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Why You Can't Build Your Own Smartphone: Patents

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the hard-to-count-'em-all dept.

Android 179

jfruh writes "In the mid-00s, more and more people started learning about Android, a Linux-based smartphone OS. Open source advocates in particular thought they could be seeing the mobile equivalent of Linux — something you could download, tinker with, and sell. Today, though, the Android market is dominated by Google and the usual suspects in the handset business. The reason nobody's been able to launch an Android empire from the garage is fairly straightforward: the average smartphone is covered by over 250,000 patents."

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179 comments

We, outside U$A, (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941369)

couldn't give a single f*ck.

Re:We, outside U$A, (3, Insightful)

Lisias (447563) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941391)

But we should.

Re:We, outside U$A, (3)

McDrewbs (2434030) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941565)

Actually I believe we (the rest of the world) should purposely IGNORE the patent system till either it's "fixed" to an acceptable level or scrapped altogether.

Re:We, outside U$A, (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941653)

I don't how that would be possible, considering the manipulation of people, by design, has them divided exactly down the middle on almost every issue, completely eliminating any chance of progress.

Re:We, outside U$A, (1)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941791)

And, we from the "Evil Fuck You Patent Association of America" (EFYPAA), like your post because when we come to sue you for our radio hardware patents (which are also valid almost everywhere else in the world) we will be able to use it to prove "Wilful" infringement and get you for triple damages. Mr Paul Hanson (don't ask how we know your name) you just watch out.

Re:We, outside U$A, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941815)

Whatever you're smoking, please, stop, it's bad for your brain.

Re:We, outside U$A, (2)

fatphil (181876) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942623)

As a non-yank, I happily gave my money to somebody like the EFF for my "USPTO - granting monopoly rights to common sense since 1860" (modulo my poor memory) T-shirt.

So, agreed, we can posture and feel superiour about a few things (very few things, alas), but we should definitely not feel complacent that just because the root of the problem is "over there" it doesn't affect us.

Re:We, outside U$A, (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941467)

Why? Many of the patents still apply internationally.

Re:We, outside U$A, (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941635)

Most sensible countries still don't allow software patents for trivial things.

Re:We, outside U$A, (2)

Desler (1608317) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942197)

You wrongfully presume these 250,000 are all software patents. Many of them relate to hardware technology.

Re:We, outside U$A, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941719)

Rest of the world FTW! \o/

Re:We, outside U$A, (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942011)

Rest of the world should be more like the US, given we invent half the stuff. Slackers!

Re:We, outside U$A, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942343)

you patent half the stuff that's for sure.

Re:We, outside U$A, (5, Insightful)

wvmarle (1070040) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941945)

Many patents involved are valid outside of the USA. And there certainly are plenty of reasonable patents (i.e. actual inventions) in the mix. Not just software patents. And if you don't believe me, try building and selling your own smartphone. You'll soon enough find out about it.

Re:We, outside U$A, (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942427)

If you steal our stuff (USA here) and bring down our economy, then you'll starve until eventually the bullets start flying, then you'll die because the USA won't save you (again). But criminals rarely think in the long-term, so hack on and let's hope your local people find and stop you before you bring down their hard fought civilization.

But I just wanted to put rounded corners on it (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941375)

Really?

Re:But I just wanted to put rounded corners on it (2)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941419)

What's stopping you?

Re:But I just wanted to put rounded corners on it (4, Funny)

durrr (1316311) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941451)

Apple wants $200 in royalties. Per corner.

Re:But I just wanted to put rounded corners on it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941645)

You know can round off the corners and make it entirely circular or capsule-shaped.

Re:But I just wanted to put rounded corners on it (4, Funny)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941707)

So Apple has cornered the market?

Re:But I just wanted to put rounded corners on it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941987)

No, Apple rounded up their competition.

Re:But I just wanted to put rounded corners on it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942863)

The combination of patent D670286 [google.com] , in which Apple claims the ornamental design of a "portable display device" with rounded corners, and patent D618677 [google.com] in which Apple claims the ornamental design of a "electronic device" with a black front and rounded corners.

The more patents the better (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941377)

After all: "We are actually witnessing fewer patent suits per patent issued today than the historical average" http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/11/09/2156232/patent-system-not-broken-argues-ibms-chief-patent-counsel [slashdot.org]

Re:The more patents the better (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941399)

My only reply to these statistics is: Today more trivial patents are filled for then ever before.

Re:The more patents the better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942649)

The USPTO also blindly approves more patents than ever before.

Hard (5, Insightful)

jamesl (106902) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941379)

The reason nobody's been able to launch an Android empire from the garage is fairly straightforward: the average smartphone is covered by over 250,000 patents."

And it's hard. And it costs a lot of money. And the market is full of very good competitors. Otherwise there's nothing stopping you.

Re:Hard (2)

Kjella (173770) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941525)

And it's hard. And it costs a lot of money. And the market is full of very good competitors. Otherwise there's nothing stopping you.

Yeah. Are the people with the components you need even going to talk to you? I doubt Qualcomm is interested in selling you 10 LTE chips. Even if you could find all the parts you need and they already have drivers in Android, do a custom PCB layout and put it your own chassis it'll probably look and work like a cheap Chinese knock-off at a price higher than the "real thing". Forget patents, forget the FCC, is it even feasible to get a prototype up and running at a reasonable cost?

Re:Hard (5, Interesting)

ChunderDownunder (709234) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941649)

Well a Spanish startup, Geeksphone, did so with 2 models.

They probably would have succeeded, except their country is now in economic meltdown.

So it *is* possible but not given the current financial climate that has seen Palm disappear and RIM and Nokia in a death spiral.

Re:Hard (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942003)

Compare their models to what was out at the time.
They were under-specced, overpriced and late to ship.

So far the best plan for something like this would be to buy a bunch of Nexus Phones and put your own OS on them.

Did It Ever Occur To You (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942407)

That Diversity is a necessity for innovation ?? When Steve J tinkered with small computers, there were "much better computers which do any processing job, made by IBM Corporation" around. Silly idea to even THINK about these little, powerless computers, right ?

Re:Did It Ever Occur To You (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942645)

That Diversity is a necessity for innovation ?? When Steve J tinkered with small computers, there were "much better computers which do any processing job, made by IBM Corporation" around. Silly idea to even THINK about these little, powerless computers, right ?

well, we've had phones like openmoko phones.
problem with them is that they're 3 generations late to the party AND STILL VULNERABLE TO LITIGATION! the reason they're not sued is that they make no money whatsoever.

the simplest way to make your own smartphone is to buy a ready smartphone package from someone and slap your own sw/hw on it. and you'll still get sued.

buying the hw is _not_ the problem. assembling it on the cheap is _not_ the problem. the article is a valid point about why despite android growing popular and these assembly lines being available to anyone with a little bit of cash we still only have the SAME FUCKING BRANDS WE HAD BEFORE ANDROID(actually if you go looking you can find small players.. but so far they've been pretty unimaginative and they're getting sued at a certain size threshold).

oh and you cannot make valid phones without having an on going relationship with a standards body(all those really cheap chinese knockoff gsm's have invalid imeis which sometimes get banned from western networks en masse).

Re:Hard (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942847)

You make some excellent points sir. Intel MIGHT save us; If they bring out the 22 nm x86 soc with hd4000 graphics (and keep being a good sport with drivers) you could run kde plasma active (pretty good touch os) and have a monstrous amount of working programs. Wireless modem would still be an issue. Case could potentially be crowd sourced into something half sexy (although your never going to be able to compete on thinness and probably not materials). Although it will undoubtedly cost more to make each unit than the big guys, there is much less overhead on the business or need for extreme profits (iphone costs something like $200 to make, even if the open phone cost twice that there is still a fair bit of profit). So is a bit thicker plastic phone from some one with no reputation worth it, if it's an upgradeable, untracked, high speced, full of options and ports, completely open pocket computer and phone, that people could have a part in designing? i think, for a lot of people (and in no means a majority) yes.

Re:Hard (1)

rebot777 (765163) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942507)

And the market is full of very good competitors.

Find me a good smart phone with a two day battery life. How about one with a real lens on it's camera. Just because a lot of companies are trying to produce the same phone doesn't mean the market is full. It more likely means that huge companies won't take risk and just want to chase the most secure revenue stream.

Re:Hard (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942515)

It's suspicious that nobody has ever created ANY hardware open source project with anything like the success of Linux or any of the top tier open source projects (or the middle tier). And nobody has ever created a hardware open source project at all that covers something as ambitious as a smartphone.

If we had a bunch of successful open source hardware projects for all kinds of things and smartphones were a notable omission the patent theory might have some merit, but it looks much more like there are other barriers to open source hardware.

False (5, Interesting)

Keruo (771880) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941387)

Patents won't touch you if you make 1-10 units.
Other manufacturers won't consider you as worthwhile to legislate against since you most likely won't make any profit from those devices sold.
From US point of view, good luck getting your device FCC approved, that'll be cheap and fun process!

Re:False (3, Informative)

martin-boundary (547041) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941441)

Nonsense. Patents apply to everybody. There's no exception for people who "only" make 1-10 units. Patents literally forbid you to tinker in your own home and then sell the item you just invented, if someone paid a fee and lodged a vague sounding description about something roughly similar already.

It can't get more thoughtcrimeywimey than that.

Re:False (4, Interesting)

dkf (304284) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941755)

Nonsense. Patents apply to everybody. There's no exception for people who "only" make 1-10 units. Patents literally forbid you to tinker in your own home and then sell the item you just invented, if someone paid a fee and lodged a vague sounding description about something roughly similar already.

But the reality is that if someone only makes 1-10 units then the patent holder is exceptionally unlikely to even notice. Moreover, the cost of litigating would make the likely gain for the patent holder really miniscule.

The big barriers are that it isn't easy to do a good job of manufacturing a mobile phone without a lot of very specialized (and expensive) equipment, and that there are a lot of high-quality competitor devices out there. Chip manufacturing is not a backyard activity, and custom ICs (particularly ARM SoC) are completely the key to economic phone manufacturing. The real market barriers are damn high. (There are also legal and regulatory issues, but they don't explain why there are no such tinkerers anywhere.)

Re:False (1)

foniksonik (573572) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942229)

And this is why we don't need patents. Anyone capable of doing all of the above stres should be allowed to try without the additional burden of intellectual property claims being held over them.

Re:False (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942355)

You mean like if someone downloads 1-10 songs only the copyrights holder shouldn't notice either?

Re:False (1)

Local ID10T (790134) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942577)

...the cost of litigating would make the likely gain for the patent holder really miniscule.

The point of patent litigation is not to make money directly from the litigation, it is to suppress competition -especially small, innovative, and potentially disruptive technologies.

Re:False (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941801)

Yeah, but unless you sell at least thousands no one will pay attention

Re:False (1, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942533)

Either you don't know what thoughtcrime is or you don't know what patents are.

You can do all the tinkering in your own home you want. If you want to build yourself a smartphone that looks identical to an iPhone in every way, go for it. You can even go use it out on the street, and tell everyone about it. What you can't do is make them for other people. Making things (and distributing them) is definitely not thoughtcrime.

Re:False (1)

Theaetetus (590071) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942627)

Nonsense. Patents apply to everybody. There's no exception for people who "only" make 1-10 units. Patents literally forbid you to tinker in your own home and then sell the item you just invented, if someone paid a fee and lodged a vague sounding description about something roughly similar already.

Except that patent infringement damages are going to be limited, by definition, to 100% of your revenue at most, and will be more likely around 5-20%. And so, since it will cost a company around $150,000-250,000 to file and win that patent suit, and their potential damages if they win are around $20-30, with a maximum in the hundreds, no one is going to enforce a patent over that many units.

Re:False (4, Insightful)

BeanThere (28381) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941477)

So basically you're saying that the system is OK because in an absurdly artificially restricted case you could potentially do it illegally without getting caught? OK, maybe technically (that's true of any crime), but that's not what normal people mean at all when they discuss things like this, nor is that an even meaningful hypothetical. (You can also get away with visiting a prostitute if you don't get caught or smoking a doobie if you don't get caught, but that's not relevant when normal people discuss whether it's morally valid or a positive or negative thing for these things to be illegal.)

TOR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942461)

..if you are an anon software developer. Do we need Fame And Fortune, or do we need Open Source ? Release code via TOR and sign with a pseudonymous GPG key.

Disrespect all these trivial patents, develop code and release pseudonymously via TOR or GNUnet. Run your SVN or git server as a Hidden TOR Service. Fuck the corporate sleazebags who abuse the patent system. They have lost their legitimacy a long time ago,so just ignore crap.

What about the humble PC? (4, Interesting)

ryzvonusef (1151717) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941417)

How many patents cover assembling a PC from parts, installing your own OS on it, and selling those? Anybody have a list or something? Genuinely curious.

----

On a separate, possibly unrelated note, yet another of my silly dreams: right to access and tinker with the BIOS (or whatever the technical term is).

I understand you might part with that right if you have the item subsidised, but after the contract ends, the root rights must flow back to you.

Oh, and root rights should always be available on an unsubsidised device; the whole "warranty will be void" shtick doesn't fly with me. I mean on my PC, it would be void if I over-clocked it or whatever, not because I installed Linux instead of windows; similarly, warranty should not be voided simply because you change a ROM, only if you use an over-clocking app.

(Do correct me if I am wrong in my rant)

Re:What about the humble PC? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941555)

There's a patent on special drives that let you put your cock inside the computer so webcam girls can fuck it by sticking a fake cock inside their real pussy.

So there's that.

That's real.

Re:What about the humble PC? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941627)

How many patents cover assembling a PC from parts, installing your own OS on it, and selling those? Anybody have a list or something? Genuinely curious.

Probably none, or else every PC manufacturer would have gone up in a blaze of glory already, and IBM would be selling us all IBMNET access via thin clients.

Re:What about the humble PC? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941669)

What you want is CoreBoot http://www.coreboot.org/. The big difficulty in porting to a new platform is the lack of documentation in order to do the low level bit twiddling to bring the hardware up to a known good state (especially the memory controller if I remember correctly). I have been meaning to have a go once I get a few items off my plate...

Re:What about the humble PC? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941725)

The basic PC architecture goes back to the IBM PC of 1981, long enough ago for those patents to have expired. What you're looking at now will be patents covering individual hardware components - hard drive head designs, chip layout techniques, that sort of thing. I imagine there are more than a few trivial ones in there too, but as you're only assembling components made by someone else into an unpatented design you're safe there. If you wanted to build your own harddrive or motherboard, then you'd be in trouble. You're only protected from patent problems because other, richer companies are taking care of it.

Software-wise, though... forget it, if you're in the US or somewhere else that recognises software patents. It's impossible. There are just too many - remember that Microsoft even holds a patent on storing long and short form filenames in one filesystem. Your only hope is to license an OS from someone else, who will then assume the liability - and in practice, that means Microsoft.

Re:What about the humble PC? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942113)

I hate to correct you... No, I really do hate it, because I wish it wasn't true, but the warranty of some PC manufacturers does void the warranty if you install any OS except the provided one and this includes retail copies of the exact same OS. Granted, this isn't exactly an enforceable provision, since it's entirely in software and can be removed/rewritten at any time; however, if you make multiple claims to the warranty department and become a net loss to the company, don't be surprised if they exercise it.

Re:What about the humble PC? (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942247)

the whole "warranty will be void" shtick doesn't fly with me.

If you are unsatisfied with the terms of service, then don't buy the product in the first place. Warranties are, in many areas, at the discretion of the seller, and not mandated by law.

I like having the ability to tinker with stuff I buy too, and install custom firmware or OS's or whatnot, although I can reasonably agree that if I'm going to retain any rights to be able to do anything that I want to products that I buy, including altering its function in ways that the manufacturer did not expressly intend [even including making it more useful], then the manufacturer should retain the right to suspend supporting the product for me.

Mid-00's?!? (4, Informative)

imroy (755) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941425)

In the mid-00s, more and more people started learning about Android...

Android was announced in 2007 and the first Android phone wasn't sold until late 2008. Even the Neo1970 was from 2007/08, so I don't know what the submitter is referring to.

Re:Mid-00's?!? (2)

Zocalo (252965) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941455)

Well, personally, I'd class mid-2003 through mid-2007 as the "mid-00's", so submitter is fine in my book, but since you are splitting hairs, maybe he was referring to Google's original purchase of Android Inc. [businessweek.com] which happened in August 2005? I'd saying being bought by Google, at a time when there was a fair bit of speculation that Google was interesting in mobile, would get a lot of people started with finding out something about this "Android" thing.

Re:Mid-00's?!? (2)

dingen (958134) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941463)

The submitter is referring to Android before it was acquired by Google in 2005. It was entirely vaporware at the time, but it was generating some buzz.

Re:Mid-00's?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941731)

But also maybe to projects like Maemo, that was a promisse that you would have ALMOST a complete stack for a phone. In the end, it never really happened.
But I still have my N770 here, working perfectly with its Maemo 2.2

Re:Mid-00's?!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942807)

Android existed pre-Google, genius.

Parents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941553)

I can't build a phone because of parents. They won't let me solder in the house.

Re:Parents (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941563)

Parents just don't understand.

You should solder their assholes shut one night and see what those faggots think about that shit.

To elaborate on the hardware difficulties. (5, Insightful)

queazocotal (915608) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941559)

This is totally ignoring the software and patent problems.

To elaborate on why open-source hardware is hard, and why making a single phone will cost you over $10K.

Why open-source software works is:
Widely available repository of code.
Many people able to review it, or sections of it, and understand it.
Ease of submitting tested patches.

Hardware has problems that don't really fit well with this.
The open schematic is the trivially easy part, and not really a problem.
(though in practice, you need a schematic with copious links to design documents, which isn't well solved by open tools).

The number of people who can review it is rather smaller - as you can't open up a c file, and see a clear error or awkwardness in code that can be edited.

For all but the most basic errors, you are going to have to sit down and read several hundred pages of hardware documentation about how the chips in question work, in addition to having in-depth knowledge about the circuit design, and costings of likely changes.

Now, you've done this, and generated a patch that you think (for example) lowers the supply current by 1%.

Compile - test.
On a PC, this takes a couple of minutes.

For something of a smartphone class, a one-off PCB may cost several hundred dollars. Then the parts will cost another several hundred dollars in small quantities, as well as being difficult to obtain.
Now, you have to solder the parts onto the board, which is a decidedly nontrivial thing - and if you decide you want someone else to do this, it's probably another several hundred dollars.

So, you're at the thick end of a thousand dollars for a 'compile'.

Now, you boot the device, and it exhibits random hangs.

Neglecting the fact that you are going to need several hundred to several thousand dollars of test equipment, you now have to find
the bug.

Is it:
A) The fact that unlabled 0.5*1mm component C38 is in fact 20% over the designed value, as the assembly company put the wrong one in.
B) C38 has a tiny bridge of solder underneath it that is making intermittent contact.
C) The chipmaker for the main chip hasn't noticed that their chip doesn't quite do what they say it will do, and the datasheet is wrong.
D) You missed a tangential reference on page 384 of the datasheet to proper setup of the RAM chip, and it is pure coincidence that all models up till now have booted.
E) Because you're ordering small quantities, you had to resort to getting the chips from a distributor who diddn't watch their supply chain really carefully, and your main chip has in fact been desoldered from a broken cellphone.
F) Though the design of the circuit is correct, and the board you made matches that design, and all the parts are correct and work properly, the inherent undesired elements introduced by real life physics means it doesn't work.
G) A completely random failure of a part that could occur with even the best design, and best manufacture.

G - may mean that it's worthwhile making two or more of each revision - which of course boosts costs.

Hardware is nasty.

This gets a lot less painful of course for lower end hardware. For very limited circuits, which can be done on simple inexpensive PCBs, and be easily soldered at home - costs of a 'compile' can be in the tens of dollars, or even lower.

Re:To elaborate on the hardware difficulties. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941721)

The number of people who can review it is rather smaller - as you can't open up a c file, and see a clear error or awkwardness in code that can be edited.

No, but often times you can open up the vhdl code that was used in development, and perhaps implementation too, depending on the device.

Re:To elaborate on the hardware difficulties. (3, Informative)

queazocotal (915608) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941811)

FPGAs are essentially not used in mobile phones, for power efficiency and other reasons.
Nor is opening up the code for any hardware you can get source for (nothing) useful, as making your own chips from them will cost at best many tens of thousands.

Re:To elaborate on the hardware difficulties. (1)

nurb432 (527695) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942057)

I was speaking in generalizes to the earlier statement of 'you cant just open up the c code'. And I did mention 'depending on the device' :)

But, that said, as FPGAs get more and more powerful, you will find them in more and more places, just like the use of CLPDs have grown.

Re:To elaborate on the hardware difficulties. (3, Insightful)

queazocotal (915608) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942345)

FPGAs are always going to be more expensive, and less power efficient for given tasks than comparable single function silicon.
There is, even in the most efficiently implemented design in a FPGA, considerable area wasted by interconnects, and suboptimal use of resources.

It's like making a working device from lego.
Yes, you may be able to do it, but if you make it as one moulded piece, it's going to be lots cheaper.

There are also no CPLDs in mobile phones.

Re:To elaborate on the hardware difficulties. (1)

CNTOAGN (1111159) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941985)

Will 3D printers help move open-source hardware circuit design to the next level? I know that they have great potential in helping the open-source ecology project (http://opensourceecology.org/), but that is mostly in the reprinting of complex parts for repair or initial construction of larger pieces. If more EEs / home enthusiasts could print out complete modules along with printing out testing nodes - little snap-off diodes whose sole purpose in the print is to prove some inner working of module, would circuit design explode? Just curious about what you thought.

Re:To elaborate on the hardware difficulties. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942391)

Objection.
I made a phone for my Masters project. Etch boards, hotplate solder chips. Total cost less than 1000usd.

Now on the large scale, ever seen a fake iphone? I can walk you over to the factory. Its 3 guys in zhonguancun. Actually theree are lots of BA students in beijing and shanghai who have made their own phones. Maybe even highschool students who's family is in the biz.

I'm so not impressed by you. That's why merika is over le.

Patents won't stop you (4, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941607)

Patents won't stop you from building a couple of devices in your garage; but, they'll be as useful as bricks. You have to get the radios FCC certified and then run the gauntlet of certification hoops to convince the cell provider to allow you to connect your garage built device to their network. There are radio modules available that would speed up the process -- basically pre-certified modules that handle the entire cell phone function. You might be able to do it using these... But they're huge, relatively speaking. You won't be building a sexy device like a Galaxy S, iPhone, or Droid with them.

We've done it on equipment we're designing for deployment; but, I have the advantage of being able to call Verizon and say, "I'm Confused, an electrical and software engineer with Big-Company. I am using a cell radio module from A_well_known_manufacturer. I need to activate it on our account for testing..." And, by the way, we won't do that until we're pretty damn sure the thing will work right.

Applies to everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941617)

I dare you to name any kind of gadget containing a computer that you can build without infringing on patents.

If patents were germs (1)

erroneus (253617) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941619)

In the last line of the summary, replace patents with germs and then imagine what a phone might look like with over 250,000 covering it.

Re:If patents were germs (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941655)

That would probably be the cleanest (not factory fresh) phone I've ever seen.

Re:If patents were germs (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942567)

Almost certainly cleaner than the factory fresh ones too, unless they autoclave the things before packing them.

patents and engineering (5, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941643)

As an engineer, I thought I would point out there are two ways we deal with patents:

Method 1: Once you have an idea, do a thorough patent search and verify your idea does not appear to violate any patents. If it does, re-design the widget so it avoids the patent.

Method 2: Ignorance is bliss. Design and build it.

I can tell you, if you use method 1 you will need an enormous staff and risk never getting anything done. Despite it all, you still won't be safe because someone will come along with patent claims anyway, even though you did a most thorough due diligence search. I'm not saying you ignore patents, that would be unethical. Company I work for has a record of the patents related to our products that we have been made aware of. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to go looking for trouble.

Re:patents and engineering (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941757)

1 also doesn't work because a lot of patents now are so broad they can't be worked around. Often so broad they'd get thrown out in court, after you'd spend a few hundred thousand dollars in legal fees.

Re:patents and engineering (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941893)

At my (prominant semiconductor) company, we have been specifically urged by Legal to NEVER do patent searchs. Since the penalty for knowingly infringing is triple that for unknowing infringement, this policy apparently makes some kind of legal sense.

Re:patents and engineering (3, Interesting)

alexgieg (948359) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942073)

Method 1: Once you have an idea, do a thorough patent search and verify your idea does not appear to violate any patents. If it does, re-design the widget so it avoids the patent.

This highlights the problem with the obviousness criteria as used by the patent office. If you have an idea of your own and then have to search to be sure someone else didn't have that same idea to then workaround it, its clear that idea is obvious. If it weren't obvious, you, as a skilled practitioner of your profession, wouldn't be able to simply think of it out of nowhere, you'd have to read the patent to actually figure out how that invention works, or otherwise go do some serious research.

The patent system wouldn't be the insensate thing it is today if the obviousness criteria was focused on actual obviousness. A legal recourse against an obvious patent should be something very fast and very cheap, something akin to a judge ordering 10 random engineers in the field to read the patent under dispute in the morning, asking them whether it was obvious in the afternoon, and 7 of then replying "yes", presto, patent invalidated. Alas, it ain't so...

Re:patents and engineering (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942119)

Method 3: Ignore completely patents and build your device as best as you are able. And if after this you see any lawyers alleging breach of patent, kill then.

What about GeeksPhone and Jolla? (4, Informative)

pnot (96038) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941717)

GeeksPhone [wikipedia.org] are doing pretty much what TFA claims is impossible. Why haven't they been sued? Too small to be worth the trouble? Jolla [wikipedia.org] (50 employees) aren't exactly a behemoth either. OK, so Jolla haven't released anything yet and thus can't be sued, but the fact that the company was formed implies that they don't consider the 250,000 patents a problem. (Yeah, I know, not Android, but the same principles apply.)

Mildly Off Topic.. (1)

SuperCharlie (1068072) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941803)

It would seem that patents are company-centric when they really should be consumer-centric. If we change to the consumer view paradigm, a lot of the idiocy of patents would disappear. There really should be just one question for a patent to be viable: How does your exclusive retention of this concept and the implementation of it benefit the consumer? What we have is the exact opposite. If we theoretically have laws and government to aid and support people, then the entire patent system and paradigm is 180 degrees off.

Not patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941865)

I'm pretty sure it's my lack of electrical engineering and general expertise on the topic. Honestly, anything I could cobble together would be some seriously shitty product.

good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41941869)

while the overall situation is deplorable, at least it gives someone in their garage extra motivation to ponder what could be the next form factor after cellphones, and get a head start building that.

companies have heavily invested mindshare, factories, research, etc. into their cellular products. the chances of them developing the "next big thing" are slim. and cellphones wont be around forever.

Use software radio (SDR) (1)

Malvineous (1459757) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941901)

Just make a device that has a software-defined radio in it capable of transmitting and receiving on what ever band you need, and release it without any software on it. Since it doesn't work as a phone, it's not violating any patents. Then have an unrelated group (i.e. the open source community) spring up and release unofficial firmware that turns the SDR device into a fully functional open source phone.

They can't sue you for making the hardware if it's not actually a phone, and some people beyond your control are hacking your device to turn it into one...

Re:Use software radio (SDR) (3, Insightful)

goodmanj (234846) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941971)

Software-defined radio is not some magic wand you wave and poof! wireless telecom. It eventually gets down to physical RF hardware. And when that hardware operates in the gigahertz band (which it will have to do unless you want the FCC on your ass), you need high-tech RF transceiver hardware like SAW filters and gigahertz amplifiers, which are patented *in their own right* as electronic components, whether they're in a phone or not.

Too many computer programmers are used to accomplishing miracles in software, and they forget that somewhere in the background, there's an electrical engineer that made their miracle possible.

By all means (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about a year and a half ago | (#41941955)

The patent system isn't helping.

But even without the patent system, I kind of doubt you can obtain advanced microchip fabrication technology and use it in your garage.

OpenMoko and its successors (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942027)

OpenMoko (http://wiki.openmoko.org/) tried to produce fully free phones, as in free hardware plus free software, and only sold ~10,000 units.
Open Phoenux (http://projects.goldelico.com/p/gta04-main/), one of its successors, definitely should get more attention

Re:OpenMoko and its successors (1)

queazocotal (915608) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942371)

Openmoko screwed up by the numbers.
(originally posted in 2009)

Openmoko dropped the ball in a big pile of manure, and then asked the community to lick it off.

A quick outline of the process - from someone who has been active in #openmoko on IRC forever, and bought the early version when I really could not afford it.

Openmoko is a perfect example of how not to do an 'open source - community involved project'.

Firstly, in march 2007 or so, we had a working phone with hardware available, with somewhat clunky but more-or-less usable basic phone and SMS. Battery life was not great - 12h or so.

Basic kernel stuff was unreliable - suspend diddn't work right, clock frequency changing diddn't work, ...

Fix the kernel bugs, get the software 50% faster in 6 months, which is not implausible, and you could have had a phone selling for christmas 2007, that had a somewhat clunky phone, SMS, application, bluetooth working, you can play nethack on it (with an external bluetooth keyboard), run any X app, with a several day standby time ...

One year before Android hit, and six months after the first iphone.
Clearly it wouldn't have been as polished as the first iphone, but it would be a platform to hack on.

So, the logical thing to do at this point is of course to after no consultation with the community drop a different - though similar - software stack on the community, with no notice other than the CEO saying 'Something really cool is coming up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' at a conference some weeks before.

This software gets sort-of polished over the next yearish, with still the underlying kernel problems unfixed, and during this period new 'better' hardware is being worked on.

The new slightly evolved hardware arrives, and at the same time the CEO pops up saying 'Something really cool is coming up!!!!!!'.

And yes, another drastic software change with no notice - from X to Qt.

The kernel bugs are still not fixed, and worse, the new better hardware that was supposed to fix everything turns out to have a graphics accellerator that is at best usually a wash, compared to the earlier version with a processor with half the speed.

Shortly after this - another UI change - this time back to X, and an explosion of 'community' distributions, some of which mostly work.

And some of the kernel bugs are even fixed - but by this time openmoko-corporate has run out of money, at least to do phones, as a new model is going to take a large slice of a million to make a stab at developing.

There is even a gta02-core project - which is a community phone project based on the schematics. But, this again would require a large slice of a million for a 'real' launch.

And the elephant in the room is the n900 now. It makes users think 'For $150 more, I can get the n900, which does x,y,z,...', which is impossible to counter from a small production run as you don't have the margins to slash the price.

Openmoko-corporate never really talked to the community, which was a fundamental failing.

They diddn't say 'We are not working on a,b,c,d,e' - so of course people assumed they were, as they must be - they'd have to be insane not to...

So kernel bugs that made the device unusable went unfixed, and it all kind of went very very wrong.

Openmoko-corporate is now out of the mobile market - they are not employing any engineers on designing new phones or fixing the software stack. They are continuing to sell the hardware - but not even in a fully bugfixed form.

Do them? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942061)

Do patents prevent me from building my phone? Or are they intended at preventing from building and selling it?

I believe I can build it if I don't sell it, even with patents.

I'm in doubt if I could sell the blueprints and hardware and software details, provided I don't sell the product itself. Can anyone enlighten me on the subject?

I also think we should be thinking of ways of freeing Android from M$ patents (though not necessarily from all patents); M$ is starting to look like Schwarzenegger's Terminator 1: when you think you killed it, some part of it still aims to get you... (but, yes, I digress).

A bridge too far (4, Interesting)

goodmanj (234846) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942085)

Oh, come on. The "patent system is screwed up" argument started with software and algorithms, and continued with patents on DNA and organisms. And yeah, in those cases it was pretty clear the patent system wasn't working as intended. I'm with you on that one. But now here at Slashdot we're upset that ingenious physical devices, devices that took years of work to design and whose operation is by no means obvious, should not be patented.

There can be no question that something like a SAW filter is a new, non-obvious, useful device. So at this point, you're arguing that patents should not exist at all. And I won't follow you there.

You really have no idea how much brainpower went into designing the individual components within a cell phone. An iPhone is a miracle the first time you see one, then it's a handy tool, and then your familiarity makes it seem blindingly obvious. But tens of thousands of people spent billions of person-hours figuring out how to build the thousands of unique devices inside. And I think those people should receive some reward for their efforts.

Re:A bridge too far (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942231)

A brief search finds me SAW filters in from 1985. I'm sure there were plenty earlier, this was just a VERY quick search. So, no, it CAN be questioned that it's a new, non-obvious device.

I've recently come to the conclusion that any case where it can be said that "All infringe on our patents" or "You cannot without infringing on our patents" (See MPEG LA), the patents should be removed, but that's a separate argument.

Re:A bridge too far (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942459)

Surely you mean the company paying those tens of thousands of people what they agreed, should receive some reward for their efforts? And I won't follow you there.

openmoko! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942477)

I own one.
Its touchscreen broke after just a couple of months, and when I asked the french reseller if this'd be covered, I was almost insulted (asking this apparently meant I didn't have the FAITH).

But, yes, I have the actual experience of a fully open-source phone (and GPS).

That OpenMoko then got bankrupt means one thing at least: none of you here, OP included, does indeed consider phones should be open-source ;-)

but but but... (1)

Rooked_One (591287) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942539)

why would anyone want to stifle the public's innovation?

I get it - you came up with it first... congrats. So instead of me doing it just a slightly different way which falls under your patent (even though I had no knowledge of what you were doing), you want to play monopoly.

And we wonder why your average joe isn't pushing out tons of patents - major companies are. And if mister average joe is a Tesla or Franklin, in these days, they would be put away in a secret compound owned by major company.

DISOBEDIENT DEVELOPER (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41942723)

First, if we try to replicate high-end commercial devices, we are probably bound to fail. As others pointed out, high-end semiconductors and other components are hard to acquire, if you are not a Big Corporate SleazeCorp. But it is indeed possible to buy GPRS chips in small numbers. Read amateur radio maganzines about that. Then build you homemade mobile device, running an OS of your choice. Or take a tablet, run your homemade OS and attach a USB UMTS modem, if you cannot get the internal radio working. Yeah, not sleek, BUT FREE ! Free as in free speech, of course.

Secondly, Go Clandestine. Government and corporations are running over so many long-established and cherished rights so that we, the people now have the moral right to GIVE A FUCK ABOUT PATENTS and ALL THEIR SURVEILLANCE SHIT. Of course, the fatboys at FBI don't want to move out of their fat chairs to perform surveillance; they want to write National Security Letters to sniff into your personal papers and affairs at Google Docs and Facebook, etc. If you are politically active and piss off Mr O'Bomba, your can be sure they will find a pretext to sniff into your Commercialware IT products or "cloudy" services. No criminal action required whatsoever.
Clandestine operation means we de-compile code, release it via TOR and USENET. We write programs irrespective of corporate sleazebags having patented the single-linked list and the rounded corner. Of course. that means staying pseudonymous, signing with GPG and releasing via TOR, GNUNet, etc.
Use TOR as A Matter Of Principle. Rich and powerful corporations have the power to intercept your DSL line and they will do that if they think you "violate" their "precious" patents. Fuck the law; it does not apply to Cisco or Apple as it applies to you. Don't give away any hints by googleing or traceable chat messages. TOR ALWAYS.
Expect the sleazebags to send their reconnaissance assets into hacker meetings. Expect your home to be raided at the behest of Apple, Google, MS or any other of these slimecorps. The government is in collusion with them to illegally sniff into your data, so the government will bend over to "help them protect their patents and IP". So, encrypt your full disk using TrueCrypt and just pull the power plug when the SWAT team comes. And believe me, they have the power send the SWAT team for "patent infringement".
To protect your code, put it on Flash memory chips, drop that into an empty plastic bottle (Coke plastic bottles as sold in Europe work excellently, firmly close the screw, put it into an additional sealed plastic bag and then bury in the woods. So when they have taken away your hard disks on some pretext, you can recover your last backup from the woods. After all the "you are a software terrorist" bullshit has been eliminated by your lawyer, of course.
Yeah, all cloak-and-dagger stuff, but I have absolutely no moral problems with that, as the government routinely breaks their own laws, acts based on flimsy pretexts and of course unfairly aids the big fat corporations in their quest to eradicate the little guy who "violates" their trivial crap or their attempts to corner markets.

Cause otherwise it would be *easy* (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year and a half ago | (#41942791)

The idea that patents are what stops small competitors from producing smart phones is just not true. To make a commercial smart phone, you have to be able to do it at a cost and quality level that is similar to what big electronics manufacturers can do. There are many reasons why a small shop can't do that.

You would have to hire several electronics engineers and mechanical engineers who are as skilled at packing a lot of functions into a small package as those employed by Apple, Motorola, Samsung and HTC.
You would have to employ them for at minimum 1-2 years before you sold your first phone.
You would need your own production facility or invest enough to have a CM make a run of your phones.
You would need a sales and marketing staff capable of getting consumers' attention and trust.

You only need to start thinking about patents when you are confident you can solve all the above problems. Only companies with a lot of money to invest ever get that far. A number of companies have broken into the Android phone market. What they all had in common was a lot of money to invest in starting up a smart phone business.

Of those, I think the last might be the hardest. A smart phone is going to be an expensive item. Such items are sold on trust. The consumer has to trust that they're going to work and that they won't suffer buyer's remorse when your phone turns out to be a piece of junk and they could have had a brand-name phone that works.

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