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IPIX Shuts Down Free Software Developer - Again

timothy posted more than 13 years ago | from the look-around-you-gingerly dept.

Patents 145

l-ascorbic writes: "In 1999, Internet Pictures Corporation (IPIX) started persecuting anyone who made software to produce 360 images. They succeeded in forcing Professor Helmut Dersch, the creator of the GPL Panorama Tools to remove certain functionality from his software. Well, they're at it again. They have now forced him to shut his website. IPIX hold several US patents on remapping fisheye images, and first went after US sites that linked to the PanoTools site. Prof Dersch says he may now have to distribute his software using tricks similar to those needed by GIMP to avoid the Unisys GIF patents."

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Re:Yeesh. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#171831)

> Exactly why do you think he is clueless ?

Because he thinks *patents* have to be protected. It is not a *view*. It is a *fact* that *trademarks* have to be protected against dilution, but not *patents*.

> I couldn't agree more with him.

This doesn't make him right, but it does makes you wrong.

> That is wrong, patents must also be actively protected.

Nope. See the UNISYS GIF patent, for example. There is a shitload of other examples of patent hidden for years before using them as weapons or cash-cows (RAMBUS, BT, ...)

> We wouldn't have much medicine if IP didn't exist. Who would afford to spend billions of dollars on AIDS research if anyone could just copy it when it's done.

Explain this to any south africa resident.

> Do you think people spends huge amounts of $$$ on research just because they think it's fun?

ipix spent very little money on research. They patented something rather obvious (using fishlens to produce 360 images) that was done before.

Anyway, explain me what good software patents did to software ? Can you give me serious example of software that would not have been developed if it was not patentable (I can give you example of software that have *not* been developed because of existing software patents) ?



Re:So.. what's the story? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#171832)

I think the point is that the patents shouldn't have been granted in the first place. The methods IPIX uses were known and available long before the issuance.

In fact, just about any graduate student in astronomy in the 70s and 80s (including yours truly) used these algorithms, and algorithms from which theirs evolved, to remove nonlinear mapping in images. In fact, some telescopes had to use curved glass on photographic plates to remove those "warpages".

*sigh* (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#171833)

I note that the number of people who seem to be taking the above message completely seriously is just further evidence of the poor reading skills and mediocre intellectual ability of the average slashdot reader.

what taxpayer should get (1)

hany (3601) | more than 13 years ago | (#171835)

Do you really think it's that good that people who gets paid with tax money can rip off and release for free products that makes businesses die?

Yes, I do. Because "those people" are not ripping off.

  1. If I'm the taxpayer who payed that development, than I'm avaiting free access to software developed using my money. I do not care about bisunesses "destroyed" by me using my software.
  2. If I'm say Slovak, why should I care about say Amarican businesses destroyed by application developed using my money and released to the world for free? I alredy get what I wanted and paid for.

So taxpayers are benefiting - they get software for fraction of price because of a lot of people payed development.

Also point 2 can be taken even further:

  1. I have software I wanted and paid for - I'm content.
  2. I destroyed concurence (more precisely - those who wanted to release same software as proprietary product) in another country making software house in my country more succesfull.

So my country is also benefiting!

freenet? (1)

cnvogel (3905) | more than 13 years ago | (#171836)

Someone could just add their copy of
the panorama tools to freenet and post the key on

Re:The "We Must Defend Ourselves" Defence (1)

ethereal (13958) | more than 13 years ago | (#171840)

This is why Dolby are so successful, for a fee and a balanced royalty anyone can play with their stuff and thus, many do.

I don't know, he hasn't really had a hit since She Blinded Me with Science, has he?


Caution: contents may be quarrelsome and meticulous!

Re:Ummmm.... not quite that simple (1)

Shadowlion (18254) | more than 13 years ago | (#171842)

The problem, unfortunately, sounds like it's not a case of the Foobar-Bazbox Fisheye Algorithm (TM) being trademarked. It sounds like IPIX has a patent on fisheye->panorama conversions _altogether_. Which means that no matter how many clever alternate algorithms or methodologies you come up with for converting fisheye images to panoramas, you're still going to be running afoul of the patent.

In other words, they have the sole and exclusive right to convert fisheye images to panoramas, regardless of how it's done. It's not a matter of "how" you do it, it's that you're doing it in the first place.

Think about that. It's like saying that a particular tire manufacturer has the sole and exclusive right to make round tires, regardless of the manufacturing method used. It wouldn't be a matter of "how" you made the tires, but that you made them in the first place.

See how ludicrious that sounds?


do you read these things? (1)

No-op (19111) | more than 13 years ago | (#171843)

This guy developed a panoramic imaging system totally independently from iPIX. they are, and have been going after him solely for having a system that does the same thing as their patented system. It has nothing to do with him releasing their "secrets" or any such nonsense; for that matter, a patented process is not "secret" since that's the whole purpose of patents (as several other posters have pointed out.)

To use the threat of legal action as a way to force small developers or individuals into a particular path of action is reprehensible, and that's one of the biggest issues here. We all understand the concepts of IP, and of the fact that money is what puts food on the table. However, using legal manuevering to crush completely legitimate competition or development is NOT something any of us want to encourage.

Try reading some of the links and background info before you spew pointless rants. thanks.

DeCSS (1)

Baloo Ursidae (29355) | more than 13 years ago | (#171844)

This is definately something a "decss" style link to the full version of the code from everywhere type campaign might be able to gain ground on.


Re:what about quicktime VR??? (1)

Mr. Quick (35198) | more than 13 years ago | (#171845)

you win.

Re:No need to call. (1)

Manax (41161) | more than 13 years ago | (#171847)

release their secrets

Oh, you mean the secrets anyone is able to acquire [] from the US patent office?

"Millions" developing? This isn't IBM researching how to improve harddrive data density, this isn't DuPont researching how to create a better weed killer. This is a small company that had an idea (original or not) and patented it. In this case, it took a very small amount of time and effort to create the idea. It could easily have been some guy in the shower thinking about spherical image fields and realizing, "Hey, I bet we can use fisheye images too!".

Maybe people don't understand, or perhaps you haven't really thought enough about it.

Re:No need to call. (1)

T3kno (51315) | more than 13 years ago | (#171848)

Do you put commas in your IP addresses?

Re:What exactly is the problem here? (1)

Caractacus Potts (74726) | more than 13 years ago | (#171852)

The problem here is that stitching together images is not an "invention", it's just an application of mathematics. Just because they paid a number of people to develop it doesn't make it novel or nonobvious. They certainly have "a freedom to charge for their own honest work", but they shouldn't be able to keep others from doing similar, yet independent, work.

Any decent programmer with a book on spherical trig, some graphics experience, and the will to do it could create similar software.

Here's an older IPrix press release (1)

Caractacus Potts (74726) | more than 13 years ago | (#171853)

This Ipix's Press release from their site at the same time.(still
available:see press releases Feb 10, 1998)


Company Now Stands Alone as Provider of Fisheye-Lens-Based Immersive

OAK RIDGE, Feb. 10, 1998 - A United States District Court jury has upheld as
valid and infringed the core patent upon which IPIX immersive photography
technology is based.

The jury's decision provides court-tested validation of the company's core
patent. The jury held that Interactive Pictures Corporation has the exclusive
rights to immersive photography created with a fisheye lens. Interactive
Pictures' patented technology allows users to interact within a photographic
image. The patented technology represents the building blocks for photographic
virtual reality and three-dimensional photographic imaging.

Interactive Pictures filed suit against Infinite Pictures, Inc. of Portland,
Ore. in October of 1996. Interactive Pictures claimed that Infinite Pictures'
SmoothMove and RealWorld Navigation Design Series products infringed
Interactive Pictures', U.S. Patent No. 5,185,667. The jury found for the
plaintiff, Interactive Pictures, unanimously on all counts of the verdict and
awarded damages of $1,000,000 to Interactive Pictures. Interactive Pictures
will request entry of a permanent injunction against Infinite Pictures to
prevent further marketing of products based on the infringing technology upon
entry of the jury's verdict by the court.

"This is the first court test of our patent portfolio and the jury has stated
loud and clear that IPIX technology is pioneering, unique, and protected,"
said Jim Phillips, CEO of Interactive Pictures. "A judicially tested and
vindicated patent portfolio makes Interactive Pictures a much stronger
company and gives us a tremendous advantage in penetrating new markets and
growing our company."

As a result of the decision, Interactive Pictures is now the only company in
the United States with the rights to use a wide-angle fisheye lens to create
immersive photographs. Last September, Live Picture Corporation, which also
had been sued by Interactive Pictures for patent infringement, agreed that
the Interactive Pictures patents were valid and enforceable. Live Picture
also agreed to stop its use of fisheye lenses.

A judgement of infringement also has been entered against Bill Tillman
awarding Interactive Pictures damages of approximately $967,000. Tillman,
doing business as Graphic Effects, used the infringing Infinite Pictures
products on the World Wide Web.

IPIX immersive photography technology now stands alone in the industry,
protected by a Federal Court jury decision. The possibility of an emerging
standard in immersive photography is more likely as a result of this decision.
With IPIX images as a de-facto standard, doors are open to wider-scale
marketing of IPIX technology and growth of the company.

Steven Zimmermann, corporate fellow at Interactive Pictures and co-inventor of
the patented technology said, "It's incredibly gratifying to know that all the
hard work we did back in the early 1990's was affirmed by a jury. This is a
major recognition for all those late nights and weekends. Now we can really
accelerate this technology into the market and continue to advance it."

A computer and electrical engineering professor at the University of
Tennessee and 1978 graduate of MIT was involved in the case from the
beginning. Dr. Doug Birdwell, Ph.D. served as an expert witness at the trial
for Interactive Pictures and testified that the Infinite Pictures products
used technology that infringed on the patented IPIX technology.

Birdwell said, "The Interactive Pictures patent was a pioneering patent,
representing an enormous advance over the prior art. The infringer, Infinite
Pictures, attempted to take the heart of the IPIX technology and the jury
correctly found that this was infringement of the core Interactive Pictures

Beyond the positive impact on the strength of Interactive Pictures' patent
portfolio, the case may become a landmark in the field of patent law. This is
one of the first times that a patent infringement case has successfully been
brought against a company that used the Internet to commit acts of patent
infringement. Interactive Pictures was represented by Washington, D.C. patent
law firm Banner & Witcoff, Ltd.

By showing that Infinite Pictures sold the infringing products over the
Internet to customers in Tennessee, Interactive Pictures was able to
establish jurisdiction for the case in the United States District Court for
the Eastern Division of Tennessee. Beyond the issue of jurisdiction the
infringer, Infinite Pictures, sold the infringing product over the Internet
giving rise to one of the first cases that showed that patent infringement
occurred through the use of the World Wide Web.

Speaking of the technology's inventors, Steve Zimmermann and Dr. Lee Martin,
Phillips said, "Today, as was Thomas Edison, these inventors have been granted
a chance to profit from their labor and give their revolutionary invention an
opportunity to succeed in the marketplace."

For information, contact:
Ed Lewis, Interactive Pictures Corporation
phone: 423-482-3000

Re:I know (1)

quigonn (80360) | more than 13 years ago | (#171855)

even better: 361 degrees. You would have a complete view, too, and nobody would notice that 1 degree's missing.
What I don't understand is how they want to force their patents in Europe, since algorithms cannot be patented (at least not in Germany), only implementations.

In case you're asking about the GIMP's tricks... (1)

dave-fu (86011) | more than 13 years ago | (#171856)

...and you were too lazy to click the post linked up top [] , it comes down to distributing the bigger tool without the (easily snapped-in) library, then distributing the library for people who can legally use it from a country where it's legal to do so.

The biggest change will affect PTStitcher and the
Panorama Tools. I am planning and suggesting a
procedure similar to the distribution method
of graphics programs like 'The Gimp'. This program
has to cope with GIF images and the corresponding
Unisys patent. The solution is to distribute a
basic no-GIF version of 'The Gimp'. For users in
'no-Unisys' countries ( ie where Unisys has no patent),
there is an optional plug-in to enable GIF. The download
site (which is also the main Gimp download site) is
in Finland, which happens to be such a 'no-Unisys'
country. In some countries (like Germany), the private
royalty-free use of any patent is allowed, so that
even some users in 'unisys-countries' might
be allowed to legally take advantage of this.
So on my website, there will only be a 'No_Fisheye'
version of Panorama Tools and PTStitcher (actually,
this functionality resides in the common library
pano12.dll/lib). The sources and a 'Fisheye' version
of pano12.dll/lib could then be downloaded from and to
'noipix' countries. People who want to use the
correction capabilities of Panorama Tools, or
who are using PTStitcher as a multirow-stitcher
for rectilinear images etc, ie who do not need fisheye
conversions, can then use my software
without constant threat from this fine company.
All others have to decide for themselves.

Re:We're not talking about copyrights or TMs, damn (1)

Talla (95956) | more than 13 years ago | (#171857)

It looks like they probably won't be around much longer, thank god.

I guess this explains why they think they can get away with a licensing scheme that is per image made, so you have to buy new keys all the time. In Norway one image costs NOK 200, or about $22.

Re:what about quicktime VR??? (1)

T.Hobbes (101603) | more than 13 years ago | (#171858)

Because qtvr is prior art.. it came out years before ipix

Linus has,in fact,grown,and explosively-JonKatz

Prior Art (1)

hexx (108181) | more than 13 years ago | (#171859)

Pardon this post if it's irrelevant (I didn't look up the patent and read it), but if I remember correctly, Quake (circa 1995?) had 360 degree "fish eye" view.

I seem to remember at college (Carnegie Mellon - we're big geeks) playing Quake CTF, and one team-mate used to guard our flag in 360deg mode.

Made it pretty hard to sneak up on him.
anyone feel like researching this and telling bountyquest?

Re:My company felt the wrath of IPIX (1)

MrScience (126570) | more than 13 years ago | (#171862)

Does anyone else notice how many people have created something similar from scratch? What about the whole "Non-obviousness" clause? A good patent link is here: ULL.html

Next up on the chopping block (1)

icqqm (132707) | more than 13 years ago | (#171863)

Our beloved GIMP logo []

I worked on panoramic stuff in 1999 (1)

PhrackCreak (136718) | more than 13 years ago | (#171864)

Back in 1999, there were a few panoramic software companies popping up. The nice thing about the development of it is that the math is pretty simple. We had a java applet panoramic image viewer that ran reasonably fast (>10fps) on pentium machines. Figuring out the math took a couple of days, and optimization only took a few weeks.

The tougher part of the problem is of course the image creation, which we used a specialized 3d rasterization pipeline to accomplish. I'm even named on a patent for some of the technology we used.

Re:Persecuting? (1)

l-ascorbic (200822) | more than 13 years ago | (#171870)

Don't you mean prosecuting? It's not like iPIX created an angry mob and went after programmers. Well, maybe you're right.

No i did mean persecuting. They didn't prosecute Helmut - they just threatened him.

Re:elaborate plz? (1)

Decado (207907) | more than 13 years ago | (#171871)

More importantly how is a patent from Europe which does not allow software patents be used to prevent the distribution of a piece of software?

IPIX, Schmipix (1)

The Ape With No Name (213531) | more than 13 years ago | (#171873)

This is a Unisys-style attempt to squeeze what ever they can out of a dry rock. They are cash strapped. [] despite finding some VC dumbass to invest in a barely useful technology. Anybody ever run strings on one of their binaries? That is the kind of direct actiont that could be taken to see if they have GPL code in their product. I live 15 miles from Oak Ridge and know a few people who work there. Lots of crickets chirping and surfing of head-hunter web sites.

Re:My company felt the wrath of IPIX (1)

vagnerr (214527) | more than 13 years ago | (#171875)

On what grounds were you forced to stop? Do they hold the patent on 360degree views or on the technique used to make them? If its the first then do we all have to rip our eyes out cos we can turn round and look behind us without a licence from them, and if its the second, can't you just do it a different way, kind of like the way microsoft did GUI a "different way" to Apple. Not to mention don't IBM clones work the same way as IBM's bios originaly did, it was just "re-developed" with no knowledge of the original. Or am I just barking up completely the wrong tree :-)

Re:elaborate plz? (1)

juju2112 (215107) | more than 13 years ago | (#171876)

Do you really think it's that good that people who gets paid with tax money can rip off and release for free products that makes businesses die?

Competition is good.

Ummmm.... not quite that simple (1)

JohnTheFisherman (225485) | more than 13 years ago | (#171877)

I just find it hard to grasp that it would take "millions of dollars" to spend to get the idea of making a 360 degree image

It's not a patent of 'displaying 3D images, PERIOD." It's a methodology/algorithm to display them. It's not as overreaching as you describe it, so the algorithm is either
1. Intuitive and obvious, undeserving of a patent, but therefore should be easy to circumvent, or
2. Novel and non-intuitive, which took many hours of work to develop, and they should be rewarded.

You're kidding, right? (1)

JohnTheFisherman (225485) | more than 13 years ago | (#171878)

If they are 'for free use', why are they so concerned about competition, then?

Ever heard of Adobe Acrobat? How about Apple Quicktime? Real Player? These are all successful business models with free content viewers that CHARGE FOR THE CONTENT CREATION. It's really not that hard to figure out.

I don't know the exact status of the freeness of each individual product, and yes you can get some free PDFs made, and there are sometimes ways around them, but they have all been very successful charging for some content creation while giving the viewers away for free.

Re:prior art? (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 13 years ago | (#171879)

Yoou might be the one responsible for busting their patent. You may not get any money for doing so, but you will have made a contributionn to open source. I was in discussions with real estate agents in 1997 about doing this very thing, but other pursuits tied me up. I never thought about patenting it, as it seemed obvious to me at the time that others were doing it already. I feel bad this guy felt like he had to fold, because I don't think they have a leg to stand on even with a granted patent.

Re:I know (1)

wrinkledshirt (228541) | more than 13 years ago | (#171880)

Let's make 359 images, nobody will notice and we'll be unaffected by the patent.

Actually, if you're designing wraparounds for a game or something, people might notice the slight jump in detail (these are the same people who swear they can tell the difference between 65 and 68 fps, after all). Better to make a 361 degree image, and then offer a patented 1 degree crop tool.

Could somebody please explain? (1)

Big Nothing (229456) | more than 13 years ago | (#171882)

Now, I'm not a strong advocate against software patents - I think that if I some day managed to write a brilliant piece of software, I should be rewarded properly by anyone who wanted to use that code. If I decided to give this code to individuals/universities/non-profit organisations/etc. for free, that's my call. But HOW IN THE HELL can someone be sued for writing software to accomplish a specific task?!? How can a company own licences for the concept of viewing a scenery in 360* ?

I'm puzzled.

IPIX in Canada (1)

grovertime (237798) | more than 13 years ago | (#171884)

they are a rotten bunch as far as i can tell. i have a few friends (photographers) who are employed by them here in canada, and they are notorious for several lame or unprofessional business practices. i am not surprised in the least to hear that they are finicky over their borderline patents as they treat their employees like tools.

  1. is this for REAL? []

IPIX in Canada (1)

grovertime (237798) | more than 13 years ago | (#171885)

they are a rotten bunch as far as i can tell. i have a few friends (photographers) who are employed by them here in canada, and they are notorious for several lame or unprofessional business practices. i am not surprised in the least to hear that they are finicky over their borderline patents as they treat their employees like tools.

  1. is this for REAL? []

Re:No need to call. (1)

SlippyToad (240532) | more than 13 years ago | (#171887)

The way I read it, they were picking on people who had independently discovered the same solution to a 360 degree display that they had. This would mean that the solution is fairly obvious to anyone who is skilled in the field, and therefore is not patentable. They deserve to be punished for having such a sloppy business model.

Re:No need to call. (1)

Bonker (243350) | more than 13 years ago | (#171888)

If they are 'for free use', why are they so concerned about competition, then? If they didn't intend to sell this product, even at some time in the future, why did they bother patenting the methods it uses?

OK, gentlemen (1)

Pituritus Ani (247728) | more than 13 years ago | (#171889)

Let's get the filenames of the programs up here, so that they will be more easily found with Gnutella, etc. Freenet keys would be nice, too. Don't those fools at IPIX know that the surest way to get fast and wide distribution of something is to try to suppress it? Sheesh.

Re:Yeesh. (1)

ma2oliveira (254779) | more than 13 years ago | (#171890)

REF: Trademarks becoming synonymous with the product (usually due to effective marketing or widespread use)
Location: Brasil


As a related aside, I would like to mention that in Brasil, the Xerox trademark has become synonymous with photocopying, both noun and verb (xerox, xerocar). Other instances include Gillette (razor) and, to some extent, Bic (common ballpoint pen).

I believe that there is a small advantage to "being incorporated into the cultural landscape": instant (ex)brandname recognition.

adversity (1)

blkros (304521) | more than 13 years ago | (#171892)

Through adversity comes creativity.

Time for the Rich Geeks to Pony Up! (1)

emodgod (310737) | more than 13 years ago | (#171893)

If think it's time for some action. I suggest that a non-profit organization be setup (by a large endowment from all of you that struck it rich with Internet IPOs) whose purpose is to help OSS developers defend themselves from this rather odious form of harassment.

Ugh (1)

cypher6_06 (315532) | more than 13 years ago | (#171895)

These guys are lamer than Amazon. I kinda think it's funny though, what would have happened if the folks at id Software would have made a patent this ludicrous on.. '3D applications'? How is code different from speech? Let's all go patent multiplication before it's too late! I'll go patent Leibniz's version of calculus while I'm at it.

Re:What kind of tricks? (1)

Chakat (320875) | more than 13 years ago | (#171896)

RTA. Basically, what they do is host the GIF plugins on sites which do not have LZW patents. In the unpatched version of GIMP, there's a popup window that's displayed when you try to save as a GIF telling the situation and how to get GIF support.

Re:What kind of tricks? (1)

Ryan_Terry (444764) | more than 13 years ago | (#171899)

Did you read the artcile and the links?

He tells you how they do it in this e-mail [] . They basically provide a functional version that does not have the gif piece in it for countries where the Unisys patent is in effect. They provide a full featured version for everyone else.

Next time read!!!!


Re:Yeesh. (1)

pagsz (450343) | more than 13 years ago | (#171901)

Are we going post rants every single time someone defends their copyright? Do we really want to live in a world without intellectual property?

The problem isn't really with a company protecting their copyrights. They are well within their rights to do so. The problem is ... drumroll ... the copyright laws themselves. IP laws are so restrictive that companies are able to do things like this. You can't really blame IPIX, they're just taking advantage of bad laws. The question is, do copyright laws ever get fixed, or do we spend the rest of our lives bitching?

Obviously its the latter, so bitch away.

Hoping they won't sue me for swiveling my head and creating panoramic views of my bathroom,

Re:No need to call. (1)

GPLwhore (455583) | more than 13 years ago | (#171904)

What kind of argument is that ?
Even if it did not cost them a lot , still it was their idea ( unless yoo can prove otherwise)

Re:This is a bit offtopic but IMPORTANT. (1)

codeforprofit2 (457961) | more than 13 years ago | (#171906)

Someone mod the parent up! It's a text that every OSS developer should read and then think out a WORKING business model.

if they wanted to shut down the guy's website... (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#171911)

all they had to do was get it listed on slashdot. the rest will take care of itself.

useless mirror i made a few years ago (2)

Wakko Warner (324) | more than 13 years ago | (#171912)

This [] is the main page of the site, but it doesn't have any of his software on it, so it's pretty useless unless you've grabbed the software at some point too...

Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

Re:You're kidding, right? (2)

Have Blue (616) | more than 13 years ago | (#171914)

Adobe Acrobat

Acrobat Reader is free, Acrobat Distiller or whatever they call the creator is not. Knowledgable readers will point out that Mac OS X includes PDF creation facilities (there is a printer driver that generates PDF files), but God only knows how much Apple paid Adobe for this privilege. Adobe isn't really a good example here as they have a lucrative traditional software business to subsidize this.


The free version of QT also has some restrictions on viewing (can't go full screen, can't escape custom movie interfaces). And, FWIW, it used to be entirely free until Apple realized people would actually pay for this stuff in version 3. It's possible to get around the limits by using old software that isn't aware of the licensing system.

Real The player and content creator are both free. They charge for the streaming server.

Re:Yeesh. (2)

GeorgeH (5469) | more than 13 years ago | (#171916)

They have to do that, by law, or they lose the rights to whatever copyrights/trademarks/etc.

You're comparing apples and wintels. Trademarks need to be defended, otherwise they become part of the cultural landscape and can no longer be trademarked. Kleenex and Band-Aid are on the virge of that now, Xerox was on the virge 15 years ago but came back and now everyone calls it "photocopying."

All this trademark talk is interesting, but irrelevant. This isn't a case of copyright infringement either, unless the professor was dumb enough to copy IPIX's code. This is a case of patent infringement, for which there is no legal obligation to pursue, only financial. If I patent something, I can completely ignore $favorite_OS users who use my patent, but sue each and every $hated_OS user who uses my patent. The trademark law that you are vaugely familiar with isn't an issue.

Before asking whether "we really want to live in a world without intellectual property," I suggest you learn the different types of IP that are legally defined, as well as the opposing camp's arguements. For the IPIX patent, I suggest that making a 360 degree image is obvious to anyone who works with photos and as such is a Bad Patent(tm).

What kind of tricks... (2)

TBone (5692) | more than 13 years ago | (#171917)

Since the slashdot kiddies apparently find reading a /. blurb AND and entire article too tiring....

GIMP, by default, distributes a no-GIF-support version of the software. In countries where people can ignore (stupid) US Patents on software, there is a plugin for GIMP that adds GIF support to GIMP. This is how GIMP gets around the Unisys patent

This space for rent. Call 1-800-STEAK4U

WTF ... this tech existed in 1965 (2)

Skapare (16644) | more than 13 years ago | (#171918)

What I saw in 1965 was a system of converting a single photograph taken with a fisheye lens in either up or down orientation, and produced a long strip print that gave a view of the surrounding area. You could view it as an outward view and it looked kinda funny, or stick your head in the middle and view it all around and it looked really cool.

I didn't see the actual mechanism of producing it; I only saw the original fisheye image blown up, and the resultant 360 degree connected strip. But how it was done was quite obvious to me. I saw this at the Columbus (Ohio, USA) Museum of Science and Industry. If it was patented then, it has long since expired.

I don't know if this is exactly what IPIX is claiming. But if it is, then their patents are bogus for two reasons: prior art, and utterly obvious. If IPIX is basing the life of their company on this technology, then it's a doomed company.

Now appearing on (2)

Pope (17780) | more than 13 years ago | (#171920)

At least here in Toronto, IPIX grew fast and died fast.
A couple of good friends of mine worked for them, and all got laid off last month. Sure, this has nothing to do with the patents, but it bears mentioning.

Re:Does this mean I have to use Windows again? (2)

flimflam (21332) | more than 13 years ago | (#171921)

The iPix patent doesn't apply to software that does what you want -- only to software that takes 2 extremely wide angle (>180) pictures and stitches them to make a 360 panorama. Panorama Tools is being re-released without this feature.

Re:I know (2)

Snowfox (34467) | more than 13 years ago | (#171922)

Let's make 359 images, nobody will notice and we'll be unaffected by the patent.

Cute. Or make a 1080 degree image, with red, green and blue in different rotations. Yeh.

Fair, IMHO (2)

cyberdemo (49375) | more than 13 years ago | (#171924)

Well, it is pretty obvious that they are in all their right. Otherwise, these lawsuits wouldn't be getting thru (or else, everyone will just start saying that Justice isn't effective).

Think about it: you pay for the right to have access to thousands of other patented technologies. Why, when it comes to software, do we always want to GPL the world? It doesn't matter that the project was about free software; we're talking about Intelectual Property here. That's why patents exist: to protect indefensive corporations from malevolous open source developers.


Re:Yeesh. (2)

graxrmelg (71438) | more than 13 years ago | (#171927)

Are we going post rants every single time someone defends their copyright?

I don't know, but it does look like every time we have an intellectual property article we're going to have a post by someone who can't distinguish between patents, copyright, and trademarks but wants to defend the poor innocent lawyer-happy corporation anyway.

Does this mean I have to use Windows again? (2)

beej (82035) | more than 13 years ago | (#171929)

Or is there another set of software that does photo-stitching under Linux?

Just having purchased a new digital camera, I was disappointed to learn that there was a lack of software to do the stitching under un*x. I found links to Panorama Tools (huzzah!) but saw the site was down (no!)

Well, that'll teach the good professor to write software and not release it anonymously.

I don't understand... (2)

Dirtside (91468) | more than 13 years ago | (#171930)

I thought the whole point of a patent was that you could patent a PARTICULAR METHOD of doing something, say, making 360 degree images. Patents don't cover an entire idea! If you patent a method of creating 360 degree images, and I use a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT method to make a 360 degree image, I haven't violated your patent. Now, if they had a patent on exactly what Prof. Dersch was doing, then, well, yeah, I guess he violated the patent. If not, then what the fuck do they think they're doing?

Re:UNFAIR to patent and lock up PRIOR ART (2)

Fjord (99230) | more than 13 years ago | (#171931)

When have you ever seen a system that uses two fisheye lenses procuce a panoramic image. If you have, then send this proof to the prof and get this patent out of the way. Otherwise, QUIT SCREAMING "PRIOR ART"!

elaborate plz? (2)

Lord Omlette (124579) | more than 13 years ago | (#171933)

using tricks similar to those needed by GIMP to avoid the Unisys GIF patents.

What sort of tricks?

What about freenet? Or putting it on Russian servers? Is linking still illegal or did they change that?

ICQ 77863057

I know (2)

SpanishInquisition (127269) | more than 13 years ago | (#171934)

Let's make 359 images, nobody will notice and we'll be unaffected by the patent.


Re:No need to call. (2)

icqqm (132707) | more than 13 years ago | (#171935)

"They are "picking on" programmers that are violating their patents, and trying to release their secrets that they spent millions of dollars to develop for free use by anyone, including their competitors. Why is this so hard for people to understand?"

I just find it hard to grasp that it would take "millions of dollars" to spend to get the idea of making a 360 degree image.

UNFAIR to patent and lock up PRIOR ART (2)

Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) | more than 13 years ago | (#171936)

Never mind that the techniques were invented and freely shared or at least published and not patented for a year before IPIX waltzed in and got a patent.

Maybe there is nothing wrong with a company trying to outlaw people from continuing to use a freely available technology that the company had nothing to do with, and make it its own.

Maybe we should get rid of prior art.

Just allow any company to take any non-patented technology, and claim it as its own, and outlaw the previous users of it from continuing to use it.

Maybe we can do the equivalent in the real world. Allow any company to take over any public park, and take it over. For $20K.

IS this the world you want?!?

I sure don't!

What kind of tricks? (2)

Refrag (145266) | more than 13 years ago | (#171937)

Prof Dersch says he may now have to distribute his software using tricks similar to those needed by GIMP to avoid the Unisys GIF patents

What kind of tricks does GIMP use to avoid Unisys's patents?


Re:You're kidding, right? (2)

connorbd (151811) | more than 13 years ago | (#171938)

Actually, the reason Apple switched from DPS to Quartz was precisely to get out of paying Adobe for the privilege of using Adobe code. AFAIK Quartz was a PDF renderer that was developed in house.

You might want to read the licensing clause in the front of the PDF and PostScript definitions, btw. It's rather interesting -- it reserves trademark rights but essentially allows both definitions to be mostly public domain. Apple IMHO could have done the same thing in implementing their own DPS engine; I presume there was a touch of politics involved, though.

As for Quicktime... Hmm. I think the thing with Quicktime is that it is, more than even the MacOS or the hardware, *the* crown jewel of Apple's intellectual property. Nobody has created a better version of what Quicktime does and Apple feels the need to keep that going as a potential revenue stream. You may like it, you may not, but that's how it is. (Though I think the real reason they don't open source has a lot more to do with the Sorenson codec than it does anything else...)


Re:Whu? (2)

YKnot (181580) | more than 13 years ago | (#171940)

How many formulas for mapping a picture taken with a fisheye lens to a certain other view? Right, there's exactly one. It's a bijective projection from fisheye-image coordinates into yourview coordinates. The desired view is defined by the application (QTVR tools). The projection is defined by the physical characteristics of the fisheye lense. There isn't a single variable in the mathematics of this transformation. If anything about transforming fisheye images into "normal" images is patentable then it must be in interpolation or coding strategies. The mapping itself is straight forward math.

Re:So.. what's the story? (2)

gughunter (188183) | more than 13 years ago | (#171941)

I think the point is that the patents shouldn't have been granted in the first place. The methods IPIX uses were known and available long before the issuance.

Wired article here. []

Re:My company felt the wrath of IPIX (2)

dstone (191334) | more than 13 years ago | (#171942)

I work for an adult internet business ... With a little work on my hand ...

You're sure that was work on your hand? ;-)

After a couple months in development, my team was contacted by IPIX lawyers and forced to stop development.

I'm curious how the IPIX lawyers found out details of your project while in development. (Or had it been released to the public?) Did your competitors know what you were up to? Was there previous contact with IPIX? Were you putting the word out for outsourcing technology or doing press releases or anything?

Re:What kind of tricks? (2)

l-ascorbic (200822) | more than 13 years ago | (#171943)

I was looking at rendering some 360 degree panoramas but it seems the Quicktime VR authoring tools only work on Macs Look at the Apple sample code site [] they have source code for all kinds of that stuff. Though, the fact that QuickTime isn't available for Linux maay be a problem... One of the great things that Prof Dersch made, was a java applet that played quicktime VR on any system, without QuickTime installed. It was (and is) the only way to view QTVR on linux.

Re:prior art? (2)

l-ascorbic (200822) | more than 13 years ago | (#171944)

You are right - QTVR does let you use any camera. This includes fisheye lenses. The cubic format gives a full 360x180 field of view. This was one of the applications of Helmut's tools. It means that you can remap fisheye images to an equirectangular imagfe suitable for turning into QTVR.

Re:elaborate plz? (2)

l-ascorbic (200822) | more than 13 years ago | (#171945)

AFAIK, it was distributing differnt versions in different countries. Perhaps a better example would be the RSA thingie - if you were in the US you were supposed to download the patent-free version. Helmut is suggesting that he will keep the fisheye functions in a separate library, only to be downloaded by peopel in countries with sane patent laws.

Re:I know (2)

graveyhead (210996) | more than 13 years ago | (#171946)

Wouldn't this leave a seam in a panoramic view like in qtvr? Not very useful...

Well, your fingers weave quick minarets; Speak in secret alphabets;

Re:No need to call. (2)

UberLame (249268) | more than 13 years ago | (#171947)

Technically, if they patented it, then the method should be fully documented in the patent, which means it is not a secret. This was the whole point of patents, to encourage people to share information while still having it be protected.

Re:prior art? (2)

tb3 (313150) | more than 13 years ago | (#171948)

Remember how QuickTime VR works? You take a bunch of normal stills and knit them together to make the panorama view. IPIX uses two 'fisheye' lens pictures to create the panorama. Two different techniques to get the same effect.
IMHO, QuickTime VR is a nicer approach, because you can use any camera, but the fisheye approach is quicker.

"What are we going to do tonight, Bill?"

Busy lawyers (2)

tb3 (313150) | more than 13 years ago | (#171949)

Here's a link to a review page [] of seven different commerical panorama software packages. I'd say IPIX has a bunch of busy lawyers.

"What are we going to do tonight, Bill?"

The different motivations of men (2)

OpenSourced (323149) | more than 13 years ago | (#171950)

The PTViewer license will be changed and be more open. On Webpages using the applet, no link to my own website is required. Also, I do no longer plan to charge shareware fees for PTMViewer, the extension to display QTVR-files within PTViewer. It is free to use like the rest of PTViewer. These changes take effect immediately, and also apply to previous versions. Yeah, I bet he's now more interested in his software getting the widest possible use, more than in making the odd buck. Basically out of rage, would I say. That's just another example of why the people that still insist on "the Free/Open Software movement having no future because there's no money in it", are just too simplistic.

Wonderful humans are more complicated than any theory can explain. Money is a good motivator, I reckon. I'm fairly motivated by it myself. But is not the only one, and many times not the most powerful.


Re:Ummmm.... not quite that simple (2)

Magumbo (414471) | more than 13 years ago | (#171951)

I wonder if their patent deals only with certain types of lenses or whether it's sufficiently general enough to cover ALL lenses, or spherical reflections, or anything else that could produce a wide field of view. If not, that may be a way around this road apple patent.


Re:elaborate plz? (2)

patrat (443579) | more than 13 years ago | (#171952)

Read the notice on the site [] . It's explained there...

Whu? (3)

FFFish (7567) | more than 13 years ago | (#171954)

I can see isys having a patent on a particular mathematical formula for de-fishlensing an image, but surely there is more than one way to accomplish that task.

And certainly they can't have a patent on taking fishlense images and making them normal. Because that sort of thing has been going on since Panavision movie-making was developed.

And they certainly can't have a patent on stitching together images, because people been doing that since forever.

Really, all they could patent is a particular algorithm for it -- and I'm not sure they could even patent that, 'cause it's just mathematics!

WTF is up here?


Re:what about quicktime VR??? (3)

ambient (8381) | more than 13 years ago | (#171955)

There were rumors that IPIX would be going after QTVR and forcing them to license their *technology*...

The International Quicktime VR Association also has an anti-IPIX page at: [] .

We're not talking about copyrights or TMs, damnit! (3)

flimflam (21332) | more than 13 years ago | (#171956)

We're talking about patents! Patent law does not require them to go after people to protect their rights the way trademark law does.

And anyway, the patents themselves are extremely dubious -- it's just that no one has the resources to challenge them.

The reason they're doing this is because they have an untenable business model, and the company is run by morons (and yes I speak from personal experience).

For the only upside, take a look at their stock price -- it's hovering just above the penny-stock range, down from the mid $40's. It looks like they probably won't be around much longer, thank god.

Felten v RIAA (3)

wiredog (43288) | more than 13 years ago | (#171957)

EFF & Princeton Scientists Sue Record Companies Over Squelched Research , at EFF [] .

Since the editors seem to think that the /. crowd wouldn't be interested.

Re:My company felt the wrath of IPIX (3)

Fjord (99230) | more than 13 years ago | (#171958)

This brings up something that I've wondered about patents. Do they really prevent a person from implementing the patent and using it for themselves. I understand if you were making a program to make the imges and then selling/distrubuting that. But if you make the program to make the images, and only you use.have that program, and instead are using/distributing the images, then is that really a violation of patent law? IANAL.

Re:I know (3)

YKnot (181580) | more than 13 years ago | (#171959)

What I don't understand is how they want to force their patents in Europe

Check out the "Hague Convention". This is stuff to be afraid of. Signing countries will enforce foreign judgements! []

Re:I know (3)

Ubi_UK (451829) | more than 13 years ago | (#171960)

That's not the point.
the IPIX patent will probably not hold in court, because (apparently) other people have developed similar techniques on their own. The point is that they have more money than you. Therefore they will sue you untill you are broke. And then they win.
The sad thing really is that patent laws were created to protect the little man-with-good-idea against the BigCompany. This has taken 1 180deg spin here (hmmm how ironic)

The "We Must Defend Ourselves" Defence (4)

Phill Hugo (22705) | more than 13 years ago | (#171961)

Unlike Trademarks, Patents do not require defence for their validity to remain in tact. This much is obvious from the antics of BT and their belated (and idiotic) hyperlink threats.

Patents are granted monopolies in exchange for full declaration the invention.

Those holding patents often realise that there is more money to be made licensing the patent to other companies as this tends to make their technocology wider used and a small peice of a huge pie is better than all of a tiny one. This is why Dolby are so successful, for a fee and a balanced royalty anyone can play with their stuff and thus, many do.

There is No Legal Reason why any company holding software patents cannot license them to anyone they like for or without a fee and for this precise reason Bruce Perens et al are trying to get IBM and HP to set a 'social precident' for software companies to not sue free software developers for patent infringement.

IPIX are doing themselves no favours here, if they had the foresight their monotonous press releases suggest ("IPIX, the world leader in..." play another record!), they'd allow free software folk to improve their ideas (they still own the patent underneigth and can make a killing licensing the whole shebang to camera producers).

If you have more to gain by co-operating, and less to lose by calming the legal dept down, do it! Otherwise you'll just find many of those you most want to embrace IPIX stuff won't touch it with a barge pole. They already seem to prefer the other method of stitching images together to get panoramas.

Cluetrain [] anyone?

GPhoto [] - Free Digital Camera Software

IPIX didn't do this . . . (4)

Tymanthius (75808) | more than 13 years ago | (#171962)

From a message sent by Helmut Dersch [] (url i/lwgate-en-proj.cgi/PROJ-IMIM/archives/proj-imim. archive.0106/Date/article-66.html):

I do not want to comment on your questions but want to emphasize that no one has yet accused PTViewer of infringing any patents. There are many viewers out there which use similar technology and I am not aware of any ipix patent that could possibly apply.


Another point: I did not receive the warning from ipix but from a person who is currently being treated by them and their lawyers. I am not authorized to mention details. I hope there is no immediate danger, neither for him nor for us, but it makes sense to be cautious, hence the proposed changes.

prior art? (4)

cheezus (95036) | more than 13 years ago | (#171963)

How is ipix getting away with this? Back in high school I worked for a real estate company and we did 360deg views of rooms inside homes they were trying to sell using software that made QuickTime VR movies (not Apple's, QTVR Authoring Studio was too expensive). About a year after we started doing it, it caught on, and we started getting ads from ipix asking us to buy their $500 software. I had seen qtvr and thought it was cool long before we ever started using it. How can ipix claim that they have the rights to this technology?


Patents valid by default (4)

Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) | more than 13 years ago | (#171964)

I don't think they have a leg to stand on even with a granted patent.

Courts PRESUME any patent which is granted is valid. The plantiff has to prove infringement, but if he does, than the defendant needs to prove the patent is invalid to win. The plaintiff does NOT have to prove anything about the validity, it is considered valid by default because it has been so carefully (hah!) reviewed by the patent office. (i.e. they glance at the title, and make sure it is paid for before rubber stamping it).

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice.

IPIX - at it again (4)

vergil (153818) | more than 13 years ago | (#171965)

For the record, the first time IPIX threatened Mr. Dersch (in 1999), it was over a specious claim of alleged copyright infringement.

IPIX has been involved in several tangled intellectual-property disputes. In '97, IPIX went after the Live Picture Corporation for patent infringement, and eventually secured an out-of-court settlement resulting in Live Picture's agreement to stop using fisheye lenses.

IPIX was also the defendant in a March 2000 patent infringement suit involving alleged willful infringement of U.S. patent 5,903,782 concerning "spherical visual technology".

If anyone is interested, I threw up a page [] a while back that contains more information about IPIX-related intellectual property disputes.

Vergil Bushnell

More information... (5)

ambient (8381) | more than 13 years ago | (#171966)

I dug up a quote of Dan Slaters from [] that I'm sure you will all find interesting:

...IPIX US patents include: 5,313,306, 5,185,667, and at least two others. Some of their claims are quite broad, suggesting that any geometric remapping of a fisheye image is their invention. There is considerable prior art that would seem to invalidate these broad IPIX claims. Variations of fisheye image geometric remapping type systems have been used in aerospace, aerial photography, submarine periscopes, flight simulation, planetarium projection, etc. As an example, one system from the early 1970,s used a 6 mm Nikon fisheye lens in a F-111 aircraft to view wing extension simultaneously on both sides of the aircraft while also providing star image data. Two particularly relevant prior art references that would appear to completely invalidate the broad IPIX patent claims include:

Ripley, D., DVI - A Digital Multimedia Technology, Communications of the ACM, Volume 32 Number 7 (July 1989)

This paper describes an interactive computer based system that dynamically extracts perspective corrected views from images filmed with a Nikon 220 fisheye lens.

Lippman, A., Movie Maps: An Application of the Optical Video Disc to Computer Graphics, Siggraph Conference Proceedings (1980)

This second paper describes an early VR system that used either a set of 4 cameras or a single donut image camera that captured the complete road system in a small town. The viewer could travel down any of the roads in several different seasons and see perspective corrected views. The single camera system could use either the Nikon 6 mm f2.8 fisheye lens or the Kern Peri Apollar lens to record a full 360 degree horizontal view.

Ripley (the author of the 1st paper) is a principle of Infinite Pictures that was sued by IPIX for patent infringment and lost with a million dollar judgement against him. To this day, I don't understand why, as both of these papers clearly describe prior art of undistorting fisheye images to extract "perspective corrected" views, etc.

Infuriating. (5)

ambient (8381) | more than 13 years ago | (#171967)

I find IPIX's actions to be far more infuriating and monopolostic than anything that Micro$oft has ever done... These people are basically saying that the only way you are going to use 360 images on the web is if you use their software and pay their fees.

Prior-Art exists for the patents that they are trying to enforce... someone should step in (EFF? O'Reilly?) and challenge these patents.

For now, we can make an impact on IPIX... boycott them!
Also, check out [] or l [] for more of IPIX's heavy-handed tactics.

Sorry I'm not more coherent, but this really pisses me off.

Re:I know (5)

jms (11418) | more than 13 years ago | (#171968)

The sad thing really is that patent laws were created to protect the little man-with-good-idea against the BigCompany.

This is a persistant myth.

The patent laws were created for one purpose -- to promote progress by encouraging the disclosure of inventions. Patent laws are not, and never were intended to "protect the little guy."

What about NASA? (5)

icqqm (132707) | more than 13 years ago | (#171969)

Will they have to take their Pathfinder images [] down too?

Re:What kind of tricks? (5)

onion2k (203094) | more than 13 years ago | (#171970)

GIMP simply has no GIF support by default. Theres a plugin for gif support, this is only available from servers located in countries where Unisys don't hold an active patent on the LZW algorithm. So they can't stop the file being served. And people download it.

The tinkers..

If you are an OSS developer... (5)

Bonker (243350) | more than 13 years ago | (#171971)

Call IPIX or drop them an email and ask them why they are picking on OSS developers:

Stu Roberson
3160 Crow Canyon Road, 4th floor
San Ramon, CA 94583
ph: (925) 242.4050

Missy Acosta
Ackermann Public Relations
1111 Northshore Drive, Suite N-400
Knoxville, TN 37917-4046
Phone: (865) 584.0550
Fax:(865) 588.3009

Cathy Hay
380 Lexington Ave
New York, NY
Phone: (212) 850-5679

My company felt the wrath of IPIX (5)

iluvpr0n (306594) | more than 13 years ago | (#171972)

I work for an adult internet business that shall remain nameless...A little over a year ago we were working to differentiate ourselves from other adult site's offerings. With a little work on my hand, we developed 3d panoramic software to explore the mystical regions on the beautiful nude form (our site is upscale and we cater to both men and women, so it took some work to optimize viewing for the various body types). After a couple months in development, my team was contacted by IPIX lawyers and forced to stop development. They offered us the option of licensing technology through them, but the cost benefit just wasn't there.

It's a shame to see creativity online stifled by overly restrictive business practices by those online. Our company has been forced to use more traditional offerings for our site- mediocrity is now being prescribed by unnecessary and unjust patents enforced by the legal systems of the world.

iluvpr0n. (really)

The math they use is clearly public domain (5)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 13 years ago | (#171973)

This is just nuts. The math they use has been around since the 1700s. Artists have been using the process (cf Escher) for ages. I went head to head with them a few years back, pointed out these facts on behalf of a client (IANAL, I am a Programer with an Attitude) and they backed down. Didn't admit that we'd called their bluff, but dropped it cold.

They are bluffing. This is known art, and they know it. Call them on it.

-- MarkusQ

P.S. Still annoyed by their audacity, if you can't tell.

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