currently tracking : Google Aurora Attacks & Apple vs HTC IPR suit

excerpt from http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/03/source-code-hacks/

Hackers who breached Google and other companies in January targeted source-code management systems, security firm McAfee asserted Wednesday. They manipulated a little-known trove of security flaws that would allow easy unauthorized access to the intellectual property the system is meant to protect.

The software-management systems, widely used at businesses unaware that the holes exist, were exploited by the Aurora hackers in a way that would have enabled them to siphon source code, as well as modify it to make customers of the software vulnerable to attack. It’s akin to making yourself a set of keys in advance for locks that are going to be sold far and wide.
According to the paper, the hackers gained access to software-configuration management systems (SCM), which could have allowed them to steal proprietary source code or surreptitiously make changes to the code that could seep undetected into commercial versions of the company’s product. Stealing the code would allow attackers to examine the source code for vulnerabilities, in order to develop exploits to attack customers who use the software, such as Adobe Reader, for example.

Apple vs HTC IPR suit : http://arstechnica.com/apple/news/2010/03/apple-vs-htc-a-proxy-fight-over-android-could-last-years.ars

a roundup from the highly flammable comments section:

How’s the quote go? “Good artists create, grate artists steal” Sucks for you Mr. Jobs. It’s like APPL vs. MSFT all over again. Mr. Jobs should of learned the first time this happened, he let Mr. Schmidt get too close and bam! What do you know all of a sudden you have a cheaper comparable product that anyone can build on and improve upon. How Mr. Jobs didn’t see this coming again in perplexing to me.All in all aside with the snarky comment, this move reeks of fear. Maybe apple just realized that they can’t compete with a ton of open source dev’s backed by google. Not to mention the hardware side where you have several manufactures cranking out several phones a piece with prices ranging from dirt cheap ($50 to buy a new droid these days) to cheaper then the iphone. All of them with more or less the same capability, some of them much more. Mark my words, android will slowly destroy the head start that apple has with the iPhone and overtake them unless apple come up with some real reason to stay in their closed more expensive eco-system.

Even as a loyal Apple customer I am not sure that I like their approach. One question I have is whether there is a fine line in between defending a patent and an anti-trust lawsuit?

Its all about the iTunes Money!

Okay, we’ve all heard the news that Apple has opened a multi-patent (20 of them) lawsuit against mobile handset maker HTC. HTC is a mobile computing and cellular handset maker and subcontractor that makes quite a few handsets that run Android and Windows Mobile. They either make them and sell them themselves, or they’re subcontracted out by Google, Microsoft and various mobile carriers to design handsets. The company also creates custom skins and interfaces for Android and Windows Mobile that can better fit the overall design of the different handsets.The company is based in Taiwan and has been around since 1997.

Now, looking at the list of patents that aren’t in legalese or engineer-ese, some are quite laughable at best. It seems Apple invented and holds patents for ‘Object Oriented Operating Systems’, Touch Based Gestures that Unlock Mobile Communication Devices’, and even ‘Programming a CPU to Interact With an Operating System for Battery Saving Measures’. Further reading also indicated that Apple claims invention of ‘Multi-Touch’, ‘Phone CPU Undervolting’, ‘Large On-Screen Fisher Price Colored Icons’, and even ‘Applications and the Online Mobile Only Store That Sells Them’. So they’re suing HTC to stop Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile sales because they touch things too.

Pretty laughable to say the least. A few of the patents are even from 1995! If memory serves me correctly; Xerox invented the object oriented operating system with interactive icons back in the early and mid 1970s. And a company called Palm was working on a touch and gesture mobile device in 1995 and it was called the Palm. And Apple in the early and mid 80s tried suing Microsoft for copying its ‘Object Oriented Operating System’. Apple lost that one and software patents have been of dubiousness since then. Heck, Windows Mobile had touch screen and touch gesture capability before the first iPhone was a rumor and HTC and Toshiba made the handsets.

It is somewhat surprising that Apple received some of the patents in question, such as the patent on “Conserving Power By Reducing Voltage Supplied To An Instruction-Processing Portion Of A Processor”. When you really look at it (and show it to a licensed electrician), the patent basically is talking about saving power by supplying less voltage to a circuit and switching circuits on and off to do so. That’s obviously been done before (prior art), but its a given by the laws of nature (power = current * voltage). If that’s patentable, the concept of die shrinks and Moore’s Law should be patentable, overclocking and underclocking would be patentable, and a whole host of other things made possible by laws of nature, physics, and thermodynamics should be patentable as well.

I’m no patent lawyer and looking through the technical details of a good portion of these patents made my head hurt. I know my computer history very well, know the ins and outs of various operating systems from the last 20 years, and I know my way around all sorts of hardware.

So what’s really going on here? Why go after just HTC? They just make the handsets and a few modifications to the Android and Windows Mobile operating systems. There’s lots of other mobile handsets and a couple of other touch screen operating systems.

I think I know what’s going on here and it has nothing to do about patents.

It has everything to do with the iTunes revenue stream and walled garden that Apple has created. Its all about the money!

Let’s put technical and patent talk away now. When Apple released and made the iTunes Store, they created a massive revenue stream that included music, movies, tv shows, and apps for all their mobile devices (iPod, iPhone, and all things iTouchy). While Apple’s markup on their hardware sales (40% in most cases) is the highest in the industry, its all the deals they made with the entertainment industry to make content available to thier mobile portfolio that’s got Apple rolling in dough. And allowing developers to create applications for their mobile things also had Apple making dump trucks worth of cash from the cut they were taking in sales.

So to put it simply, anything associated with iTunes, including keeping all the hardware tied to it, is making Apple loads and piles of money. Follow me? Good.

Apple has already shown displeasure at the various music labels and tv and movie studios for double dipping and selling and licensing the same content on not only iTunes, but also Amazon, Pandora, MySpace, YouTube, their own respective sites, and Hulu. And those various companies have acquiescenced to Apple in some cases, but have also complained about Apple’s wall garden mentality of iTunes and iDevices only. Many developers are also taking their apps and either developing them for Windows Mobile and Android as well or they’ve moved past the iDevice App Store because of Apple’s sporadic, draconian, and inept App Store policies.

Still doesn’t explain the whole patent thing, right? But I am giving you a direction to think in. By suing HTC, Apple hopes to put a big stop to handset development in the Android and WinMo spaces. And to send a shot across the bow of Microsoft and Google, however indirectly that may be. Suing Google and or Microsoft would be suicide for Apple. They’d get squashed.

There’s one company that hasn’t been mentioned in this dispute. But they have been mentioned in another dispute with Apple’s mobile iTouchy devices. Its Adobe and their Flash platform.

We all know what Flash is. Its the video technology behind YouTube and all those TV shows and movies you watch on Hulu or CBS’s or NBC’s website. Its the games you play like Bejeweled and Collapse. Or how’s about all those games you play on Facebook like Farmville and Mafia Wars? Many business websites use Flash for their front end (UPS and Fedex off the top of my head).

That’s a lot of content that’s available on the Flash platform, and Adobe has a massive developer network that has been creating and developing with Flash and its development suite for years. They’re very close to releasing Flash 10.1 for quite a bevy of mobile devices which include Windows Mobile, Android, Zune, Blackberry, Nokia (Symbian and Maemo) and a few others (which will use Flash Lite). That’s alot of movies, music, tv shows, apps, and games that will be available for free or through other paid services on quite a large number of mobile devices.

Well, all except Apple’s mobile iTouch devices that is.

See, there’s that whole iTunes wall garden compound of Apple’s that contains most of Apple’s revenue stream. And Apple is scared. For the first time in a number of years, Apple has some serious competition to the iTunes hardware, software, and content ecosystem. There’s the Android OS and it’s App Market. The Windows Mobile 7 Series, its Windows Mobile Marketplace, the Zune players and the Zune Marketplace (and the availability of Xbox Live content too). Nokia’s handsets and its Symbian and Maemo OSes with the Ovi Store. And pretty soon Adobe’s going to enter the fray with Flash content on all those devices and operating systems. Even a mobile version of Mozilla’s Firefox browser is on the way and all the respective application plug-ins that come with that framework.

That’s a lot of competition for Apple on the hardware, software, web, and content front. And a direct threat to the iTunes walled garden revenue stream. So what does Apple do? It takes a bunch of its patents, even the old pre-return of Steve Jobs, and files a patent lawsuit in the hopes to at least stall the development and release of all that competition. Its that plain and simple. Apple has $40 billion in the bank and no debt. A patent lawsuit as a stalling tactic is a drop in the bucket for them; money-wise at least anyways.

Remember the tepid reaction to the iPad when it was revealed? Apple was just as surprised to the tepid reaction people were tepid to the product reveal. From showing off a giant iPhone that still used AT&T’s 3G data network, to showing off the so called full featured internet functions (with 1/4 of the NY Times webpage missing due to not including Flash), to Steve Jobs calling Flash buggy and dying technology and Adobe’s developers as lazy, and not to mention all the missing print content publishers who won’t release their content because of Apple’s diehard insistence to be keymaster and gatekeeper to all things App Store and its content. Even the games shown off weren’t all that impressive.

But by filling a stalling patent lawsuit, Apple hopes to hold off this onslaught of hardware and content competition and find a way to shore up its own revenue generating ecosystem to avoid another tepid reaction when the next iPhone is revealed.

Steve Job’s comments about Adobe and its developers really got Adobe sharpening its swords for a fight. They rallied the troops and partnered up with most of the big mobile players. They’re unleashing the ‘lazy’ developers, the ‘buggy’ Flash platform, and all that cross device content to as many mobile systems as possible.

I’ve been using my Motorola Droid for a week now and I’m amazed with everything I can do, how its done, and customize my handset to my liking. The screen is gorgeous and pretty soon I’ll be checking out a few Hulu shows, checking out a few upcoming video game trailers in HD Flash, and playing a few free games like Bejeweled and Collapse.

That type of freedom from all sorts of different sources and devices is what scares Apple most. They as a company have never truly competed outside of their walled compound. Its always been about only their hardware, their software, their content, and only the applications and content they allow in on their terms and conditions. Apple used to be the trendsetter, the innovator, the ‘Think Different’ crowd. Now they find themselves in a position they haven’t been in in years; playing catch up. They got complacent, greedy, and egotistical. And they’re going to pay for it.

You don’t seem to understand the patents. Apple did not patent launching a phone or a smartphone or an internet-enabled device or a touch screen internet enabled smartphone or a device built from common parts. Apple patented how very important parts of the iPhone did its magic. Bad people steal Apple magic. Apple fight bad people.

I’m not sure what you mean by technology? Above you talk about touch screens, ARM processors and 3G and you can’t patent hardware choices. What Apple patented was methods of users interfacing with the phone (which when the iPhone was introduced was close to revolutionary) and the ways in which its technology actually worked.

Things like the unlock-gesture are relatively minor patents but we’ve had touch screen technology for about 20 years in PDAs and I’ve never seen such a simple method to unlock a device before. It’s quick, simple and intuitive, it may well have taken Apple a lot of work to get there and that’s why it was patented. The simplest things can be very, very difficult to develop. Obviousness is something that often only comes with hindsight.

Historically this could be an interesting development. As people have noted, a lot of these dubious patents have being kept in reserve as a defense mechanism. Suddenly (at least in the mobile space) these patents are coming out of the woodwork in a potential tech Armageddon. No one believes it will come to that, but obviously some sort of a power struggle or reshuffle is occurring.

Apple obviously believes it will benefit from an industry wide IP shakeup. How realistic is that. How many enemies will they make doing so. Perhaps the earlier RIM patent case has given them reasons for optimism. However unlike the RIM patents, Apple has a real business to defend from counter attacks.

This does not look like business as usual where large patent holding business diligently circle the wagons and avoid each other. Apple is casting itself as the outside aggressor, saying it stands above them. This could get messy.

Isn’t this really about how the Internet market for information will be defined? Apple is pushing a Pay-For model, and Google is pushing a Paid-By-Advertizing model. Apple has world dominance over distribution of music, smart phone apps, and is trying for world dominance over “printed” material with iPad. Google has world dominance over distribution of Web searches, maps, and air-borne and space imagery.

Isn’t the patent issue just a vehicle for disrupting Google’s progress while Apple advances?

Reminds me of the time that Apple took Microsoft to court for stealing the idea of having a Garbage can icon. Apple had to know they would win that one (perhaps they did it just for the PR). In this case Apple is claiming a patent violation on the idea of scaling back the CPU voltage when the device is not in use. For an encore I’ll bet they will try to place a patent on the use of electrons.

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