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Thursday, 23 November 2017

Setting Up A Business

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There's a saying that many famous inventors died poor and penniless. One example was Nikola Tesla, who despite being a genius, was forced to work for other, more savvy inventors. You've probably head about his rivalry with Thomas Edison: Nikola Tesla ended up penniless and broke, while Thomas Edison became a rich old man.

But Thomas Edison was more than just an ordinary patent-publishing inventor. He was also a gifted businessman who knew how to make a deal. He was gifted with vision and if he were alive today, he would probably be known as a thought leader. He also knew when to stop when he was ahead.

On the left, Thomas Alva Edison. On the right, Nikola Tesla. Both great inventors. One died penniless. One died rich.

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Friday, 3 November 2017

My friend's questions on Blockchain, and my answers (LinkedIn)

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I have a friend who's doing IT. Recently he's become interested in Blockchain, and so, he asked his question on LinkedIn about Blockchain. And then he tagged me and asked for my take on it. Since I wrote at length to answer his queries, I would like to post my answers here as well, as a record of my "Proof of Work".

My friend's question

This is what he wrote: 

I am curious about block chain technology. Bitcoin, ethereum etc. How is the public able to continuing "support" the requirements? I mean a node need to have very huge storage space to store the copy of the smart contract which is growing every few seconds or minutes. What happen if all of the old copies of transactions deleted from all the nodes?

When at certain time a transaction need to be audited, how is it going to be done? Is it audited all the time or after a few years later, "someone" (or group of nodes) will try to audit the same piece of transaction again? That time, how many nodes will be involve in the audit jobs? I only learn about mining software develop by programmers, never read about the software for the audit process. Is the audit process part of the mining process?

How can people use something like ethereum which is still a piece of software under development which may contain bugs and security issues. If ethereum is not a currency like bitcoin, why we still keep it inside a wallet?

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Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Patent Invalidation

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Disclaimer: This blog post does not constitute legal advice. You should consult with your lawyer before you make any decisions inspired by the text of this blog post.

In Malaysia, as in many other jurisdictions of the world, there is a procedure known as patent invalidation. What it is, is a procedure to remove the protection of law given to a patent holder, and to declare that the patent in fact is invalid. Hence, the word "invalidation".

The effect of invalidation is that the patent is no longer valid, and the whole world may then proceed to exploit the invention as disclosed in the (now invalidated) patent.

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Saturday, 30 September 2017

The challenges in getting a trademark

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Getting a trademark can be challenging.

If you are starting a business, it's probably common to receive advice that you should register your trademark. Registering a trademark comes with benefits, such as proof of when you first registered it, and making it clear how you use the trademarks. Having a registered trademark is also an asset for your business as the trademark is seen as part of your company's intangible assets.

Some of the world's most valuable trademarks are shown above.

Trademarks also make it easier to challenge imitators and counterfeit producers. When a counterfeit item is detected in the market, the trademark owner can get a lawyer to demand that the counterfeiter stop selling and stop producing the counterfeit items. Subsequently, the counterfeiter can be sued in a court of law for damages, delivery up of sales, general damages, loss of profits, and the like. So, getting a trademark has its benefits for businesses, and businesses should not baulk at the upfront cost of applying for a trademark.

But there are challenges when applying for a trademark. Here are some of them.

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Friday, 29 September 2017

When Bitcoin is accepted by street vendors

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Street Vendors Get In On Bitcoin

The above photo became viral on the Malaysian social media networks recently. It shows a lady called "Jijah" who was selling food at her stall. If you look at the basket, it's probably some kind of nasi lemak, the usual fare for breakfast. The lady in the photo isn't that young, probably in her 40's at best. 

What this means is that even street vendors know that Bitcoin is rising in value. And they are trying to get in on it. Does it make sense for them? Absolutely. They are getting paid in Bitcoin and they don't have to deposit it into the local bank. The government won't be able to tell how much money they have made. Best of all it will appreciate in value.

But is it a bubble?

I remember when I was younger, a wise man gave me some sagely advice. He said, "When you get information from bankers and lawyers that nobody else knows about, it is highly sought after wisdom! Treasure it! But when you get information from taxi drivers and barbers that everybody else knows about, it is probably a bubble! Beware!"

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Sunday, 24 September 2017

Bitcoin, the inventorless invention

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If you haven't been hiding under a rock all this while, you've probably heard of Bitcoin by now. Since last year, its value has gone up 4 to 5 times.Last year around this time, Bitcoin was trading for about USD609. Today, its price is at USD3640. So if you had invested USD1000 last year, this time, you'd be able to get back about USD6000 today.

Around this time last year, one Bitcoin was sold at USD609. Today, it's at USD3,640.

Bitcoin is unique because governments are taking notice of it. It was the first cryptocurrency that really took off in a big way, although, truth be told, it wasn't the first. There were earlier attempts to make cryptocurrencies, many of which did not take off.

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Friday, 25 August 2017

Registering the offending, offensive trademark

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Draining Offensive Words of Their Power

In the USA, recently, there was a case of Matal v Tam, which broke new ground. It was a case that established that certain previously unregistrable trademarks could be registered. 

Under the previous position, it was understood that the law allowed trademark applications in the US to be registered, except for certain exceptions. (Ref: 15 U.S. Code § 1052)

The Slants, an American band. They were the reason for Matal v Tam. 

One of these exceptions was if a trademark "consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute".

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Monday, 24 July 2017

Drafting an agreement is like programming

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At 11 o'clock in the morning, I waited at a "mamak" restaurant for my friend to arrive. The place was in a quiet corner of the Curve. Customers chattered, tapping away at laptops, sipping teh tarik, some smoking, some deep in conversation. People hang out there to kill time, before heading elsewhere for the real appointment.

Programming is like contract writing, or maybe it is vice versa.

When he arrived, I shook hands with the friend who had moved successfully from IT to finance. We spoke of various matters, and life in general.

And then he shared a pearl of wisdom, which felt like an out-of-place luxury. "I used to do programming," he said casually, "and it helped me to understand how to vet and draft an agreement."

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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Hip hop artist sends Coca-Cola letter of demand in a music video

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It happened in Canada...

A hip hop artist with the stage name B. Rich (real name Brendan Richmond) made a music video a few years back, called "Out for a Rip". It has more than 12 million views on YouTube as of today.

One day, Mr Richmond was informed that Coca-Cola has marketed its famous Coca-Cola drink in packaging that says, "Out for a Rip". (This was the name of his song.)

The hip hop artist had trademarked the phrase a few years back, and he wasn't pleased. 

The Canadian hip hop artist, Mr Brendan Richmond, a.k.a. B. Rich, holding a Coca-Cola bottle bearing the infringing words, "Out for a Rip"

So, he asked all his Facebook friends to post photos of themselves with Coca-Cola bottles that have this new "Out for a Rip" packaging.

His attorney, Rob Kettridge, has issued a letter of demand, which is incorporated into this novel music video, which you can find on YouTube as "Out for a Sip". (See below for the video)

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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Waymo vs Otto, or, the Google vs Uber proxy fight

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Hello Anthony

Anthony Levandowski. Picture from (which got it from NY Times)

Anthony Levandowski is an ex-employee of Google who had joined the company in 2007. Notably, he was involved in "lidar", which stands for "light detection and ranging", a way to detect objects using the principle of radar, but using light from a laser.

Anthony later joined Waymo, the Google spin-off which focused on self-driving vehicles.

Uber Tech / Ottomotto Patent

In February 2017, US Patent no. 9582003 was granted. It had been filed in June 2016 by Ottomotto LLC and Uber Technologies, LLC. for an invention entitled "Method for maintaining active control of an autonomous vehicle". There are two inventors named in the patent, one of which is Anthony Levandowski. The other is Don Burnette.
Part of the drawings from US Patent No. 9582003

Anthony's name was an inventor in this patent which deals with self-driving vehicles. It's nothing interesting, the patent is only about how to maintain control of a semi-autonomous vehicle, i.e. the vehicle is expected to be controlled by a human sometimes. When the human isn't driving, technology takes over. When the human wants the car back, technology gives it back.

But it's interesting now, because Waymo (the Google-owned spin-off) is now suing Otto (the Uber-owned company). And Anthony, an ex-Google employee, has his name in numerous patents filed by Google as co-inventor, for example, US Patent No. US 20160291134 A1, "Long Range Steerable LIDAR System".

Anthony is the link.

Fox Business describes it as follows: "Waymo, a self-driving car company spun off from Google, sues Uber. Waymo alleges that Anthony Levandowski — a former top manager for Google's self-driving car project and now the executive running Uber's self-driving car division — stole pivotal technology propelling Uber's effort to build autonomous vehicles."

Hello Otto

As the article (see above) states, Anthony's involvement in the whole matter is bigger than that. He had resigned from Waymo to form his own startup, which involved self-driving vehicles as well, called Otto.

Otto began quietly, with a blog announcement in May 2016 of their big idea: self-driving trucks. Here is an excerpt from that first piece, "Introducing Otto, the startup rethinking commercial trucking":
Highways are the backbone of America. They are the country’s original network, and have sparked new communities and businesses in their wake. Today, U.S. interstate highways total 222,000 miles and carry the 4.3 million commercial trucks that have become just as powerful a symbol of the American transportation system as the roads themselves.

But on these highways, these very same trucks are causing an unacceptable number of fatalities every year, and truck drivers have experienced a gradual decline in quality of life as conditions worsen and expectations rise. It is this that has compelled us at Otto to deliver the self-driving technology that will help transform our transportation system and bring safety to our roads.

On any given day, trucks move 70 percent of all cargo in the U.S. — that’s 14 billion tons of freight annually. In the coming years, those numbers will continue to tick upwards to keep pace with our growing demand for even more goods, delivered more quickly.

But what was a marvel of engineering and innovation a century ago is now no longer able to keep up with modern day demands. One in seven trucks is driving empty on the road, contributing to the severe congestion on our highways. Large trucks make up one percent of vehicles on the road but create 28 percent of road-based pollution.

These issues are compounded further by the fact that highways — which we already rely on so heavily — also have a poor safety record. Over the years, we’ve become complacent about the significant toll of traffic-related accidents, especially when it comes to trucks. While trucks drive just 5.6 percent of all U.S. miles, they’re at fault for nearly 9.5 percent of all driving fatalities: in recent years, on average, eight people die on the road due to truck accidents every day.

We currently lack both the infrastructure and personnel to support the surge in demand for trucking. In 2015 the American Trucking Association reported a shortage of nearly 50,000 drivers, projected to grow to nearly 150,000 by 2020. This is no small gap to fill, especially given the grueling nature of the job and the declining conditions in which the current 1.6 million truck drivers in the U.S. are expected to operate — something explored in this recent Atlantic article in detail.

It’s time to rethink the way we move goods on the road.

It certainly reads like a pitch, and a very good one at that. 1 in 7 trucks carries no load. Trucks are 1% of the nation's vehicles but cause 28% of its traffic congestion. Which venture capitalist wouldn't love that line of reasoning? Solve the problem, change the world.

Noble thoughts. And May 2016 was also when the 9582003 patent was filed.

By the next blog post, Otto's blog announced that they were joining Uber.
When we founded Otto, we committed to rethinking transportation. Today we are taking a leap forward by joining the Uber team to deliver on that promise.

Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation: first, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are.
Things were picking up pace. Otto was going places.

Until Waymo sued this year.

There are various allegations now being made by Waymo against Anthony.

  • Anthony downloaded more than 14,000 documents from Waymo's design server;
  • The documents comprise more than 9.7 gigabytes of information, and include the design for the circuit board of Waymo;
  • Anthony had also downloaded confidential information pertaining to Waymo's lidar sensors; 
  • In Decemer 2016, Waymo allegedly receives an email for circuit board drawings for Otto, which look remarkably like those of Waymo.
With that last e-mail, it seems that Waymo became aware of what Anthony had been working on, and decided to sue.

Spectrum IEEE says that the e-mail came from one of Waymo's suppliers, Gorilla Circuits, which had been intended for Uber engineers, but was accidentally sent to a Waymo employee. 

Alas, the pitfalls of using the same suppliers.

How do Google's self-driving cars work?

They use "lidar", which stands for "light detection and ranging". Unfortunately, that explanation is about as helpful as a dictionary definition of blue: it won't make sense until you see it. Which means, we have to show it to you.

So here is how Google's self-driving cars work:

Here's a self-driving Waymo-branded car.

Here's a self-driving Google-branded car.

The lidar system sits atop the car, always spinning like R2D2, catching objects and helping the AI to figure out where things are. Sensors around the car detect objects so that the car can avoid them.

This is a type of technology that has the potential to herald a new age of vehicles. Transportation will change forever. Remember the movie that Arnold Schwarzeneggar starred in, "Total Recall"? There was a taxi driven by a robot. Self-driving cars are a lot like that, and I think that robots can sometimes be software-only. Not everything needs to be hardware. (Although, a lot of sci-fi geeks like to think that holographic projection is the way of the future.)

With something this big, it's no surprise that Waymo decided to protect its rights. They cannot afford to let Otto take off with the technology, even though it is applied to trucks and not to cars. (But good patents would never go so specific as to confine their claims to trucks only).


The Waymo vs Otto case seems like a case of theft of trade secrets, at least the way it is being painted. However, the article also noted that the judge had raised the question of why the court action is against Otto, and not Anthony, as the allegations of theft of trade secrets involve Anthony's conduct. 

It seems that much litigation involving trade secrets is nothing more than "damage control", because the fact has already happened. So when trade secrets find their way to competitors' hands, restraining orders and injunctions seem to be the way to go, in addition to seeking criminal punishment for the culprit who stole the trade secrets in the first place.

While crimes involving theft of trade secrets are punishable in the USA, in Malaysia the Penal Code has yet to catch up with this particularly heinous crime. In other words, there does not seem to be any criminal punishment for theft of trade secrets in Malaysia. 

This does not mean, however, that the culprit will escape scot free. It means that the culprit can be sued for monetary damages by his employer. But when the outcome is dependent on long and expensive litigation, some companies tend to steer away from it. Who can afford lawyers' fees?

Malaysian companies that do not wish to face the same predicament would do well to try to limit employees' access to sensitive information that can be classified as "trade secrets". But when you look at the facts of the Waymo vs Otto case, the fact that Anthony took serious efforts to download information from the server means that, in all likelihood, the server was well protected. And if it happened to Google, do you think you could do a better job? (But then again, your employee might be someone less skilled and determined.)

This is an interesting case that warrants further study. In the meantime, I do hope that the Malaysian legislators will think about coming up with penal laws for theft of trade secrets.

Read my previous post

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Use PatentScope

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WIPO stands for the World Intellectual Property Organization

Use this Free Tool

WIPO, the World Intellectual Property Organization, has a tool that's available for free, called PatentScope. With this tool, it is possible to search prior art patents from multiple databases, which many inventors pay professionals to do.

PatentScope covers quite a number of countries, but to date, does not include Malaysia. (That means, if you want to search the Malaysian patent database online, you'll have to look elsewhere.)

You could think of PatentScope as a tool for researching prior art. But it could be more than that, too.

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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

MP3 is finally patent-free

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MP3: The world's favourite music file format

A long, long time ago, when mankind first started to digitize audio into computer formats, they used wave files, which typically sported the extension "WAV". These wave files stored audio faithfully, while preserving their values, but required great amounts of storage space, as they were typically quite large.

After much effort and study of the problem, a group of clever researchers came up with the "MP3" format, which was a "lossy" audio format. This development made it possible to convert wave files to the MP3 format, which took up much less storage, thus paving the way for the digital music revolution. (This development was also paralleled in the digital images industry, where images were first scanned and digitized as bitmaps... with the extension "BMP". That all changed with the rise of "lossy" encoding, through the JPEG file format.)

Music became more and more commonly digitized. I remember ripping CD's using nothing more than a personal computer and a CD-RW drive. It made it possible for me to store quite a bit of my CD collection in my old desktop computer (which sadly, has figuratively died and gone to computer heaven). It was a wonderful time for young people who loved music; so much so that they began swapping CD's and ripping each others' CD's into their own computers.

But then, the dark days came. 

Napster began as a peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing service, enabling people to share the music files that they owned, with their peers. Normally, this would not be controversial, as friends often do swap their books and CD's. The problem was that copyrighted material was now digitized and shared with the whole wide world (commonly known as "WWW"), thus leading to a loss of music CD sales.

The music recording industry panicked, and launched an all-out attack on Napster and its ilk. Other services, such as Audiogalaxy (which I used), were targeted as well. A new threat was identified: Torrenting, which continues to this day. 

The music industry mourned the demise of its glory days.

The courts meted out heavy fines and penalties. Young and old, men and women who shared songs like  "Happy Birthday" and "Merry Christmas" on their hard disks soon found themselves facing the long arm of the law.

Sharing got a bad name then.

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