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October 18, 2008
News - November Caption Contest
about 5 years ago
“…And for this week’s new product post, our super-ultra-deluxe Makey Makey kit.”
News - IP Obesity
about 5 years ago
Rambus is a company that specializes in memory technology. They got something of a bad rep around 1999 or 2000, back when PC133 SDRAM was the cutting edge of memory technology. Rambus had developed a memory interface that had some features that were interesting at the time, including delivering data on both the rising and falling edge of the bus clock, something that PC133 didn’t do at the time. Around this time DDR memory technology appeared, and Rambus sued several memory manufacturers. It looked particularly bad as RDRAM technology at the time had received criticism for being complicated and expensive and resulting in chips that ran hot and required extra heatsinking, as well as sacrificing too much latency. Some folks in the industry saw Rambus as being a patent troll.
IB and Ben121 both make some very good points (I liked the Economist article IB cited) and whether we agree or disagree can be to some extent depend upon how we parse our arguments. That said, I tend to side with the notion that Kodak’s woes were mainly about failing to adapt to fundamental changes in the market, whether that defines IP Obesity or is better called something else. Definitely there’s no argument that eventually Kodak resorted to using patents basically as weapons when they had little else to keep them going. Unfortunately, I think this sort of thing is becoming increasingly standard practice. The harshest critics say this is what Rambus was doing, trying to use the patent system to slap competitors while pushing an inferior product. While not strictly in the hardware space, I worry that Oracle is doing the same thing in suing Google over Android technology.
I also commend Ben121 for pointing out in Kodak’s defense their positive use of patents in supporting innovation. Another good example of patenting supporting innovation is the Stanford biotech patent on recombinant DNA, which helped pave the way for the biotech industry. The licensure of the technology helped spur the growth of the industry which could otherwise have been strangled in its crib in a free-for-all IP grab.
I love what you do and generally enjoy your posts, but I have to say that this one is rather weak, mostly because your central example of Kodak is rather poorly chosen. I generally agree with your thesis in its broad assertions, to say that Kodak was killed by “IP Obesity” is a glib and shallow argument that overemphasizes the role of IP matters in Kodak’s fall and doesn’t really look past a few headlines in the business pages from the last several years.
The “IP Obesity” in Kodak is much like Kaposi’s Sarcoma in a late-stage AIDS patient. That is to say that it’s not the root problem of Kodak’s woes, but more a symptom that arises because of a more fundamental underlying problem. Kodak’s rash of lawsuits against Apple, Research in Motion, Shutterfly and Samsung are happening now because Kodak has long since sold off pretty much all of its other lucrative assets, and the patents are about all they have left. “IP Obesity” in Kodak’s case is something of a “last gasp” symptom, one at the end of a long chain of deeper issues. Kodak’s digital camera patent had been snoozing in Kodak’s portfolio for decades while they fought to stay relevant in the age of digital photography. They bought Ofoto to make Kodak Gallery and turned out the “EasyShare” line of products, and didn’t bother suing anyone then.
If Kodak were excessively reliant on any patents, the digital camera patent was not the one lethal to Kodak, but the more likely culprits were all the patents protecting their film and chemistry products. Kodak’s ultimate problem was that they could not conceive (or at least accept) of the notion of a world where nobody bothered to print out their photos. Unfortunately for Kodak, people are taking more photos now than ever with only a tiny fraction of them ever becoming something other than pixels on a screen.
Don’t get me wrong. I love open source hardware and software and have benefitted greatly from both. I agree with the four reasons you state for loving OSHW. By way of agreement, I’d like to see a better example that enhances your message rather than undercutting it. I would think that a company like Rambus would be a better example of “IP Obesity”.
about 5 years ago
Caveat Emptor. As other commenters have noted, it’s quite a deal for thirty bucks, but that’s only if it actually runs, which mine doesn’t. It’s easy to imagine that for thirty bucks something somewhere has to give, and in the case of my unit it appears to be quality control. I eventually traced the fault in my unit to a short in the rear drive motor due to the motor leads and bypass caps being sloppily mashed against the motor case, which appears to have fried the H-bridge for that motor (other things further up the chain may be dead, but that’s as far back as I’ve traced it as of this writing). It’s pretty evident this was a manufacturing issue rather than a shipping problem since the item and packaging were in good shape.
No word from my Customer Service inquiry on the matter, but in any event the cost of shipping it back is enough with respect to the purchase price that I’m not even sure it’s worth returning given the cost of shipping it back. I’m not sanguine about the prospect of working on that SMD board, even with a Chipquik kit. Right now the I-RACER feels like thirty bucks down the drain.
I’ve been a happy Sparkfun customer and continue to be one, as I’ve been consistently pleased with their product offerings and their service. That said, I don’t think the I-RACER measures up. To all those who are pleased with their purchase, I’m happy that their satisfied and I hope mine is an outlier case. For my part, however, perhaps it’s worth buying if you REALLY can’t afford anything more, or have low expectations, or plan to use it as a cheap throwaway in some destructive experiment, but I can’t recommend anyone purchase it otherwise. Sparkfun ought to consider getting rid of this product.
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