrote themselves, turned it into a customized variant of a second existing species, called Mycoplasma mycoides, they reported.

To begin, they wrote out the creature's entire genetic code as a digital computer file, documenting more than one million base pairs of DNA in a biochemical alphabet of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. They edited that file, adding new code, and then sent that electronic data to a DNA sequencing company called Blue Heron Bio in Bothell, Wash., where it was transformed into hundreds of small pieces of chemical DNA, they reported.

To assemble the strips of DNA, the researchers said they took advantage of the natural capacities of yeast and other bacteria to meld genes and chromosomes in order to stitch those short sequences into ever-longer fragments until they had assembled the complete genome, as the entire set of an organism's genetic instructions is called.

They transplanted that master set of genes into an emptied cell, where it converted the cell into a different species.

(Ref: ibid.)

I just can't help but be reminded of the Little Shop of Horrors and The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Further Reading:

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Friday, 30 July 2010

Telephone inventor, Meucci, recognised after death

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Dear Reader,

Who hasn't heard of Alexander Graham Bell? He is widely credited as the inventor of the telephone. However, if that is what you know, then you don't know enough about the telephone.

In June 2002, The Guardian reported that the US Congress had recognised that a poor immigrant from Florentine, Italy, was the true inventor of the telephone, and not Alexander Graham Bell as previously thought. (Ref: The Guardian, 11th June 2002. Bell did not invent telephone, US rules.) The media in Italy hailed the recognition which had been long overdue. The Italian media also went on to describe Alexander Graham Bell as a Scotsman who became rich by stealing the ideas of others. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Bell's immortalisation in books and films has rankled with generations of Italians who know Meucci's story. Born in 1808, he studied design and mechanical engineering at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, and as a stage technician at the city's Teatro della Pergola developed a primitive system to help colleagues communicate.

In the 1830s he moved to Cuba and, ... found that sounds could travel by electrical impulses through copper wire. Sensing potential, he moved to Staten Island, near New York City, in 1850 to develop the technology. ...

In between giving shelter to political exiles, Meucci struggled to find financial backing, failed to master English and was severely burned in an accident aboard a steamship.

Forced to make new prototype telephones after Ester sold his machines for $6 to a secondhand shop, his models became more sophisticated. An inductor formed around an iron core in the shape of a cylinder ... was used decades later for long-distance connections.

Meucci could not afford the $250 needed for a definitive patent for his "talking telegraph" so in 1871 filed a one-year renewable notice of an impending patent. Three years later he could not even afford the $10 to renew it.

He sent a model and technical details to the Western Union telegraph company but failed to win a meeting with executives. When he asked for his materials to be returned, in 1874, he was told they had been lost. Two years later Bell, who shared a laboratory with Meucci, filed a patent for a telephone, became a celebrity and made a lucrative deal with Western Union.

Meucci sued and was nearing victory - the supreme court agreed to hear the case and fraud charges were initiated against Bell - when the Florentine died in 1889. The legal action died with him.
(Source: The Guardian, 11th June 2002. Bell did not invent telephone, US rules.)

Sadly we must note that Meucci did not benefit from his invention during his lifetime. He seems to have had a string of bad luck: he failed to master the English language and suffered burns from an accident. Further, he not have the money to file the patent. Finally, he did not succeed in his court action against Mr Alexander Graham Bell. This was not due to any other factor than his death. He had a good case, but the good case perished when Mr Meucci expired.

Must this be the case for all court cases? Is it true that the death of the claimant brings with it an end of all his rights, including causes of action at court? In my opinion, his court action probably could not continue simply because of his financial situation.

Death of the Claimant: Cause of Action Survives!

For the interested reader, it must be noted that if a claimant had commenced his action in the Malaysian courts, the cause of action will survive even if he passes away. The cause of action will simply be continued by the legal representative of the estate of the deceased. This may be either the Administrator (of an intestate person) or his Executor (of a person who died leaving a will).

Here is an excerpt from a law article, Death of the Claimant and the Survival of Action for Dismissal without Just Cause or Excuse, by Dr Ashgar Ali Mohamad [2007] 2 MLJ lxxvii. (MLJ stands for Malayan Law Journal)

The estate of the deceased — the executor or administrator of the deceased plaintiff — may obtain an order of the court to carry on the proceedings for damages for wrongful dismissal under O 15 r 7(2) of the Rules of the High Court 1980 or O 8 r 7(2) of the Subordinate Courts Rules 1980. For example, O 15 r 7(1) of the Rules of the High Court 1980 provides; 'Where a party to an action dies or becomes bankrupt but the cause of action survives, the action shall not abate by reason of the death or bankruptcy'. Further, O 15 r 9(1) provides that if the plaintiff's personal representative does not apply for an order making them parties, the defendant may apply for an order that unless the action is proceeded within such time as may be specified in the order, the action be struck off.

Also, the Civil Law Act 1956 has a provision on this point. Section 8 deals with the effect of death on the cause of action. Section 7 deals with claims by dependants of a deceased person against the party causing the death of the deceased. Here is section 8 of the Civil Law Act 1956 reproduced in full.

8. Effect of death on certain causes of action

  1. Subject to this section, on death of any person all causes of action subsisting against or vested in him shall survive against, or, as the case may be, for the benefit of, his estate:

    Provided that this subsection shall not apply to causes of action for defamation or seduction or for inducing one spouse to leave or remain apart from the other or to any claim for damages on the ground of adultery.
  2. Where a cause of action survives as aforesaid for the benefit of the estate of a deceased person, the damages recoverable for the benefit of the estate of that person—
    1. shall not include any exemplary damages, any damages for bereavement made under subsection 7(3a), any damages for loss of expectation of life and any damages for loss of earnings in respect of any period after that person's death;
    2. in the case of a breach of promise to marry shall be limited to such damage, if any, to the estate of that person as flows from the breach of promise to marry; and
    3. where the death of that person has been caused by the act or omission which gives rise to the cause of action, shall be calculated without reference to any loss or gain to his estate consequent on his death, except that a sum in respect of funeral expenses may be included.

  3. No proceedings shall be maintainable in respect of a cause of action in tort which by virtue of this section has survived against the estate of a deceased person, unless proceedings against him in respect of that cause of action either—
    1. were pending at the date of his death; or
    2. are taken not later than six months after his personal representative took out representation.

  4. Where damage has been suffered by reason of any act or omission in respect of which a cause of action would have subsisted against any person if that person had not died before or at the same time as the damage was suffered, there shall be deemed, for the purposes of this section, to have been subsisting against him before his death such cause of action in respect of that act or omission as would have subsisted if he had died after the damage was suffered.

  5. The rights conferred by this section for the benefit of the estate of deceased persons shall be in addition to and not in derogation of any rights conferred on the dependants of deceased persons by section 7 and so much of this section as relates to causes of action against the estates of deceased persons shall apply in relation to causes of action under the said section as it applies in relation to other causes of action not expressly excepted from the operation of subsection (1).

  6. In the event of the insolvency of an estate against which proceedings are maintainable by virtue of this section, any liability in respect of the cause of action in respect of which the proceedings are maintainable shall be deemed to be a debt provable in the administration of the estate, notwithstanding that it is a demand in the nature of unliquidated damages arising otherwise than by a contract, promise or breach of trust.

Further Reading For interested readers, the following links may prove to be useful.
  1. Wikipedia's entry on Antonio Meucci
  2. Bob Estreich's Old Phones website, entry on Antonio Meucci
  3. Basilio Catania's website, entry on Antonio Meucci
  4. Telesanterno, 19th July 2010. 19 Luglio 1887: Meucci perde la causa contro Bell (Italian - click here for English translation)
  5. Wikipedia's entry on Invention of the Telephone
  6. Alexander Graham Bell's Patent no. 174,465.
  7. Washington Post, 26th February 2005. Accomplished, Frustrated Inventor Dies. (Mr Robert Kearns was the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. His design was misappropriated by carmakers and he died frustrated, fighting to get his patent rights recognised.)
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Monday, 14 June 2010

Death of the ATM Inventor

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Dear Visitor,

My apologies for not updating this blog recently. On May 15th, 2010, John Shepherd-Barron, widely credited to be the inventor of the ATM machine, passed away at the age of 84. The automated teller machine, or the ATM, as it is usually known, is an example of an invention that has become part of our everyday lives. Many of us would know what an ATM machine is. Here is a definition from Wikipedia:

An automated teller machine (ATM) or automatic banking machine (ABM) is a computerised telecommunications device that provides the clients of a financial institution with access to financial transactions in a public space without the need for a cashier, human clerk or bank teller. On most modern ATMs, the customer is identified by inserting a plastic ATM card with a magnetic stripe or a plastic smart card with a chip, that contains a unique card number and some security information such as an expiration date or CVVC (CVV). Authentication is provided by the customer entering a personal identification number (PIN).
(Source: Wikipedia, entry on Automated teller machine)

The Telegraph (a UK-based newspaper) on 20th May 2010 had paid tribute to John Shepherd-Barron in its obituaries section. How did the inventor come up with the idea of a cash dispensing machine? It was, according to the article published by the Telegraph, the inspired response to an inconvenience that he had experienced.

Shepherd-Barron once explained that he came up with the idea of cash dispensers in 1965 while lying in his bath after finding his bank closed. It was then his habit to withdraw money on a Saturday, but on this particular weekend he had arrived one minute late and found the bank doors locked against him.


Shepherd-Barron hit upon the notion of an automated cash machine by thinking of the way chocolate dispensers worked. "It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK," he said in a BBC Radio interview in 2007. "I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash."

With plastic bank cards bearing magnetic strips still to be invented, Shepherd-Barron's early machines used special cheques that were chemically coded by being impregnated with carbon-14, a mildly radioactive substance. Customers placed the cheque in a drawer, the machine detected the material and matched the cheque against a PIN before paying out a maximum of £10 a time. "But that was regarded then as quite enough for a wild weekend," he noted.
(Source: The Telegraph, 20th May 2010. John Shepherd-Barron.)

The most striking part, for me, is that he hit upon his idea while he was in his bath tub. Archimedes, the famous Greek mathematician, inventor, astronomer and philosopher, also had his "Eureka!" moment when he stepped into a bath tub. (Archimedes noticed that his body mass displaced an equal amount of water.) Granted, Archimedes also came up with many inventions in his lifetime, but that is topic for another discussion.

From the article by the Telegraph, it is clear that the cash dispenser machine invented by Mr Shepherd-Barron was different from the present day incarnation which uses plastic cards with magnetic strips. Instead, it used chemically coded cheques and the added security device of a 4-digit PIN number.

Mr Shepherd-Barron did not profit from his invention even though it became one of the mainstays of the banking industry. Quite simply, he had failed to patent the invention! It was however, due to bad advice from his legal team which told him that to obtain a patent, the inventor has to give full disclosure, which would allow the machine to be exploited by criminals. (Ref: ATM Marketplace, March 18th 2003. The ATM from invention to innovation)

In 2004, Mr Shepherd-Barron was honoured and awarded the OBE.

For more reading about the automated teller machine, you may visit the following links:

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Thursday, 18 March 2010

Failure & Neglect

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The Story of the Inventive Man Who Didn't Patent His Invention

Once, in a faraway land, an inventive man observed a social phenomenon. He saw how society did things, used things, and thought about things. He observed a problem, but society did not know that it had a problem. It was just that he wasn't satisfied with the way things were done. The inventive man came up with an idea to solve the problem. He used a few common things, put them together in a new way, and solved the problem -- the problem, which to him, was a problem, but was not a problem to society at large. It was, if anything, an unnecessary innovation. But in time, they came to appreciate it. They found that the innovation -- if that was what it was -- was likeable, attractive, and less bulky. Or perhaps they found it easier to use, lighter, more intuitive, and more modern. Whatever the reason, society embraced it wholly, and was much delighted with the innovation. But society forgot the inventive man who created it.

"It's just a concept!" cried the manufacturers. "It's just an idea! And we're benefitting society, too! Why, if we had to give the inventive man something for every time we made money off the invention . . . we'd be poorer! (Slightly poorer, actually.) And the inventive man would be richer! (Well, slightly richer, actually.) It wouldn't be fair! We'd have to bump up the price of this thing to earn as much as we do, right now."

The inventive man had perceived a problem that no one else perceived. The inventive man had created a solution for it. And he had nothing to show for it. What a shame!

Some inventors live with the illusion that success will come automatically if they invent something. On the contrary, inventing is just the first step. There are other things which need to be done to ensure success!

This story isn't as far fetched as it may seem. Many people have come across inventive ideas, solutions to problems that only they perceive. Yes, it is possible for people to do things as they always have -- or, they can explore a solution for the future. Why is it that we choose to ride cars instead of walking? Why is it that we choose to use electric lightbulbs instead of candles? Why is it that we choose to vacuum large expanses and narrow nooks, instead of sweeping and dusting by hand? It is simply because they represent a more elegant, efficient, faster, and cost-effective method of doing things!

It is hard to estimate how much an inventor may have made by registering a patent, or how much he has lost by failing to register the patent. However, the following examples from history may illustrate the problem and provide a better understanding.

Sewing Machine

It is said that Walter Hunt had invented the first functional sewing maching in the early 1830's, but had failed to patent the invention. By 1846, another inventor, Elias Howe, would invent and patent the lock stitch sewing machine. Life was tough for Mr Howe as he could not find backers to commercialize his invention -- he tried to find a backer both in America and in England, but met with no success. By the end of the 1840's, Mr Howe found that his invention was being copied and sold by businessmen who had the money to invest into mass production and marketing. One of these was Isaac Singer. From 1850 to 1854, Mr Howe fought a legal battle against Mr Singer and other manufacturers. Eventually Mr Howe won, on account of being the rightful holder of the patent for the sewing machine. A settlement was reached, and Mr Howe was paid a handsome settlement -- about $200,000 per annum. Mr Howe died at the age of 49, just as his patent was expiring -- but not before receiving $2 million in settlement income. He was buried in a grave just 75 feet from Mr Hunt! The grave of Mr Howe, the holder of the patent, is grand and decorated; the grave of Mr Hunt, the inventor who chose not to patent, is just so-so. It shows the difference that a patent can do for an inventor. (Source: Investor's Business Daily, 14th April 2009. He Sewed Up An Iconic Patent. Subscription-based access only. The full article was accessed at: Bay Ledger News Zone, 15th April 2009. He Sewed Up An Iconic Patent.)

The story is noted and told a little differently in US Patent #4,470,360 ("Sewing Machine", inventor: Leif Gerlach. Issued 11th Sept 1984). From the description of the patent, comes the discussion of the prior art:

(Please click on the image to read the original patent at Google Patents)

Daisuke Inoue -- Karaoke Inventor

Born in 1940, Inoue began playing in a 6 piece bar band in Kobe, in 1970. In 1971, a devoted customer (the president of a small steel company) was scheduled to perform a song and asked Inoue to play musical accompaniment for his performance. Inoue could not attend. Inoue's playing style was suited to the customer's slow singing style. To prevent the customer from feeling disappointed, Inoue recorded his playing and handed it to the customer, who sang his song perfectly. Encouraged by the success, Inoue and his friends created the first 11 karaoke machines, boxes fitted out with tapes and amplifiers, to provide musical accompaniment for pub-goers in Kobe. The invention was never patented. It became a success three years later and was much copied and improved upon by big companies. Inoue, on the other hand, did not profit directly from his invention. By the time someone suggested that he patent the invention, it was much too late. Much later, Inoue would create and sell a pesticide to prevent rats and cockroaches from causing damage to karaoke machines, and a device to release the pesticide. Most recently, WIPO reported that he has patented a pot to electrolyze water for use in washing, cleaning, and disinfecting, without using any soap or chemicals. (Ref: TIME, 23rd August 1999. Daisuke Inoue. Also refer to: Sydney Morning Herald, 13th January 2003. Japanese inventor loses patent to songbox. Finally, refer also to: WIPO Magazine, February 2009. The Father of Karaoke.)

Doner Kebab -- German Street Food

Can food be patented?

Mahmut Aygun, a Turkish immigrant to Germany, famously invented the doner kebab but died in January 2009 without profiting from his invention. In 1971, while working at the "City Imbiss" snack shop in West Berlin, he was inspired to combine pieces of meat, roasted in a rotating spit, with pita bread, and dress it up with vegetables and yoghurt sauce. Kebab is traditionally served with rice, but Mahmut was inspired to package kebab so that it could be consumed by customers as they walked home in the wee hours of the morning. Pita bread was the obvious solution. Doner kebab is a favourite of pub goers -- after their drinking sessions. (Source: The Local (German newspaper), 22nd January 2009. Inventor of the doner kebab dies. Also at The Telegraph (UK newspaper), 20th January 2009. The man who invented the doner kebab has died. And also at: BBC UK, 21st January 2009. How unhealthy is a doner kebab?)

A well written article, on whether food (and recipes) can be protected by intellectual property, is available at Food & Wine's website. (Ref: Food & Wine, New Era of the Recipe Burglar. By Pete Wells. Accessed 17th March 2010. One article referencing this article dates it to the November 2006 edition of Food & Wine.) The article mentioned an edible paper invented by chef Homaro Cantu. It touched on copycat chefs, who replicate menus from other (inventive) restaurants. It also quoted Steven Shaw, a former lawyer and co-founder of eGullet, a website for the culinary arts.

Shaw, a reformed lawyer, learned in law school that recipes can’t be copyrighted. "Then one day I was sitting there," he says, "and I thought, Why not? It doesn’t make any sense. The assumption is that a list of ingredients is like a formula, as opposed to literature or art or craft. But I think serious recipes really are a form of literary craftsmanship. You can copyright the world’s worst photograph, but you can’t copyright a recipe, or its expression as food? That’s absurd!"

Mr Homaro Cantu's invention, the edible paper, centers around the idea that edible items (called the "carrier element") can be manufactured to simulate the taste of a dish, or a food, by incorporating the taste elements in the food (called the "information element"). In the discussion of the prior art, some of the advantages of the invention were identified as: allowing consumers to taste the food without actually preparing the food; allowing consumers to taste food that they would not be able to taste normally (for religious or health reasons, or because of general unavailability); and allowing food flavours to be introduced (without preparation of food) through insertion in magazines, direct mail, etc. (Ref: US Patent #7,307,249. Title: "System and methods for preparing substitute food items".)

For further reading on food and recipes, and how they relate to intellectual property:

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Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Origami & Patents

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How many philanthropists have raised money for charity by making and selling origami? Fifth grader Sebastian Carpenter, only 11 years old, did just that, raising USD$610 for a local charity in Massachusetts. Sebastian created and sold Christmas-themed origami to family friends, hoping to raise only $50. As word about his cause and his creations spread, demand for the origami pieces rose, eventually selling 60 pieces, and raising $610 for a worthy cause. (Source: Wicked Local, 13th Jan 2010. Student joins fundraising fold: Origami creations raise money for Acord Food Pantry.)

Even engineers are passionate about origami. In December 2009, Japanese aeronautical engineer, Takuo Toda, created a world record for creating a paper plane that stayed airborne for 26.1 seconds, while staying true to the rules of origami: no scissors, and no glue. Takuo previously made the world record for creating a paper plane that stayed airborne for 27.9 seconds, but had deviated from origami rules by using cellophane tape. He plans to exceed 30 seconds on his next attempt. (Source: The Guardian, 27 Dec 2009. Paper plane enthusiast sets flight record.)


The recreational art of paper folding originated from Japan. The word "origami" comes from Japanese words "oru" (which means "to fold") and "kami" (which means "paper"). The recreational art of paper folding became popularly known as "origami" at the end of the nineteenth century, or the early twentieth century. Before that, it was known as "orikata", "orisue", "orimono", "tatamgami", among others, which also referred to origami. (Ref:, Origami History. Accessed: 20-1-2010.)

Flying cranes usually come to mind when we hear the word "origami". Origami as an art form is versatile, beautiful, useful, and is more than just flying cranes. Consider:
  1. Origami has been found to be tremendously helpful to the area of engineering. (Ref: Web-Japan, 12th Mar 2008. The Science of Origami.)
  2. Rigid origami is studied as the science of "folding structures using flat rigid sheets joined by hinges", and is considered a type of mechanical linkage. (Ref: Wikipedia)
  3. Fresnel lenses have been packed on Earth using origami techniques and unpacked in outer space. (Ref: California Connected. Interactive: An Origami Space Telescope.)
  4. Various architectural structures utilize principles from origami. (Ref: Pleated Structures)
  5. Origami based furniture -- made of aluminum and cardboard -- has proven to be usable and viable. (Ref: Origami Resource Center, Origami Furniture.)
  6. Orikaso, founded by Tomoko Fuse sells flat, foldable polypropylene tableware that transform from flat sheets into cups, bowls and plates. Orikaso claims that polypropylene is the only alternative to PVC endorsed by Greenpeace. (Found via Origami Resource Center, Origami Furniture.)

The Orikaso flat foldable tableware series
The following videos show:

(i) A blue plate.

(ii) A green cup.

(iii) A red bowl.

Orikaso's products are patented as US patents #6,237,845 and #6,595,409. They are assigned to Kuramae Sangyo Co., Ltd. of Japan.

US Patent #6,237,845

US Patent #6,595,409

Beautiful Tessellations

Eric Gjerde runs a site, featuring printable origami "crease patterns" (CP). Origami tessellations can be quite beautiful to look at. Eric Gjerde has written a book, Origami Tessellations: Awe-inspiring Geometric Designs, which you can browse below.

You can view more beautiful origami tessellations at the Origami Tessellations Flickr group.

Miura-Ori Folding

Miura-Ori origami is a relatively recent development in origami. It looks quite similar to herringbone pleating. Ed Cavett, an artist from Illinois, folds, frames and sells Miura-Ori origami as "wall art". A description of Miura-Ori at his website:
The Miura-Ori origami fold is a class of concave polyhedral surfaces of varying degrees of corrugation (Miura, Koryo, 2006). The folds involve reciprocating parallelograms protruding into the z-plane.

As the depth of the protrusion increases, the width of the sheet decreases while the length remains the same.
(Ref: Cavett, E. (2008). About the Miura-Ori origami pattern. In Wall Art, Ed Cavett Studio Web site.)

In October 1980, New Scientist carried a story about how Miura and Sakamaki created a new method of folding maps at 84' to produce congruent parallelograms, which reduced tears caused by conventional orthogonal folding.
Miura and Sakamaki ... came to the conclusion that the most important point of difference from an orthogonally folded sheet is that the folds are interdependent. Thus a movement along one fold lire produces movement along the other. In other words, the user can open the map with just one pull at a corner.
(Ref: New Scientist, 23rd Oct 1980. The Miura-Ori Map. Reproduced in The British Origami Society website.)

The Miura-Ori folding technique can be seen from this simple video.

And the Miura-Ori map folding-unfolding action can be seen in this video.

Here are some links about Miura-Ori folding:
  1. Wikipedia's entry on Miura-fold.
  2. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has pictures showing a Japanese space shuttle employing the Miura-Ori folding technique to pack and unpack a solar panel. (JAXA, No.4 宇宙に開く「ミウラ折り」. Link found via Origami Science Centre website; page on Origami Science.)
  3. Graphical instructions, scanned from a magazine, demonstrate how the Miura-Ori folding technique folds maps both horizontally and vertically, simultaneously. (Ref: ThinkQuest, Miura-Ori folded by Square root of 2 Rectangle. Accessed: 20-1-2010. Scanned from monthly magazine "Origami" NO.194 by Nippon Origami Association.)
  4. A paper by Pellegrino and Vincent, "How to Fold A Membrane", discusses how a membrane can be folded like a letter, and, after discussing the Miura-Ori folding technique, how a membrane can be folded in a rotational manner around a central hub. (Ref: S. Pellegrino and J Vincent, How to Fold a Membrane. Hosted at University of Bath.)
  5. In October 2006, the "Japanesque Modern" committee awarded the J-Mark award to 53 products and systems which "fuse Japanese traditional cultures, materials, techniques and spirits with cutting-edge technologies". One of the winners is the Miura-Ori map folding technique, "also deployed for solar panel arrays on satellites." (Ref: Tech-On newsletter, 31st Oct 2006. Published online by Nikkei Electronics Asia. 'Japanesque Modern' Selects 53 Products, Contents Representing 'Japaneseness'.)
  6. In March 1971, an article by Miura and Sakamaki in a journal of the Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, University of Tokyo, discussed "buckle pattern tessellation" on a cylindrical surface; or, more plainly, the repetitive pattern of folds that results when a cylinder collapses from being compressed at both ends. Miura and Sakamaki were concerned with cylinders of various curves, including elliptical cylinders. (Ref: Institute of Space and Aeronautical Science, University of Tokyo, Report No 461, March 1971. Koryo Miura and Masamori Sakamaki. Discontinuity of Buckle Pattern Tessellation of Cylindrical Shells of Variable Curvature. Provided by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.)
  7. To understand the "buckle pattern tessellation" on cylindrical surfaces, view pictures of diamond pleating.
  8. A blog, Meme Queue discusses various map folding techniques. Note the references to Patent Support Mates and Compass Maps.(Ref: Meme Queue, 19th Feb 2009. The Easiest Way To Refold A Map.)

In Japan, Patent Support Mates Co., Ltd., patented a cost-saving production method for maps using the Miura-Ori folding technique, and also registered trademarks and designs. (Ref:, Intellectual Properties.) It is not clear if the company is linked to Koryo Miura.

Interested readers can read "The Science of Miura-Ori", by Koryo Miura. The abstract is here. The actual article is below. (Ref: "The Science of Miura-Ori: A Review", a chapter in the book Origami 4, available at Google Books.)


The Miura-Ori folding technique has been cited in several US Patents.

US Patent #6,644,694: A wearable map.

US Patent #7,281,556: Pneumatic tire with tread portion having zigzag sipes

US Patent #7,334,619: Pneumatic tire with blocks having zigzag sipes

US Patent #7,060,292: Deployable stent

US Patent Application #11/483,328: Folding structures made of thick hinged sheets

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Sunday, 17 January 2010

WWW-What? On Domain Names and Cybersquatting

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Dear Reader,


The business of registering, holding and selling domain names has become an industry in itself, almost akin to real estate. In January 2005, when the tsunami tragedy shocked the world, a 20-year-old Canadian art student, Josh Kaplan, listed a domain, "", for sale on for USD50,000. New York Post suggested Kaplan was trying to profit out of a tragedy. A journalist, Michelle Tirado, first registered the day the tsunami made headlines. She donated the domain to Kaplan, who claimed to represent an international relief effort. Later, Tirado realised Kaplan had listed the domain on eBay, became upset, and cried foul. Kaplan's mother said her son simply intended to donate all profit to tsunami victims, and the controversy was a misunderstanding. (Ref: The Star Online, 7th January 2005. Tsunami cybersquatter exploiting disaster, or raising funds?)

In January 2010, Chinese national, Zheng ZhongXing, was reported trying to sell the domain to Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications for 4,000 yen (S$8,000): a profit of 19,900% from his initial investment of S$40. Sony Ericsson reportedly offered 400 yen (S$800), but Zheng refused, seeking S$3,600. Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) which presided on the dispute, ordered Zheng to transfer the domain to Sony Ericsson. (Ref: The Straits Times, 12th January 2010. Cybersquatters Evicted.)

In December 2009, Yeo Yee Ling, senior policy executive at the Malaysian Domain Registry, wrote that the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA) handles domain name disputes for the .my domain in Malaysia. To date, there have been 19 cases and 14 decisions made in Malaysia regarding domain name disputes. Many of these disputes were, and continue to be, caused by cybersquatting: the act of registering a domain name that the registrant has no connection with. Popular choices for such domain names are "names of famous people, or businesses with which they usually have no connection". According to Yeo:

Usually, cybersquatters will register several variations of these names and then sell them back to the company or person involved, or auction them for prices sometimes way above the registration cost. More unscrupulous cybersquatters use these domain names to attract business to their own sites.
(Source: The Star Online, 16th December 2009. Domain name dispute resolution in Malaysia.)

Here are some definitions of cybersquatting:
  • The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act 1999 of America defines cybersquatting as "the registering of others' trademarks as domain names and profiting from the sale of those domain names or traffic through the site." (Source: AOL Legal Department, Legal Resources: Legislation: Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act 1999)
  • Monica Killian, PhD, wrote: "Cybersquatting is the practice of registering a trademark as a domain name with the intent of profiting from it by selling it, usually to the trademark owner. As long as the cybersquatter owns the domain name, the trademark owner cannot register its own trademark as a domain name. In this sense, the cybersquatter breaches the fundamental rights of the trademark owner to use its trademark." (Source: Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Sept. 2000). Monica Killian PhD, Cybersquatting and Trademark Infringement. Also archived at AustLII.)
  • John D Mercer wrote: "an illegal cybersquatter should be one who acquires a domain name for the sole purpose of obtaining money or other advantage from the trademark owner, with no intent or desire to use the domain name, except as an instrument toward this purpose." (Source: Monica Killian, ibid.)

Malaysian developments

Domain name disputes have cropped up in Malaysia. In the passing off case of Intel Corp v Intelcard Systems Sdn Bhd & Ors [2004] 1 MLJ 595, the first defendant, Intelcard, had registered the domain The presiding judge, Yang Arif Abdul Wahab Said Ahmad, JC decided:
  1. Intel, the plaintiff, successfully established that it had goodwill and reputation in the name "INTEL";
  2. The use of "INTEL" in the first defendant's company name was likely to cause confusion because the names were similar, and their businesses were in similar areas;
  3. The real test was whether, the first defendant being aware of the plaintiff's goodwill and reputation in the "INTEL" name, but still proceeding to use "INTEL" in its company name, had tried "to deceive and steal the business or commercial advantage of the plaintiff and to misrepresent a false connection and association with the plaintiff".
  4. The court was satisfied that Intel, the plaintiff, managed to prove the test;
  5. The first defendant's actions, if allowed to continue, would cause damage to the plaintiff's reputation and business;
  6. The plaintiff would suffer irreparable damage if the injunction was not granted, whereas the plaintiff could easily compensate the defendant with its large revenues;
  7. Intel's delay in taking action against the first defendant was not a bar as the plaintiff only discovered the defendant's presence online in 2002 and was trying to negotiate a settlement with the defendant (which failed).

Yeo wrote that the first reported case in Malaysia involving domain name disputes is Petroliam Nasional Bhd (PETRONAS) & Ors v Khoo Nee Kiong [2003] 4 CLJ 303:
The first reported Malaysian case involved the domain names “petronas”, “,” “” and “”, where the learned judge in the High Court of Penang ruled on the issue in the context of the law of passing off in the following manner:-
“By registering domain names that contain the word “petronas”, a serious issue to be tried had arisen as to whether the defendant was making the false representation that Araneum Consulting Services (trade name of the defendant) was connected to or associated with the plaintiffs or was the owner of the goodwill in the name of PETRONAS (the statutory acronym for Petroleum Nasional Berhad). Further, the said domain names were instruments of fraud and any realistic use of them as domain names would result in passing off. Hence, the interim prohibitory injunctions sought should be granted to restrain the defendant from passing off any domain names that contain the word 'petronas.”
(Source: Malayan Law Journal [2005] 2 MLJ xxxviii. Yeo Yee Ling, Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre For Arbitration (KLRCA)–At The Crossroads Of The Domain Name System Highway)

Other Jurisdictions

Shane Simpson, senior partner of a leading Australian IP law firm, presented during a conference in 1998:

In Harrods v UK Network Services Linited et al., 1996 H 5453, Harrods was registered in the "" domain. The defendants registered the Harrods name in the American ".com " domain. The court held that use of the ".com " domain name by anyone other than the Harrods constituted trade mark infringement and passing off.

Perhaps the most important case in this area is the recent decisions of Marks & Spencer, Ladbrokes, J. Sainsbury, Virgin Enterprises and British Telecom v One In A Million [see 28th November (1997) Ch 1997 M.5403; L.5404; J.5402; V.5401; B.5421 respectively].

All of the plaintiffs have very famous names but had failed to undertake a program of defensive registration of domain names. The defendants are dealers in Internet domain names. They register names or trademarks of well-known enterprises and sell them to potential users. Clearly it is done without the permission of those enterprises. These registrations included the following:
None of them were active sites. They were simply names registered by the defendants and available for such use.

As the judge in that case pointed out, for a dealer in Internet domain names there are only four uses to which the names can be put:

  • "The first and most obvious is that it may be sold to the enterprise whose name or trademark has been used, which may be prepared to pay a high price to avoid the inconvenience of there being a domain name comprising its own name or trade mark which is not under its control."
  • "Secondly, it may be sold to a third party unconnected with the name, so that he may try to sell it to the company whose name is being used, or else use it for purposes of deception."
  • "Thirdly it may be sold to someone with a distinct interest of his own in the name, for example a solicitor by the name of John Sainsbury or the government of the British Virgin Islands, with a view to its use by him."
  • "Fourth it may be retained by the dealer unused and unsold, in which case it serves only to block the use of that name as a registered domain name by others, including those whose name or trade mark it comprises."
The court had no trouble finding that a tort had been committed.
(Source: Shame Simpson, Name And Reputation In The Fourth Dimension. Conference paper presented at the CyberLaw Conference (Business Law Education Centre), Hilton Hotel Sydney, on 1 April 1998)


A new trend shows cybersquatters now registering subdomains, unique URL's, and usernames at popular websites. NST reported that Dell, a major computer vendor, managed to register, but Jeremy Fancher, a student at Washington University, registered and plans to sell it.
(Source: New Straits Times, Tech & U section, 22nd June 2009. Keeping true identity now a battle online.)

While this does not fall within the scope of a top-level domain name dispute, it seems that the same discussions surrounding domain name disputes, and the tort of passing off, apply as well. If members of the public can be confused, and a complainant suffer economic loss from such deception (e.g. visitors to the "fake" page are directed to visit a competitor's website) it seems likely that this may eventually become an area of dispute. Some discussion on the matter is emerging:
  • In November 2008, the Anti-Phishing Working Group issued a warning that "phishers" were increasingly exploiting subdomains at free web service providers to carry out their "phishing" scams. The APWG hypothesized that factors causing this included: (a) ease of set up; (b) registration can be anonymous; (c) phishing sites can be launched quickly; (d) web service providers frequently fail to collect accurate information from users; (e) absence of formal dispute resolution methods. (Source: APWG. November 2008. By D Piscitello and R Rasmussen. Making Waves in the Phisher’s Safest Harbor: Exposing the Dark Side of Subdomain Registries)
  • In 2007, two computer science researchers at University of Cambridge examined the effect of websites taking down phishing sites. They observed that "The mean lifetime of a normalphishing site is 61.69 hours, while for rock-phish domainthe mean lifetime is 94.68 hours." The success of free web service providers in taking down phishing sites depend on user responses, awareness of such web service providers, collusion amongst the phishers, and various DNS trade-offs. (Ref: University of Cambridge. By T Moore and R Clayton. Examining the Impact of Website Take-down on Phishing.)
  • Erik J Heels, a patent lawyer, wrote that 93% of the 100 top global brands have had their brandnames poached by squatters at He called for the creation of a Uniform Username Dispute Resolution Policy. (Source: Erik J Heels blog, 8th Jan 2009. How To Twittersquat the Top 100 Brands.)
  • A free web service, User Name Check, helps to check 68 (17 x 4) popular websites to see if the username has been taken.
  • Lloyd Jassin, a copyright attorney, encouraged readers of his blog to register their trademarks as usernames for accounts at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. (Source: By Lloyd Jassin. Fighting Facebook “Name Squatters”. Accessed 19th January 2010.)

In 1999, Jacqueline Lipton, then a lecturer at Monash University, explored the possibility of domain names being treated as collateral:
The issue of property rights in domain names becomes relevant to secured financing in situations where the value of a particular business may hinge significantly on its Internet presence and associated domain name. This will increasingly be the case in the global information age. ... as trade and, commensurately, finance, become more borderless and businesses deal less in physical commodities than in intangibles such as goodwill, know-how and software, financiers will have to seek out and protect the intangible value of a business as security for a loan. A significant part of such protection will likely be an attempt to gain some sort of security over the relevant domain name as a significantly valuable part of a business operating over the Internet.
(Source: Jacqueline Lipton, What's in a (Domain) Name? Web Addresses as Loan Collateral. 1999 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT).)

More than ten years have passed, but the practice of using domain names as collateral does not seem to have caught on. Perhaps financiers realise that the value of a domain name is tied to continuous innovation and successful, trouble-free running of the website, and not merely the domain name in itself. When the Internet first went mainstream in the 1990's, websites such as Lycos, Excite and Yahoo were very popular. Today, some of these websites seem to have declined in popularity as Web 2.0 functionality, convergence and social interactivity, become criteria for success. In preparing this article, it was found that Lycos was sold to a Spanish company in 2000 for $5.4 billion. After the Internet bubble burst, Lycos was resold to a South Korean company for $95.4 million in 2004. (Source: Wikipedia, entry on Lycos. Accessed 19-1-2010. Alternative source:, 8th Feb 2004. South Korean Company Buys Lycos.)

Readers should remember that Malaysian law and American law are quite different. Having said that, those still keen to use their domain name as collateral can read:
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