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Woz and the RCA Character-generator Patent

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-got-patent-pending-on-that dept.

Patents 219

doperative writes with this quote from Steve Wozniak: "A lot of patents are pretty much not worth that much ... In other words, any fifth-grader could come up with the same approach ... And then we find out RCA has a patent on a character generator for any raster-scanned setup .. And they patented it at a time when nobody could have envisioned it really being used or anything ... and they got five bucks for each Apple II, based on this little idea that's not even an idea. Y'know: store the bits, store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."

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So uhh (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023060)

A text based display would have been completely non-obvious at a time when everything was coming out on paper tapes, with maybe a 7 segment vfd here and there.

Are you that retarded? Or that young?

Re:So uhh (4, Insightful)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023210)

You are the least insightful anonymous coward ever.

Re:So uhh (2)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023484)

I agree. The patent seems appropriate for the time period. If it was so obvious to Woz, why didn't they contest the patent?

Re:So uhh (3, Interesting)

k_187 (61692) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023698)

Because there's a good chance that just paying the 5 bucks was cheaper. Wikipedia says that between 5 and 6 million Apple II's were sold. Assuming 5.5 million were sold and that all of them are affected by this patent, that's 27.5 million over 16 years as opposed to a patent lawsuit up front and missing out on the first few years of sales.

Re:So uhh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024230)

RIGHT. At the time, this was significant technology. That may be hard to imagine now, but at the time, it was NOT trivial technology. It might seem so to us now, but then it wasn't.
SO - was RCA a technology visionary, who realized they had a hold on an important new technology, or just a patent troll? IMHO, they were a visionary, and Woz should have invented his own chip if he didn't like the situation. Hey, maybe he might have invented something better? Who knows?

Re:So uhh (3, Insightful)

skywire (469351) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023674)

Often, once a question or problem arises, the answer is obvious. The problem may not be obvious; it may not yet have arisen many if any times, Nevertheless, the solution is obvious, and when presented with the problem and a description of the elements of the problem, any reasonably intelligent fifth-grader with a modicum of arithmetic skills would figure out the solution -- often the only or at least most elegant solution, the one that no-one would fail to arrive at. Such solutions are not supposed to be patentable. You are applying the obviousness test to the wrong thing.

Re:So uhh (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024386)

Often, once a question or problem arises, the answer is obvious. The problem may not be obvious; it may not yet have arisen many if any times, Nevertheless, the solution is obvious

I dare to disagree.

Having a fixed font size character set stored in graphics cards isnt obvious. Sure, it is (or at least was) convenient, since the size of the graphics memory can be significantly reduced, you only need one byte for a character as opposed to setting each pixel (think the font size used to be 8x14 back then).

In real mode modern graphic cards still have the text mode memory at B800:0000 (as opposed to the graphics memory at A000:0000) even if it rarely used anymore as most people have the OS running in graphics mode and all the text rendering is done via software.

Re:So uhh (3, Informative)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024730)

This, good sir, is the essence of much excellent engineering. The solution, once discovered, is obvious.

Finding the obvious is all the work.

And just an aside, but since titling was probably a nasty bit of work in early television, RCA would have been thinking about how to do this in a much better way than printed cards held up to the camera. RCA was inventing LCDs in 1962. A character generator concept would have been 'obvious' then, and the application to television not far behind in hindsight. Patent 33456458 was issued in 1963, patent 3426344 filed in 1967, somewhat contemporaneous with LCD development. Woz is off-base on this one. Not much, but he is off-base.

Besides, the hope that RCA wasn't exploring television technology in the 60s is a faint hope indeed. Their LCD work was prescient, superceded only by Sharp and their success in making it commercially viable.

store twice, then pop?? (3, Interesting)

mehrotra.akash (1539473) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023090)

Could someone explain to me why we store twice before popping??

"store the bits, store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."

Re:store twice, then pop?? (2)

naz404 (1282810) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023110)

double buffering

Re:store twice, then pop?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023150)

It's pretty much simple, pretty much. You pretty much store pretty much of the bits and pretty much output them pretty much, but not that much.

Re:store twice, then pop?? (2)

Dan East (318230) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023216)

That was a direct quote from Woz's keynote speech. So I think it was just his speaking style. He probably said it more like:
"Y'know: store the bits. [pause] Store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."

I think you're right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023770)

FTFA:
>> But it wasn't Double Cream Blueberry that attracted Woz & Co. "Marie Callender's has split-pea soup, split-pea soup with the ham."

Re:store twice, then pop?? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023230)

Could someone explain to me why we store twice before popping??

One for the shape and the other for the color.

Don't stop at Paul Allen (3, Interesting)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023166)

He might also want to have a word with his old buddy Steve Jobs too. Apple has been getting meaningless patents left and right, just like MS and all these other corps. And at least Allen and Gates are using some of their ridiculous money for charity. What exactly has Jobs been doing to innovate, or contribute to the world?

I love Woz, but if he's going to criticize, he needs to include his old friends and not just his old enemies.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023186)

well he's been stockpiling livers. expensive business, that.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023360)

well he's been stockpiling livers. expensive business, that.

Don't forget why the livers are needed - and where the VAST majority of Apple's profits go - LSD

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023408)

And yet the iPhone 4 still tastes more like kumquats than the desired strawberries.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (3, Funny)

smitty97 (995791) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023310)

You're right! Here's a photo of one of Allen's charities:

http://d2omthbq56rzfx.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Megayacht-Octopus-plus-Paul-Allen.jpg [cloudfront.net]

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Ogive17 (691899) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023442)

Think of how many jobs building and manning that ship created.

It's much better when rich people spend their money instead of hoard it.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023724)

And this is better then investing the money back in research and development? You can't count the contribution a project makes to the economy by how much jobs are created if those jobs don't serve a use to greater society.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024076)

Yes, right...
Spending the money so a man can feed his family - until a rich man decides that they don't like that the poor man does not pay his share of taxes or has too many luxuries, then lays them off or offshores their job as an economic protest - all the while becoming more beholden to a rich man for his livelihood.

That money should go to creating a society which enables people to further their human dignity to become independent, or at least cooperative.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024350)

That's like thinking that breaking windows boosts the economy because it's someone's job to replace the window. Useless consumption of resources is not good, whether it is for replacing needlessly destroyed stuff or for creating needlessly wasteful stuff. When rich people "hoard" money, they actually invest it and other people use that money to create useful things. When rich people turn to one-upping other rich people in consumerism, they waste an exorbitant amount of the planet's resources.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

DrXym (126579) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024378)

Supply side Jesus applauds your sentiment.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023840)

Am I the only one who is reminded of an Imperial Star Destroyer while looking at that thing?

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024042)

Here's another one: Allen Institute for Brain Science [alleninstitute.org]

And he's pledged to give away most of his money before/when he passes - that he creates jobs, has a nice ship and has and will give away BILLIONS is a problem for you, smitty97?

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (2)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023338)

>>>I love Woz, but if he's going to criticize, he needs to include his old friends and not just his old enemies.

Never criticize the boss/managers/your employers. Unless you want to be listed at the top of the list, when the next round of layoffs happen.

ALSO not a wise idea to act as if you have nothing to do. I had one idiot... I mean coworker go to our boss and say, "Things are kinda slow. Do you have something for me to work on?" He was let go on Thursday.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023432)

Yeah, well that's why corporations suck. What should have happened was that the boss got sacked for being incompetent dead wood. Either the employee wasn't being adequately kept in the loop about what needs doing or the boss wasn't aware of dead wood, in either case the boss ought to have been terminated.

But that rarely if ever happens because it's generally more important to subjugate the employees than for management to produce anything of value.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

TheCouchPotatoFamine (628797) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023678)

Yeah, well that's why corporations suck. What should have happened was that the boss got sacked for being incompetent dead wood. Either the employee wasn't being adequately kept in the loop about what needs doing or the boss wasn't aware of dead wood, in either case the boss ought to have been terminated.

THIS. Your ethical behavior will result in immediate termination!

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023504)

>> He was let go on Thursday.

Only 'cause the guys down in H.R. were bored.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (2)

smelch (1988698) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023514)

Well first of all I'm fairly certain Woz is not working for Steve Jobs anymore. Secondly, if you have no work to do and don't ask for me work then all you are is somebody trying to preserve their job. Sometimes the attitudes of people on here about their jobs astounds me. A bunch of the community come off as trying to preserve their jobs while doing as little work as possible. If you aren't working your hardest to make your current responsibilities obsolete, what are you doing? That kind of lazy attitude disgusts me. Don't you have any pride?

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024128)

Woz is an employee (of sorts) at Apple:

"Another facet of Steve Wozniak’s life that has not been mentioned is his love for education, his philanthropy, and the connection of both in his life. Wozniak states that he does continue to have a role in Apple. He says: “I have never left the company. I keep a tiny residual salary to this day because that's where my loyalty should be forever. I want to be an "employee" on the company database. I won't engineer, I'd rather be basically retired, due to my family.”(Wozniak in People, 2) It is his family though that brings out his love for education. It was the inspiration of his son Jesse and his passion for computers that developed when he was in fourth grade that made Wozniak become a philanthropist for computer education."

Source: Steven Wozniak: A Pioneer of Silicon Valley and Beyond [computingh...museum.org]

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024170)

I agree; but what I see and have experienced is that a hard work ethic (I have been told I have a bulldog work ethic and problem solving) is that some are envious, some work against you because it makes them look bad, and some managers use your pride against you, as in the case above the person was let go for being honest and the very *worst* hell they decide you are the only person who can do the job properly and will never let you off the particular task.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024310)

>>>, if you have no work to do and don't ask for me work then all you are is somebody trying to preserve their job.

That's true.
On the other hand, it's still stupid to go to the boss and say, "I have nothing to do." That's like saying, "Please lay me off." It is wiser to simply wait for the next project to come-along and then you'll be busy again.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

smelch (1988698) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024420)

Well, that's true. You should probably just think of stuff that will make your job easier down the road and begin doing that. Documentation, research, develop tools, etc. But a lot of times my managers have work that they haven't assigned yet because they genuinely don't know I've gotten all of my priority tasks completed, and its irritating watching people sleep all day or post on slashdot since they "have no work" instead of trying to get more done.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (5, Insightful)

gauauu (649169) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023606)

I had one idiot... I mean coworker go to our boss and say, "Things are kinda slow. Do you have something for me to work on?" He was let go on Thursday.

That's so stupid it makes me angry. You have an employee actively looking for more work to do -- why would you let that person go? That's the kind of person you want to keep around. Instead let go the lazy people who sit at their desks watching youtube videos pretending to look busy. If you're really good at getting your work done, you'll almost always run into a slow point somewhere in your job. The proper solution is to let your manager know you've churned through the current work, and then find something proactive to do until you and your manager figure out what's next. Which sounds like what this guy was doing.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024398)

Consider this. You have a IT company and have hired the worlds best painter, basically the next picasso or whatever.

One day he comes you and says, "Hi boss, do you have any work for me? I don't really have anything to do".

By your logic you fire his lasy coder friend who's always got tons of work to do, because the pointers more motivated even though he's no really doing any work.

The moral of the story: If you don't have any work to do, either find more yourself or stay quite, telling your boss that you're expendable will get you fired, and rightfully so, If you're not needed he should let you go, not try to invent new work that you can use to occupy your boredom.

there's a difference (1)

Chirs (87576) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024598)

between being expendable and having finished the previous set of tasks that were assigned to you.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024664)

I like the "Hey boss, I'm done with $assignment so I'm working on $elective" approach.

That lets them know you're efficient, and good at tasking yourself.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024594)

The proper solution is to let your manager know you've churned through the current work, and then find something proactive to do until you and your manager figure out what's next.

Let me get this straight, you think I should go to my manager and make more work for him so that I can look busy? Buddy, you must new around this planet. If I can't find something to do or at least keep myself occupied, then I don't deserve to work here. The LAST thing I should do is involve my boss in assigning me work. That is my job, not his.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024018)

You are aware that Woz no longer works for Apple, right? For that matter, I am pretty sure that he either doesn't work for anyone or whoever he works for, he is more valuable as a "name" in their employ than for any work product he produces.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024614)

In his memoir (iWoz), Woz mentions several times that he is still employed by Apple and receives a [small] paycheck for his work. I am not sure if this situation has changed.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024294)

I had one idiot... I mean coworker go to our boss and say, "Things are kinda slow. Do you have something for me to work on?" He was let go on Thursday.

And then your boss was let go on Friday but being an incompetent idiot, right?

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024330)

for*

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023348)

Steve Jobs is kind of a scary guy who's filthy rich -- I think Woz is probably smart enough to know when to be quiet.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023412)

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is an investment firm. Don't kid yourself.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023498)

And don't let your hatred for Bill Gates turn you into a fanatic who sees evil in everything he does.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

i kan reed (749298) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024454)

Yeah, I can see how an investment firm can drop your net worth 30% like it has done to Gates and his friend Buffet.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (4, Insightful)

Idbar (1034346) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023424)

This article seems like pure FUD. I know we all here hate the patent system, but doesn't every patent becomes "obvious" once someone invented it?

Of course, once someone shows an invention to the world, there's no the know-how to re-produce the thing.

On top of that, there's this Apple co-founder complaining about MS suing everyone, when Apple has been suing around all this past months. This is just an attempt to make Apple look like "good guys" and keep throwing the dirty water on MS.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023654)

I know we all here hate the patent system, but doesn't every patent becomes "obvious" once someone invented it?

No. For example, the Rubik's cube does not seem obvious at all, even after you've taken one apart.

The obviousness bar needs to be set much higher for patents, so that the number of issued patents is cut to a couple of percent of the current rate, which is choking innovation and progress in many fields. I say if it's obvious in hindsight, then chances are that it's just plain obvious in general.

In particular, the following scenario needs to be completely eliminated from the patent landscape: (1) 3rd party puts a new technology on the market. (2) some tinkerer takes that new technology and creates an obvious new application with it (3) tinkerer gets a patent on the application and argues that it's actually non-obvious because "nobody did it before". (Notwithstanding the fact that nobody did it before because the 3rd party technology didn't exist, and some other tinkerer would probably have come up with this same obvious application within weeks of getting the same new technology.)

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (2)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024334)

IMO we should abolish the patent system. It mainly rewards those who come up with obvious ideas, and cannot reward those who are really pioneers (and if they are forced to spend time patenting the thousands of obvious steps to their great leaps it actually slows them down).

After all an idea is definitely innovative if by the time most people "get it" decades have passed so the patent has expired.

For an example see the "Mother of all demos" stuff by Douglas Engelbart: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfIgzSoTMOs [youtube.com]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_All_Demos [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NLS_(computer_system) [wikipedia.org]

The Mother of All Demos is a name given retrospectively to Douglas Engelbart's December 9, 1968, demonstration of experimental computer technologies that are now commonplace. The live demonstration featured the introduction of the computer mouse, video conferencing, teleconferencing, email, hypertext, word processing, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, bootstrapping, and a collaborative real-time editor.

Yes some of the stuff he did was based off previous ideas. But he actually came up with a working implementation. More than 40 years ago.

To those who say such stuff shouldn't be rewarded because it didn't reach the general public, the NLS and other innovations led to similar and new stuff in Xerox PARC, which led to the Apple stuff (Lisa, Mac).

In contrast Amazon, Rambus et all get rewarded for obvious stuff like "1-click buying" or "breaking eggs to make an omelette". Yes I've looked at a few of Rambus's patents. So far I haven't seen innovation beyond "we need to make an omelette, here's a good way of breaking the eggs".

Since hindsight is better, perhaps we should have a prize based system where inventors are rewarded in hindsight.

You could have two classes of prizes (and many prizes for different fields). One class of prizes should be selected by the general public, the other class of prizes would be selected by experts in the respective fields.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023440)

Are you still in kindergarten or something? Woz can do and say whatever the hell he wants to, and not fit your stupid agenda.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023478)

Yeah, and I can criticize him for it too. What a country!

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (3, Insightful)

yeshuawatso (1774190) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023520)

You know, I thought I was going to be able to challenge the remark about Jobs' philanthropic endeavors, but every time I searched, the answer was the same: he doesn't do charity. An article came close to something, but it was only how Jobs was pushing legislation for CA to require people be asked to be an organ donor when getting a license or having it renewed. I understand that this could be in some way helpful to CA residents that need transplants, but considering that Steve was a recipient of a donated organ, it only seems like he's trying to fulfill his own selfish goals of not having to fly around the country just to be put on multiple donor lists.

Until today, I never once thought corporate social responsibility was important, even though I've spent a many nights defining such programs in college for my BBA. However, when your net worth is greater than $5 billion, you're the deity of overpriced computers, and your entire market is the upper middle to upper class who give to causes regularly, it seems like you are in the best position to find a cause that your followers can get behind and you demonstrate your leadership in helping those less fortunate than yourself. And forcing your employees to volunteer their time but you yourself are too arrogant to get off your ass and grab a trash bag to help cleanup an urban park is a slap in the face. I've never felt more disgusted writing a post from my iPad until today.

Thank you for opening my eyes.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

nickscalise (702579) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024254)

What if he gives but does not announce it. Just gives anonymously?
Does everyone that does something altruistic have to make sure that everyone knows it?
Or is it just rich people, so that people with less money can sanctimoniously judge by their charitable giving credentials?

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

sdh (129963) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024280)

You're comparing retired Gates & Allen to still at the helm Jobs. Maybe when Jobs gets tired of sitting around the house and counting his big ol' pile of money he'll start giving some away.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (1)

cheese_wallet (88279) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024478)

It's not like Steve Jobs is preventing others from using that money. Or that anyone, for that matter, that "has" a lot of money is denying that use to other people. The only money that sits still is the money stuffed under your mattress. If you have invested it or stored it at a bank, or purchased anything really, then it is being used for all sorts of purposes like loans, paying people's salaries, R&D, etc...

Your salary has no doubt been made possible by other people's money.

Steve Jobs money is what makes a portion of that upper-middle class possible, and if they are giving regularly to causes as you suggest, then it's all good in the end.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024588)

If your looking to make a statement, I'll be happy to take that iPad off your hands.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024724)

I would hide my acts of charity. I would have them executed through an intermediary or two. True charity never takes credit for the work.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (2)

TrekkieGod (627867) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023762)

He might also want to have a word with his old buddy Steve Jobs too. Apple has been getting meaningless patents left and right, just like MS and all these other corps. And at least Allen and Gates are using some of their ridiculous money for charity. What exactly has Jobs been doing to innovate, or contribute to the world?

I love Woz, but if he's going to criticize, he needs to include his old friends and not just his old enemies.

Woz does criticize Apple when he thinks they have done something wrong. Sometimes he goes as far as donating money [insanely-great.com] to the legal defense of people apple sues.

Re:Don't stop at Paul Allen (2)

kenh (9056) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023990)

I was under the impression that Allen was seeking to recoup his investments in failed technology firms - he's invested in many that failed, leaving nothing but broken dreams and patents in their wake.

I don't think Woz was accurate in describing Allen as suing companies "because he bought all these patents'

Allen formed companies to develop products & technologies that failed - he didn't set out to become a patent troll, though he may be exhibiting that behavior now...

From the recent 60 Minutes Interview [cbsnews.com] :

Allen's diverse set of interests also led him to invest in over 100 business ventures since he left Microsoft. Most of them were poorly managed or ahead of their time, so they flopped.

And he slid from being the third richest man in the world to 57th.

"Were you just too early? Or was it that you really needed a Bill Gates and didn't have that other person to push it through?" Stahl asked.

"Look in the Microsoft days, you had some great ideas and some great execution between me and Bill and many other people. You know, in technology most things fail. Most companies fail. But I had some whoppers," Allen said.

Some of his whoppers however produced numerous patents. Last year, in a move that angered Silicon Valley, Allen sued several giant companies accusing them of infringing on those old patents.

It's a long list, including AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, Office Max, Staples, Yahoo and YouTube.

"How do you argue that you had something to do with Google? It just seems so outlandish or kind of wacky," Stahl remarked.

"Look, Microsoft and Google, all these people, have patents of their own. They all enforce patents. They all charge other companies for patents. All I'm trying to do is get back the investment that I made to create these patents," Allen said.

Now I'm curious (2)

Tapewolf (1639955) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023170)

I'd be interested to know when they filed that patent.

The BBC had Teletext from about 1972, according to Wikipedia, which used exactly this setup. Anyone who saw the Dr. Who story "Robots of Death" (Jan 1977) or other stories from that era may have noticed the computer displays which also used teletext or a similar system. I think there were already ICs on the market to implement it for you, probably because of the teletext industry.

Re:Now I'm curious (1)

Tapewolf (1639955) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023220)

Hmm, if it was US Pat. 3426344, it was filed in 1966.

Re:Now I'm curious (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023226)

As far as I can tell, the patent in question is US 4,028,724, which was filed in 1975.

http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=4,028,724.PN.&OS=PN/4,028,724&RS=PN/4,028,724 [uspto.gov]

Abstract:
A binary quantized TV video signal of any single one of a plurality of different symbols is generated and then successively sampled at respective dot positions thereof, with the binary value of each sample being stored at a corresponding dot position of an individual one of a plurality of dot matrices of the memory, that dot matrix being located at a preselected address location of the memory. The whole process is under the control of a programmed sequence control generator which is capable of automatically controlling the loading of each of the plurality of different symbols, in turn, into its own preselected address location dot matrix of the memory.

Re:Now I'm curious (1)

bwcbwc (601780) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023276)

Well whatever patent it is, it's expired by now. So I guess the operative verb should be that RCA _had_ a patent on character generation.

$30 million (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023270)

According to Wikipedia:

By the end of production in 1993, somewhere between five and six million Apple II series computers (including about 1.25 million Apple IIGS models) had been produced.

Not counting Apple IIGS, that is $30 million dollars in patent fees to IBM at $5 a unit.

Re:$30 million (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023282)

And of course when I say IBM I really mean RCA... Doh!

Looks patentable to me (4, Informative)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023298)

RCA's patent dates to an era (1940s) when just putting an image on a screen was a challenge, and overlaying it with characters was like magic.

They deserved the credit for putting letters on 50s-era TVs just as much as they deserved credit for developing NTSC-II (i.e. color). If you put in years of effort into experimentation, you deserve the reward of a temporary monopoly on your discovery. IMHO.

Re:Looks patentable to me (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023336)

If you put in years of effort into experimentation, you deserve the reward of a temporary monopoly on your discovery.

...you mean like the way Woz put years of effort into designing his PC?

And was non-obvious (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023814)

Look at the first computers. The CRT was used to display a pattern of dots (binary digits, in fact) and a teletype was used for the data input. They didn't even think to put new key labels and a new drum on the teletype so that you knew you were entering 00000 rather than "/", so that when they gave a lecture to the Royal Society everyone was confused by pages of completely nonobvious symbols.

I actually once worked with an early RCA chipset for running low-res CRT images. One nice thing about it was you could sync the display generator to the NTSC signal and so overlay your own pattern very precisely on a TV picture. RCA at least did produce and sell hardware that embodied their invention.

Re:Looks patentable to me (0)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023854)

If the RCA patent was from the '40s what relevance did it have to the Apple ][ from the late '70s?

Other claims place it on '66 or even '75.

Not exactly as great a challenge as you imply.

Re:Looks patentable to me (2)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024058)

If the patent had been from the 1940s, it would have been expired by the time the Apple II was created.

Wha? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023316)

Maybe we should just abolish the patent system to make the fucktards on this site happy... It's perfectly patentable, but you don't think it's anything original. Where do you draw the line?

Battlestar (1)

coldmist (154493) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023322)

Battlestar Galactica (the original in 1978) had a similar thing going when the captain (Lorne Greene) would speak, the words of his journal would appear on the screen.

Re:Battlestar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023532)

Except that was a vector-graphics display (like the original Asteroids), not a raster display.

"any fifth-grader could come up with the same..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023370)

The point though is they didn't. I believe this is called the Tetris moment.

When Tetris came out everyone was "That is so simple, anyone could of thought up that game". But the fact is they didn't. Same with patents. Obvious after the fact is not the same as obvious.

Re:"any fifth-grader could come up with the same.. (2)

maroberts (15852) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023444)

Yes. You're right. However, patents don't seem to work very well. They are meant to reward inventors by giving them a temporary monopoly on their invention in exchange for full disclosure of their invention. The problem is that patents do not succeed in their purpose of dissemination. Patents are worded in a way that obscures what an invention is and how it can be applied. Some of this is deliberate and some of it because of the way patents have to be phrased. In this case for example, it is likely that Woz thought of the idea and re-invented it entirely from scratch before RCA came round and went "ahem! we have a patent. Give us some royalties.". The problem is that Woz couldn't prove he came up with the idea himself and had to open Apples cheque book to RCA.

Re:"any fifth-grader could come up with the same.. (1)

DougBTX (1260312) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023846)

Even if he could prove independent invention, that only changes it from wilful infringement to infringement.

Re:"any fifth-grader could come up with the same.. (2)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023500)

Well, that's actually the story of the Egg of Columbus. [wikipedia.org]

Re:"any fifth-grader could come up with the same.. (1)

arose (644256) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024088)

Which of course has a person giving the impression that a non-modified egg is to be used, then promptly modifying their egg.

no need to jump on the fifth-grader hate-wagon (2)

SingleEntendre (1273012) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023390)

"In other words, any fifth-grader could come up with the same approach."

  I've seen them vaquish some formidable foes on AYSTAF.

Nobody could have envisioned it? (3, Insightful)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023680)

"And they patented it at a time when nobody could have envisioned it really being used or anything ...

Seems like it wasn't obvious, then.

and they got five bucks for each Apple II, based on this little idea that's not even an idea. Y'know: store the bits, store the bits, then pop in a character on your TV."

The Apple II [wikipedia.org] originally sold for $1298 with 4k of RAM and $2638 with 48k. $5 is only .3% of the price. That doesn't seem that unreasonable.

Also, if it was so unreasonable, and was just a little idea "that's not even an idea," why not just design around it?

The RCA character-generator patent was an example of a patent, from Wozniak's point of view, that the aforementioned fifth-grader could have come up with. "I don't know any other way you could do it

That's why... He couldn't come up with any other way. So, the reasonable royalty now seems really reasonable.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (2)

ajo_arctus (1215290) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023796)

I really don't think the point is that you could easily design a different way of achieving the same thing, but that if any sensible person sat down to design a system of putting characters on a screen using technology from that era, that this is the obvious solution that they would almost certainly come up with all on their own -- even if they had no prior knowledge of the RCA patent. Therefore the patent is not a huge leap forward in engineering, it's just a bloody nuisance to the people who actually want to create stuff. The trouble with patents is that they don't really happen in isolation -- everything builds on everything else that is happening at the same time. There are very, very few instances of inventions that wouldn't have happened if not for one person's ingenuity. For example, if Woz hadn't built the Apple I, somebody else would have built something very similar. Patents are the same -- if one person hadn't thought of that idea, usually someone else would have.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 3 years ago | (#36023918)

I really don't think the point is that you could easily design a different way of achieving the same thing, but that if any sensible person sat down to design a system of putting characters on a screen using technology from that era, that this is the obvious solution that they would almost certainly come up with all on their own -- even if they had no prior knowledge of the RCA patent. Therefore the patent is not a huge leap forward in engineering, it's just a bloody nuisance to the people who actually want to create stuff.

Yes, but there's no requirement in patent law that something has to be a "huge leap forward in engineering." In fact, the patent system is set up to reward public disclosure of the tiny leaps that happen every day.

The patent system is about economic efficiency of innovation. You can spend 10 hours and come up with a new idea, and if you hide it and keep it as a company trade secret, then every other company has to do the same thing. If there's a hundred companies in the industry, that wastes 990 man hours. But, if you publish your idea in exchange for a few bucks from each user, the other companies can save 10 hours of labor each, and instead, their engineers can work on the next idea. This helps advance the normal, everyday innovations that really work things along.

The big "huge leap forward" ideas? Those occur only rarely, and there's really no need to encourage public disclosure of them. If they're huge leaps forward, they'll be reverse engineered anyway. It's the tiny ones where reverse engineering takes almost as long as coming up with it from scratch that need public disclosure.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (1)

arose (644256) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024138)

Yes, but there's no requirement in patent law that something has to be a "huge leap forward in engineering."

It does, however, require that the invention in question be non-obvious to someone skilled in the art, e.g. Woz.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024216)

Yes, but there's no requirement in patent law that something has to be a "huge leap forward in engineering."

It does, however, require that the invention in question be non-obvious to someone skilled in the art, e.g. Woz.

... non-obvious at the time of invention. Woz thinking it's obvious 40 years later? Not a problem.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024332)

Well, that is the problem. Tiny leaps deserve no reward because anyone could do them with the same knowledge.
In other words, if you are worried your shit will be discovered by someone else yous shit is worth nothing and you deserve no right on it.
Anything else is just grotesque.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024340)

Two problems with your viewpoint:

- It can take more than 10 hours to search for the idea you need in that pool of millions of 10h-ideas, so it's easier to rediscover it.
- The licensing costs are going to be more than the equivalent of 10 hours of salary per company. In fact the licensing costs are WAY more -- so much that the company would rather never read patents and instead rediscover the idea if the law allowed them.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024428)

The patent system is about economic efficiency of innovation. You can spend 10 hours and come up with a new idea, and if you hide it and keep it as a company trade secret, then every other company has to do the same thing. If there's a hundred companies in the industry, that wastes 990 man hours. But, if you publish your idea in exchange for a few bucks from each user, the other companies can save 10 hours of labor each, and instead, their engineers can work on the next idea. This helps advance the normal, everyday innovations that really work things along.

The problem with this is that patents need to be non-obvious. The "few bucks" that you're talking about is absurd. Almost any company that actually produces anything would choose to spend the labor costs for 10 hours to produce the same obvious results and then make the product themselves rather than make even a tiny percentage of product sales. They can't do this because another company has been granted a government sponsored monopoly on the obvious solution. Any 990 hours saved from sharing a patented a 10 hour idea will be over-run by loses from patent lawyers (no actual usefulness to society - patents in themselves only block innovation and production), and products that never get made or are sued out of existence. The only way to overcome these negatives and get to a net positive is if the time spent is 10 hours of genius time, or large chunks of normal time; i.e. if the time it would take another company to create the same thing is a large amount of time. In other words, it shouldn't be anything approaching obvious. The only people who could want it to work this way are people who aren't actually producing anything, but want to be able to sit around and think of things marginally before others have had a reason to, and then have the government force others who come up with the same obvious solutions to pay them a license rather than letting them derive the same results for themselves. Because patents allow this monopoly, the standard for obviousness needs to be a severe test.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024634)

But, if you publish your idea in exchange for a few bucks from each user, the other companies can save 10 hours of labor each, and instead, their engineers can work on the next idea. This helps advance the normal, everyday innovations that really work things along.

Ha-ha.

Yeah, right.

When I worked for a company in a heavily-patented area of computer hardware, the company forbade us from reading any patents that might affect us, because the lawyers had told the CEO that if we knowingly infringed on a patent then we'd have to pay far more damages than if we unknowingly infringed it. That also meant that we kept our hardware and drivers as closed as possible to decrease the likelihood of anyone finding out that we'd unknowingly infringed a patent.

Patents are a stupid idea that made some kind of sense in the Victorian era when the pace of technological advancement was slow and people couldn't just build a steam engine in their garage in a couple of weeks. Right now they're a huge drag on innovation.

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (1)

kenh (9056) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024198)

Don Lancaster's TV Typewriter in Popular Electronics [swtpc.com]

This was one way of putting characters on a screen in 1973 - Woz's approach simplified it substantially... (the entire Apple ][ used fewer chips ;^)

Re:Nobody could have envisioned it? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36024586)

I had chip manuals and selected a chip called a character generator to use in my TV terminal, which led to the Apple I and Apple ][. These character generator chips were marketed by more than one chip company. It was much later, when Apple was selling lots of computers, that RCA notified us that they had a patent on character generator. It had never occurred to me. It was about the same as finding out that someone had patented the OR gates you used. The character generator was about that level of complexity. Any 10-year old would have 'invented' the same thing if it was called for. The companies selling the chips didn't mention this 'patent' so I didn't know that I should look for another approach. In the end, at that time, I probably couldn't come up with an alternative way to do it without spending another $5, so the patent had value. But it wasn't cleverness that was behind it. It's like patenting a list of characters and charging every book.

Fonts anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36023690)

Reminds me of a dot matrix display demo board I used once.
Problem was they pirated a font table to map the alphabet in row/column order.
But the controller chip required the font in column/row format.
So they hand translated enough characters to display their company name correctly,
and when used the same function to print our company name we got half the characters
(those missing from their name) as jibberish!
Management happened by and was so impressed!

Prior Art and the Cole Patent (1)

doperative (1958782) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024072)

"Data General also contends that the Cole patent was anticipated by the prior art and by a printed publication stored at the Stanford Research Institute. Finally, Data General asserts that the Cole patent is invalid under 35 U.S.C. ? 103 because it was obvious in light of the pertinent prior art. The Court will now examine each of these challenges to Cole's validity" link [findacase.com]

At what point... (1)

Kamiza Ikioi (893310) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024222)

... do we stop glorifying formerly brilliant inventors as sages? Just because you were once brilliant does not mean everything you do is brilliant.

I give you Donald Trump as an example. Crazy is crazy is crazy, and Woz is going grumpy senile fast. He thinks he has all the answers to children's education and now patents. So he made a successful computer. That was decades ago. Now, everytime he whines, he get's a /. story. Drop him in the spam bin already!

Prior Art from 1958 .. (1)

doperative (1958782) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024250)

The following stuff is from Electronics magazine, Jan. 3rd 1958 issue .. Generating Characters: Summary Although may plans have been devised in the past for scribing numeric and alphabetic characters on a scope face by spot deflection" link [nixiebunny.com]

obviousness (4, Insightful)

robbarrett (84479) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024290)

As someone who has done a fair bit of inventing and patenting, I find generalized disdain for patented inventions to be a little irritating. (This is apart from arguments about whether intellectual property is a proper category or whether its legal protection is a good idea). Yes, many patents may have titles that make them sound trivial, and quick reads of them may make you snigger. But in the U.S., one criterion for ruling against patentability is that "the differences between the subject matter sought to be patented and the prior art are such that the subject matter as a whole would have been obvious at the time the invention was made to a person having ordinary skill in the art to which said subject matter pertains" (35 U.S.C. 103 (A) [wikipedia.org] ). I think most of my patent submissions have been initially rejected as "obvious" (one particularly entertaining case was a patent examiner's note that the shape of the recording elements in my magnetic head bore remarkable similarity to a piece of plastic someone had devised to keep a garden hose from snagging on the tire while you're washing your car). However, arguing against an "obviousness" claim is straightforward:

1. Prove that the problem has been recognized for some time;
2. Show that engineers have attempted a variety of solutions to the known problem;
3. Clearly explain how your own invention's method for solving the problem is different from existing solutions.

Of course, this doesn't do anything to prove that the invention is useful, actually does solve the problem, can be reduced to practical form, etc. It just demonstrates that the invention was not obvious at the time. It also does not mean the inventor is a genius or that nobody else on the planet could come up with the solution. It just means that it may qualify to be a patentable invention.

My own favorite case of proving non-obviousness to myself was having a renowned engineer in the field look at my proposal and tell me that he was quite sure it could not possibly work, though he could not exactly explain why. A couple of weeks later we met in the hall with him telling me that he had been intrigued enough to run simulations while I was building a prototype. We both came to the conclusion that it indeed could and did work.

Lots of crazy stuff gets patented all the time, but the process of describing and justifying an invention as such is...not completely obvious.

Re:obviousness (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024576)

1. Prove that the problem has been recognized for some time;
2. Show that engineers have attempted a variety of solutions to the known problem;
3. Clearly explain how your own invention's method for solving the problem is different from existing solutions.

And that's where most (particularly s/w) patents today fall on their face. Most of the problems are new and, given a group of competent s/w engineers, many of them could come up with similar solutions were they handed the problem simultaneously. There is no test for previous failed or less functional efforts over time followed by a novel and unique solution. Its just a race to the patent office with the obvious.

There was never a trail of failed attempts to produce a 'One Click' shopping web app prior to Amazon's patent (we've got it down to two clicks, but that's where industry stalled for years).

Cable Television (1)

kriston (7886) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024306)

Character generators were big business for cable television operators. Before computers were so ubiquitous the need to show text on the screen was a challenge. They needed one for each channel that was to show text, especially for public access channels and their schedules. Later, special units were designed for use by The Weather Channel that would genlock and overlay the text onto the video.

Today only a few people remember how difficult it once was to get text on a television screen. As a kid I remember watching U/A Columbia's public access channel schedule update. Someone was typing into it and directly changed what you see on the screen as they typed it. I guess they're supposed to do that when the channel is off-air or at 4:00 AM.

RCA used that for NBC election returns (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#36024512)

RCA developed this for NBC's election returns. Election nights used to have huge rooms of electromechanical display boards. NBC wanted something better. So they had RCA develop a character generator, to be used in conjunction with election predictions made on RCA computers. "Makes your television set a part of the computer".

Previously, there had been stroke character displays for vector CRTs. SAGE used those. There was the Charactron tube, where a focused electron beam was steered through a stencil of letters, then aimed at the screen. There was something called the Monoscope, which was a TV-camera like tube with a permanently fixed stencil as the image. There were flying-spot scanners, where you put a slide in front of a CRT, and a phototube read the changing light, generating a video signal. All these devices were either limited or expensive. (A 21-inch Charactron tube was six feet long.) Generating character video in real time, entirely electronically, was a big deal at the time.

(I've been trying to find video on line of the NBC election coverage with this.)

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