SpotOn3D a bigger menace to virtual worlds than we realized

Not much of a surprise, given that their CEO is a patent attorney, but SpotOn3D is actively pissing all over the virtual world space, trying to claim proprietary rights on lots of ideas for doing things in virtual worlds. As I mentioned in a previous post, software patents are bullshit, and are also a threat. They stifle innovation, because ideas— often broad ideas that are obvious extensions of what already exists— are given government monopolies. Even if the patent would be overturned in court, the mere threat of patent litigation is enough to deter small companies or individuals, who can't afford to defend themselves, from doing things. At best, they pay protection money to the patent bully defending it; at worst, competitors can be stopped from competing (as Apple is often trying to do with Android-based phones).

It turns out that SpotOn3D has applied for five patents already, and intends to apply for many more.

That makes SpotOn3D at the moment one of the greatest threats to the future development of an interoperable future metaverse. Yes, Tessa Kinny-Johnson may get all teary about being attacked and think that she's not being appreciated for the development that her company is doing, but make no mistake. Software patents, in a business and software ecosystem dominated by Linden Lab (hardly a corporate behemoth themselves), are a greater danger than they are anywhere else— and they get in the way of innovation everywhere. As such, it doesn't matter how emotional she gets, she needs to understand that her company is being actively destructive to the development of virtual worlds. More importantly, the community as a whole needs to understand that SpotOn3D is destructive, and Kinny-Johnson and others there need to realize the community understands that.

If they're going to be patent trolls, if they're effectively going to try to play the roll of SCO to Linux (who, thankfully, didn't do much, but then again Linux was already a juggernaut when they showed up), then we're going to have to call them out in the open as the bad actors that they are. We cannot allow them to hide behind claims of innovation and development, when what they're really doing is trying to acquire solitary rights of refusal and taxation on innovation and development in the virtual world domain.

I call on all users to boycott SpotOn3D. Don't give that grid an audience so that it's worth it for people to buy regions there. I call on all people with regions to move their regions to other grids; look for a grid that provides service, or a grid that's not supporting a company that's trying to grab rights of refusal for future virtual world development. And, I call on the developers and other non-lawyer employees of SpotOn3D to go get a job with an ethical company. The OpenSim community cannot afford to allow the patent minefield to grow. That, however, is what SpotOn3D is actively doing. The degree to which they are a menace cannot be over-emphasized. They need to be rejected by the community. We need them to go out of business as soon as possible before they can apply for more patents that we'll be forced to deal with for the next two decades. What's more, other companies who might be considering the same sort of "build our investment portfolio" kind of behavior must see that our community will not tolerate this behavior from companies. SpotOn3D must be seen to suffer, and soon, so that other virtual world companies will hesitate before joining the patent fracas.

31 responses so far

  • Eurominuteman says:

    Not a shred of evidence has been produced that a public filing act has even occurred, no registration number, no document link, not even a stamped receipt for paid registration fees... zero deductive & empirical evidence... nice bluff...

  • rknop says:

    Hello?

    “This is not the first patent we’ve filed,” said Lieberman. “This is the fifth patent we’ve filed, and we intend to file numerous more as we build technology.”

    Liberman is CEO of SpotOn3D. That quote is from Maria Korolov's blog, linked in the post above, and comes from a video recording of a PR event that SpotOn3D held.

    In what way is that not evidence? Maybe you don't have the public number, but if the company claims that they're doing it, then not only is it very likely that they are, in any event the company is a threat.

    So, I'm hardly bluffing!

  • Gaga says:

    Hi Rob,

    What you are saying is, in deed, worrying. But can you say anything about these five other patents SpotON3D has applied for?

    Gaga

  • rknop says:

    It's hard to, without knowing just what they're claiming. Based on what's in Maria's blog, there are two things mentioned. The first is a way of delivering virtual goods to multiple grids. How broad is what they're claiming? Unless the claims are extremely narrow, that could create problems for anybody trying to sell virtual goods to be used in more than one grid. The second is a way of registering a single account for multiple grids. Of course, Linden Lab already did that, by allowing you to log in to both the main and beta grids with your Second Life account. Again, how specific is their method? And how obvious is it? If the patent is specific, then it could be worked around. But, if it's a pretty obvious way, then the working around is at best a pain in the butt. If the patent is broad enough, though, they could use this to prevent other companies (or even non-companies like OSGrid) from letting people register multiple grids with a single account. It's very easy to see where that could be abused. (Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if they've tried to patent the idea of "using OpenID to log into virtual worlds"... even though that's already been done, I believe, and is a bloody obvious thing to try to do.)

    By the way, when Libermann says that he's included all "prior art" in his patent applications, we probably have to assume that he has a patent attorney's idea of what prior art is: that is, everything that has been patented before. That's different, of course, from what's been done before!

  • BlueWall says:

    It's even worse than that! When the US Congress returns from their recess, the House is slated to vote on a piece of legislation that changes the current patent system. They will change the system to honor "first-to-file" entities over "first-to-invent". This removes the current requirement that no "prior art" exists. So, basically they can file patents against every open source project that exists then use the judicial system to sue the creators to extract fees, or prevent them from using it at all.

  • Eurominuteman says:

    It's heresay, not deductive and conclusive hard-data evidence...

  • Eurominuteman says:

    hearsay

  • Eurominuteman says:

    There must be, at least, a tax-deductible receipt from that public body that qualifies to be entered into some due bookkeeping... zero evidence...

  • rknop says:

    BlueWall -- is that for real?

    What the hell is up with the US Congress? The patent system is a disaster, and they're slated to make it worse? Are they hearing only from predatory patent attorneys, and not from anybody with a clue? Why would they do this?

  • Eurominuteman says:

    Virtual lip-reading is not evidence and proof...

  • MaggieL says:

    Eurominuteman sounds like a sockpuppet.

  • virtual user says:

    Although I can appreciate your concern on this I am on SpotOn3D myself, and they are very helpful, Open sim has no respect for virtual users ZERO, and i am saying this as a virtual user. They want SpotOn to just hand over everything they done by using bullying tactics, just LIKE THIS.

    you wont find Spot On saying boycot Open Sim, it called being a business person AND an adult ..

    jealous much? -smiles-

    Im sorry your candy got taken away form you, but time to either outdo or get left behind. It is the same for us who build and work hard only to have losers like the OS ppl come w their copy bots (because they dont have enough talent to make it themselves) and steal other people's hard earned work.. now they claiming someone is preventing them form stealing, maybe the day of the techno hippies is coming to the end besides that was in the PAST.. time for the future.. time for real talent and people who actually CARE about customer service and making virtual users happy to take over

    Nuff Said.

  • MaggieL says:

    Caught SpotOn3D's act when they first showed up in the Architecture Working Group hyping their DRM for VWs.

    I pointed out to them that if they were modifying the viewer to implement DRM, they needed to publish the source of their modifications....apparently this was a new concept to them.

    "Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas." -B. Franklin

  • Eurominuteman says:

    All this mis-lead conclusion-making is a fake sockpuppet...

  • Wayfinder says:

    Eurominuteman... I think you've made your point... the exact same point... about five times now. We get your message. Saying it over and over won't validate it any further.

    I'm neutral in this. I am not against software patents. In some cases they are warranted (they are creations just like anything else and some of them are brilliant in concept and warrant a patent). I am against tools manipulating the patent system by filing things that aren't original, that they didn't create, and can obviously be written only one way to begin with. As pointed out, the entire patent system is being abused far beyond its original intent-- to protect investments in research and development.

    However, welcome to human society as we know it. Show me one aspect of our government or society that isn't warped, twisted, gamed, manipulated and scammed in one way or the other. From the court system, to congress, to corporate structure, to the copyright and patent system... this is a society of self-interest and greed. Linden Lab isn't the only Titanic sailing in iceberg-laden waters. Our entire governmental and social struture-- word wide-- seems to be on a fast road to self-destruction. The patent system is just one part of it.

    I fail to see how any company can start on the foundation laid by Linden Lab and TPV creators... then have the gall to file patents and say "You can't do what we're doing without paying us a license." Talk about hypocrisy. If they want to keep their software proprietary and benefit from their own work, fine. I have no problem with that. The worker is due his wage. But to try to prevent others from doing the same thing? That's just wrong.

    Now mind you, that's based on claims that this is actually what's happening. Whether it is happening now or not (listen up Eurominuteman)... if it's *threatened* to happen (in open blogs, as claimed)... then it's a threat and not to be ignored.

    It should be noted that (if things haven't changed over the years) one doesn't necessarily have to file a lawsuit against a company that wrongly claims a patent. One can provide direct information to the US Patent office that a patent was filed fraudulently... and simply let their own internal process take over from there. When one files a patent... there is a supposedly a period of time when that patent is pending, during which time people can file all kinds of evidence that granting that patent is not warranted. Even after a patent is granted, people can file evidence with the patent office that the patent was granted under fraudulent conditions. They are supposed to have internal process that polices their own organization... although I have heard that the Patent Office has become increasingly sloppier with time as their workload has increased (mainly from people filing bogus patents).

    I hope things have not changed all that much since I was in the business. If they have... sorry folks, kiss your future goodbye.

    But... even if Spot-On is filing legitimate patents (and I stress IF)... the OP is correct-- that can be a major threat and detriment to OpenSim and other grids. Since a patent can cover an *idea*... imagine someone trying to patent prim creation in a VR world because it's never been patented before.

    So the foundation concept of this post isn't all that off-base. It points to a real issue. Now whether it's time and warrant to call for an all-out boycott or not... that's a whole nuther matter. But I think that the existence of a blog calling for such should sure catch the attention of Spot-On and give fair warning: actions do bring consequences, for good or for bad.

  • BlueWall says:

    Who knows? This bill has been up every year since 2006 and voted down. The Senate approved it with only 5 votes against it and it is back at the House for a vote. It looks like the House voted it up and the Senate amended it to use the "first-to-file" rules. I'm still looking into the record. But, I suspect they are using all the chaos to get this passed.

    Here are some links:
    http://www.novakdruce.com/news-79.html
    http://www.aminn.org/patent-reform-act-america-invents-act
    http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s23/money

  • Eurominuteman says:

    Lawyers bluff all the time... it's business-as-usual... all the Ifs and Whens are useless. SpotOn3D should produce the required validations...

    Moreover, it is factual that SpotOn3D has composed several events and incidents without producing answers, actually sidestepping tangible answers. So, how many empty incidents do you need?

  • Ilan Tochner says:

    Hi rknob and Eurominuteman,

    You can read about the legislation that will replace patent ownership from "first to invent" to "first to file" here:

    http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/first-to-file_patent_reform_bill_goes_to_house_small_businesses_oppose_chan/

    James (Eurominuteman), you constantly talk about consumer protection, I suggest you read about this bill and the various research about the harm software patents have been causing consumers, small businesses and big businesses alike. These are not accusations made without proof.

    Proactive protection of the rights you constantly talk about requires taking action against those that intend to hurt them.

  • Daniel says:

    Bluewall, it isn't as bad as you think - Prior Art still applies in First-To-File systems. Check out Prior Art in wikipedia, though it isn't the easiest article to disentangle. Most of the world outside the USA uses First-To-File, and it seems to work OK.
    Mind you, much of the world outside of the USA (Europe in particular) does not recognise software patents...

  • Eurominuteman says:

    That's not valid legislation yet, and filing means, you get a stupid CC or a receipt for fees that stamps the date of filing... else NO filing has ocurred...

  • Roblem Hogarth says:

    Hey everyone don't feed the troll. There is an obvious spin to all of it's comments. "Not enough evidence for me!" does not make something false. Euro, you have not made a new point in any of your multiple posts, why not just go to all caps to prove you are right. 😉

  • Ilan Tochner says:

    Hi Eurominuteman,

    It is much easier to flight legislation before it passes than after it passes and much easier to prevent patents from being approved than trying to get them invalidated after they have been already granted.

    If SpotOn3D claim to have filed at least 5 patent applications knowing the type of backlash they are getting for it then I think we should take them at their word. The fact that we don't have the application numbers only means that we are in the dark regarding what it is they are claiming to have invented exactly. It doesn't mean that they haven't filed for patents or that even the chance of them maybe getting some patents approved in the future isn't already a threat to the virtual worlds community.

  • rknop says:

    virtual user -- do you realize that SpotOn3D is BUILT ON TOP OF OpenSim?

    That the client they're using is 99% the OPEN SOURCE client released by Linden Lab?

    You should hesitate before dismissing open source "losers" when the company you're trying to defend exists only because a huge amount of its infrastructure was already available to it thanks to open source software.

  • rknop says:

    Part of the reason I'm calling for a boycott of SpotOn3D is that an example needs to be made of them.

    Now that they've started cracking it open, it's not too hard to imagine the large number of small grids and VW startups out there scrambling to get their own patents before they're "left behind", and the patent minefield gets completely out of control.

    I want other companies to see that the community is paying attention, and that we DO NOT WANT this industry (built entirely of small companies) destroyed by the patent minefield. I want there to be serious costs for them entering that arms race, and I want them to see SpotOn3D suffer those costs for starting this arms race.

  • BlueWall says:

    Anyone working on OpenSim never, ever, never looks at a patent - period.

  • rknop says:

    I've blocked out the comments that had specific patents listed. (I've also started blocking later comments from our favorite thread troll.)

    It's pretty sad. Patents exist so that people will publish their inventions, so that others can use them. Yet, now, if you want to be able to work creatively yourself, you have to avoid seeing patents so that you can't be accused of stealing them. Our patent system is so broken it makes me weep. And, yet, nobody in power seems to realize how broken it is, and if anything they only try to strengthen it.

  • Virtual User --

    Nobody is attacking SpotON3D because they're jealous of its success or upset about its content protection practices. Avination and InWorldz are both commercial grids that protect the rights of content creators to the same extent as SpotON3D, and both are more than four times bigger in size and quite a few more times bigger in users.

    Nobody is trying to force SpotON3D to give away its secret sauce. It would be nice if they contributed something back to the community since they're built on top of OpenSim -- some bug fixes, maybe, some donated documentation, testing of new features -- other vendors do this, and it helps the entire community and themselves as well.

    However, when SpotON3D does something obvious -- like multi-grid delivery, single sign-on, or the viewer plugin wrapper -- and then tries to patent it, then it's taking things a step further. It's no longer just not helping the community, but actively hurting it, hurting OpenSim, hurting virtual world development.

  • John Westra says:

    I find the timing of this entire debate fascinating. It's happening at the same time we are celebrating the 30th birthday of the IBM PC.

    As someone who's been professionally engaged with Personal Computers and IT since 1981, I have first-hand knowledge of the role patents have played in the development of our current techno-centric culture. My opinion is that the net effect has been extremely positive.

    Without the ability to Patent things, including processes, there is little economic incentive or ability to create viable, self-sustaining technology-based businesses. The Utopia-socialist ideal of everyone creating, contributing and sharing their IP for the "greater good" is FAIL in the real world.

    Having said this, it's important that only the true creators of innovative work receive the credit for it. The way to do this through an open, accountable patent application and approval process. Interestingly enough, the Patent & Trademark office of the United States is actually one of the most transparent government agencies the US has. Coincidently, they innovative & profitable, something the Postal Service and a myriad of other Federal agencies should seek to emulate!

    I have ZERO problem with SpotOn3d filing legitimate patent applications. If they deserve them, I hope they get them. If they don't deserve them, I hope people who know enough to dispute their application speak up (in the right forum - aka Patent & Trademark Office) and have them disallowed.

    My last thought is this: Any person or organization that uses rumor, innuendo or social media "blackmail" to try and gain or protect market share is NOT the type of entity I will do business with!

  • rknop says:

    John -- you're welcome to your opinion, of course. However, there are a lot of people who work in the software world who recognize that software and process methods are a disaster right now, and that the current US patent regime is actively hostile to innovation. You repeat many of the platitudes that patent defenders repeat-- it's all necessary to incentivize innovation-- but the evidence is out there that today, in practice, the effect of patents (at least when it comes to software and process) is far more to get in the way of people trying to innovate and bring things to market than it is to incentivize that sort of behavior.

    I also would point out that you pulled out the "socialist" scare word in the standard rhetorical technique of trying to paint those who disagree with you as promoting some sort of Wrong ideology.... You're painting a dichotomy here. You're saying without the ability to have a government granted monopoly on an idea, you can't make a successful technology business. The real world shows that that's false. There are technology companies out there that are successful and that have businesses, and that don't rely entirely on their patents to do that. (Google is an example; they're not heavily invested in patents.) Maybe you can't imagine how somebody would be motivated to try to create a business if they weren't given protection from the government against somebody else trying to do the same sort of thing, but in fact it does happen.

    (It's also sort of interesting that the defenders of the government-granted monopolies are the ones calling their opponents "socialist"...!)

    It's also very odd that you talk about me as trying to gain or protect "market share" through "blackmail". What, exactly, do I have market share of that I'm trying to gain or protect here? I'm not engaging in some sort of blackmail to protect my own selfish interests. I'm arguing against SpotOn3D because patents are bad for the software ecosystem, and for open source in particular. If you come at everything from the point of view of economic theory and think that the only reason anybody does anything is for economic gain, then perhaps you would have to conclude that those of us arguing against SpotOn3D's behavior must have some hidden selfish agenda, and that we're trying to prevent SpotOn3D from taking market share that we want for ourselves. But, that is not the case at all. We don't want any individual or company to be able to monopolize-by-fiat certain areas of technology, and prevent others from participating in the development in these areas. It's not about our private selfish interests; it's about the public good.

  • Gaga says:

    John, I think it is SpotON3D that is doing the scare mongering here. They still refuse to give the application number for the patent they are seeking and will not even properly describe it anyway. And yet they are quick to inform the community they have world rights pending and will go after anyone that infringes those rights. If anyone is blackmailing then I think you can lay that at the door of SpotON3D since they don't have the patent yet and there is ample prior art to suggest they wont get it passed if it is opposed.

    SpotON3D know this could take years to settle and, in the mean time, they have the advantage and can gain and protect a large market share unfairly.

    As for the rest of us? Call it socialism if you like but when a community with certain aims and hopes created the open source on which SpotON3D is dependant to do what they are doing then what kind of reaction do you expect?

  • BlueWall says:

    Patents sound good on the surface. People should be able to protect their intellectual property and benefit from *their* work. But, the system is broken. The following podcasts are worth a listen.

    A podcast featuring Bob Jacobsen who was involved in a landmark case in opensource software ... http://twit.tv/floss117

    An in-depth investigative report covering modern software patent practices ... http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/441/when-patents-attack