Thursday, July 10, 2008

vacation: a drive up from Florida

Once again I hear interesting vacation stories. This time I decided to try the drive across the country myself as a vacation idea, and I turned to the Advantage Rent A Car, after a colleague recommended it as a straightforward, no-complication rental service. I am going to drive up from Miami to Chicago, check out the Chi Town, and meet up with my friends who know the famous jazz bars. I did find the Florida-to-Chicago car rental opportunity on their home page. I liked the simplicity and down-to-business layout: very easy-to-use, side-by-side menus helped me arrange the pickup, the car and the drop off. What's interesting, the drive from Florida to Chicago cost only $1 a day. On the same page there are many interesting deals and programs, like frequent rental, state of Texas and Colorado rentals (where I always have dinner at the El Rancho restaurant). There is also the Starlink Rental management system, which is great for extremely busy executives. The company news is found on the same home page, where the corporate headquarters offers the latest info on franchise opportunities. At Advantage they are also running an offer of up to a 50% discount on Luxury and Convertible car rentals. That's another reason I got interested in driving up from Florida in style and comfort. I also found these great offers, wherein I can also visit my friends and relatives in Texas.

Who is watching Motorola's threat to the music industry?

What seems to be a long time ago (Computer Shopper, January 2003) this interesting article educated us about a new set of chips from Motorola call the Symphony Digital Radio Chipset. The radio industry is supposed to be shifting to a digital format, but can't agree on standards. Digital radio should lead to higher quality signals and reception. Sensing an opportunity, Motorola developed the SDRC chip set, which takes in the current analog radio signals and digitizes the signal at the radio wave level. Nothing big in doing this (except maybe for doing so and having a reasonably priced chip set), but the chip set also has circuitry to clean up the signal (for example, interference noise you get with all radio signals, and reliably boosting weak signals, etc.). Thus much of the benefits of digital radio can be achieved with the current radio system. The article predicts two effects. First, sales of radios using Motorola's chip set could negatively impact the satellite radio industry, for which signal quality was an important selling feature. Second, there will be people selling plug-in boards to personal computers which make use of the Motorola chip set, so you can turn your PC into an ever better radio receiver. And of course, it will be easy to capture, store and burn songs being broadcasted by the radio stations. No need for P2P for the popular songs that the music industry really cares about (and for which the P2P advocates are really interested in stealing). Some interesting technology, and a host of legal implications to track.

Unique stem cell preservation method enables future therapies

There is always a possibility that someone will face a life threatening disease. I am sure that none of us wants to face that eventuality, but, unfortunately, it is a reality of our lives and of our society. You, however, have the power to do something about it that could potentially save your life, or the life of a close one. You as a woman, get this opportunity monthly.

Research has shown that life-saving stem cells are found in a woman’s menstrual blood. What does that mean for you?

C’elle is a company that develop a method for women to harvest those stem cells and making a difference in their future. And the method is easy, painless and non-invasive. You can visit their site and order the C’elle kit. The kit is used in the privacy of you own home. The the cells are processed and preserved for potential use in the future to treat such diseases as osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. This solution is a definite lifesaver. If you’re still not completely convinced of the simplicity of the idea, you can get more information at the C’elle Client Testimonial.

What's more to the news is that C’elle is running a “Caring is Sharing” promotion where you can buy for yourself and get another kit free for a loved one. This means that you could literally give the gift of life. All you have to do is when you order your kit, enter Promotion Code 241. Make sure you take advantage of this great offer. Just by ordering this kit, you could make a difference in your own future and the futures of your loved ones!

C’elle has also announced their science break through of a product in this press release: Taking Control: Future Therapies for a Host of Serious Diseases May Be Found in Women's Menstrual Blood (also here CNNMoney) July 07, 2008: 01:28 PM EST OLDSMAR, Fla., July 7 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- With today’s hectic lifestyle, where most women are juggling careers, family, relationships, and a host of activities, the idea of possibly facing a serious illness in the future is not something that readily comes to mind -- especially when a woman is in the prime of her life. But what most women don’t know, is that the key to treating a number of possibly life-threatening diseases that she, a parent, a sibling or even her children may face in later years, such as osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, may be found within her own body -- in vital stem cells, which can now be harvested from her own menstrual blood. Now, thanks to the revolutionary research and technology of C’elle, a service dedicated to providing women with a safe and easy method of collecting and preserving stem cells found in her menstrual fluid each month, even the busiest woman can take control of her future, right in the privacy of her own home. With C’elle’s non-invasive collection process, menstrual cells are processed and cryo-preserved (stored at a very low temperature) for potential cellular therapies that may be used in the future. These self-renewing cells one day may even be used for sports medicine or cosmeceutical treatments, such as anti-aging therapies. "C’elle enables and empowers a woman to take control of her future health, and possibly of those genetically closest to her, in a fast, painless and stress free way," said Michelle Kay, Marketing and Sales Manager for C’elle. "We live in exciting times, as science and technology are discovering how extremely valuable menstrual blood stem cells really are, and the enormous treatment potential they represent for future therapies. C’elle’s ongoing research is supporting these promising findings." For more information about C’elle, please call 1-877-892-3553 or visit

Blurry boundaries between hardware and software

The following patent application is a good example of the equivalences and blurry boundaries of patenting hardware and software. The patent application in general is claiming methods for designing communication data flow systems. Let's look at the claims, with a few extra claims I have written as an exercise:
United States Patent Application 20020178285 1. A method of modeling a dataflow architecture comprising the steps of: storing in a memory indicia representative of a dataflow architecture having components responsive to intercommunication protocols; and processing conversions among the intercommunication protocols to determine control structures required to implement said dataflow architecture. 2. A method as recited in claim 1, wherein the indicia stored in memory and the control structures are translated into a description of an implementation of said dataflow architecture.
At this point, we just have a claim for some software to design a system. Now some might object to software patent claims such as these, preferring instead something physical to be patented, which indeed is what some of the next claims are claiming.
6. A method as recited in claim 2, where the description of an implementation is further translated into a physical implementation of the dataflow architecture.
Here is the "hardware" claim, since protecting the translation of something into a physical implementation is little different from protecting the physical implementation (though broader since there can be multiple translations from one description - this type of claim just avoids having to explicitly claim every such translation). Given the long history of patenting hardware, i.e., something "physical", I don't think anyone will object to claim 6.
7. A method as recited in claim 6, wherein the physical implementation is configuration data for a FPGA. 8. A method as recited in claim 6, wherein the physical implementation is a layout for an Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC).
Certainly FPGAs and ASICs are as physical an object as you can get and therefore patentable as devices. Again, protecting the configuration data of a physical implementation is little different from protecting the physical implementation itself. Now there are multiple "FPGAs" and "ASICs" from companies such as Xilink and Altera, so do we want to waste time and money having inventors claim every specific form of physical implementation? I think not. Thus these general claims. That we are concerned about physical devices is seen in claim 10:
10. An apparatus resulting from the method recited in claim 2.
Claims 6, 7, 8 and 10, then, are claims for groups of hardware, with claim 10 being the smallest group, and claim 6 being the broadest group with subsets claims 7 and claim 8. Hard to see why any one of these claims shouldn't be allowed if any of the others are allowed. Patentability shouldn't rise or fall on how many boring variations of claims an inventor is willing to pay for.
Now, in the circuit design world, much money is made selling and licensing hardware descriptions in EDIF/VHDL/Verilog, often as much profit as selling the physical implementation. Seems foolish to protect one form and not the other, if they are equally economically valuable and require the same amount of design and manufacturing effort to produce (that is, given the EDIF/VHDL/Verilog, you push a button to get the hardware). Which leads to claims 3, 4 and 5:
3. A method as recited in claim 2, where the description of an implementation is the EDIF netlisting language. 4. A method as recited in claim 2, where the description of an implementation is structural VHDL. 5. A method as recited in claim 2, where the description of an implementation is structural Verilog.
EDIF/VHDL/Verilog are hardware description languages, which some might not think of as programming languages for which such descriptions would be software. But SystemC is an up-and-coming hardware description language very similar to the programming language C, and Ada is a programming language very similar to VHDL, while C can be used as a hardware description language in that there are tools for converting C directly into digital circuit specifications. Assuming so, one more claim can be automatically derived:
5.' A method as recited in claim 2, where the description of an implementation is System C, C or ADA. To allow the patenting of any of these is to have to allow the patenting of all of them.
However, claims 3, 4, 5 and 6 form an equivalence class, the members being the phrases that start after the phrase "... where the description of an implementation ...", an equivalence class of things that have equal economic value, have equal production requirements, etc. Not surprising that the inventors choose to claim them equally. Now claim 6 is mostly "hardware-ish", claims 3, 4, and 5 are mostly "software-ish". Yet the inventors are putting them together in an equivalence class, a combination that seems quite reasonable. The next claim to consider is where all of the boundaries get blurred:
9. A method as recited in claim 6, wherein the physical implementation is object code for a general-purpose processor.
The inventors are creating another equivalence class here, comprising the a) physical implementation of an FPGA, b) the physical implementation of an ASIC, and c) the object code for a general-purpose processor. But this equivalence class has both hardware-hardware (FPGAs and ASICs) and some sort of software - the object code. However "object code" in this context pretty much implies the existence of a processor, and ignoring (as we can in most implementations) the specific structure of the processor (its speed, word widths in bits, cache memory, etc.), we simplify claim 9 to:
9'. A method as recited in claim 6, wherein the physical implementation is object code.
This might appear objectionable language, "object code isn't physical", but not to modern Landauer-ish physicists, to whom information is physical, and certainly object code is information. Now object code is compiled source code, and given that "source code" implies something to be compiled, and not wanting to see a long and boring list of source code compilers (".. object code derived from a C compiler running on a Pentium .. object code derived from a Fortran compiler running on a Forth chip, etc.), we can simplify claim 9' to:
9'. A method as recited in claim 6, wherein the physical implementation is source code.
I.e., software. Software/source code - both information - both physical, making the transition to claim 9' quite reasonable in the chain of all of these transformations. Software descriptions that are not novel, obvious to a toadstool, and/or not enabled? Fine, deny the patent - I will be the first to support not granting patents for such specifications (and I wish it was done a lot more often). But don't deny the patent on a software description by pretending you can draw the line in the above claims (at least while sober).