In 1993, a set of German University students who doubled as artists and computer hackers led by Jachim Sauter and Juri Muller developed a 3D world mapping software program which they called “Terravision”. It was an offshoot of their tech and art company; ART+COM in Berlin as a “networked virtual and graphical representation of the earth in 3D graphics. Juri Muller was the Chief programmer of the software and inventor of the algorithms for the software, while Joachim Sauter focused on the designs and the art of the Terravison program and It was an incredible fusion of art and technology.
This software program blew the mind of the whole world in the early 90s as there’s no thing like it as at that time in the world of technology and internet.
The Terravison program gave the young students the spotlight and fame they needed and it gave them the opportunities to get invited to science and technology exhibitions around the world to present their 3D masterpiece program.
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During the course of their traveling for exhibitions, they visited Silicon Valley in California, the world renown home of tech and startups. In Silicon Valley, they met Brian McClendon; an American software engineer who worked as the chief engineer in Silicon graphics at that time. The German programmers quickly bonded with the American silicon graphics engineer and at the cause of their friendly discussions, Juri Muller, the Chief programmer of the Terravison program got carried away and divulged everything there is to know about the algorithms of the Terravison software program to Brian McClendon.
Brain McClendon, being a smart programmer, picked up the information about the Terravison algorithms, went ahead and designed something very similar to Terravison in collaboration with Google, the program which they called “Google Earth”. Yes, the famous google earth you know of.
In 2014, ART+COM, the company for Terravison filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming its product called Google earth and other related software products made in 2001 infringed on the patent rights of their product Terravison which was invented in 1993 .
Two years later, the case was decided in favor of Google as the jury of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware said that after diligent consideration of the case, they found that Google Earth did not in any way infringe on the patent rights of Terravison. The German programmers lost the case to the tech giant, Google.
Intellectual property theft and “copycatting” are words that are quite familiar to the invention world. The tech and invention world, as exciting as it could be, is smeared with a lot of cases of intellectual property theft, patent right infringements, copying of inventions and passing off of inventions.
Counterparts are always stealing and copying algorithms for computer programs, softwares, inventions and ideas in the tech world.
…and this is why you need to get a patent right on every one of your inventions before you share the idea or disclose information on the invention to anybody.
No matter how much you cry foul that your invention or algorithm was stolen by your competitor(s), it will be difficult for you to prove that the stolen invention or algorithm was actually yours unless you can show that you have a patent right to those inventions. So the way to protect your inventions and algorithms is to get patent rights on them:
A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the government that permits the inventor to exclude others from making, selling or using the invention for a period of time. It grants the inventor the monopoly on the product for a specific number of years.
It should be highly noted that being the first person to invent the product doesn’t count; neither does it matter in law; what counts is who is the first person to apply for the patent of that product. This collaborates the legal principle that says “the first in time takes priority in law”.
This is also the provision of S.2 (I) of the Patent and Design Act, 1971 which reads:
Right to patent
(l) Subject to this section, the right to a patent in respect of an invention is vested in the statutory inventor, that is to say, the person who, whether or not he is the true inven- tor, is the first to file, or validly to claim a foreign priority for, a patent application in re- spect of the invention.
This section of the law is to the effect that a statutory inventor is the one that is recognized by law as the legal owner of the invention; whether or not he is the original inventor of the product is not the business of the law but inasmuch as he is the first to file for patent on the product, he is thereby deemed to be the statutory and rightful owner of the product.
Finally,inventors should take note that, you can not protect or patent an idea, you can only protect or patent an expression of an idea; this means that mere ideas are not patentable, you can only get a patent right when that fabulous idea of yours have been expressed to become an original or a new invention or product.
This is an interesting topic of which I have been studying hard to understand what implications are there for Africa. My MASc thesis, in Biomedical Engineering (University of Ottawa) started with femoral rectangular infringement but I discovered a novel model for improving 3D printing quality. This was because we were investigating how to convert 3D scans into images and datasets suitable for 3D printing and possibly print human tissues.
My model considered that the resolution of a printer affects what can be printed in 2D printers. In fact, in my work as a syatem engineer, in Canada, I integrate various industrial printers for pur robots in SMT shops to automate the floor. Here I observed that some label software giants have already used the configuration of a printer, which can either be provided by the manufacturers, or obtained from their data sheets, to constrain certain CAD shape operations during label design. In simple terms, if you attempt to shrink an image, the software checks if it can be printed. It does this using inputs from the resolution of the label printer. This resolution is quoted in x-y coordinates.
My thesis was that we shd be able to do the same in 3D printing applications. The following benefits are possible with my tool:
If my logic is bundled as a plugin into CAD software, it can assist the designer to make only printable designs, by restricting shape operations thar would make certain features unprintable.
When it is not practical to add it as a module in CAD tool, the user can upload the CAD to a tool that will use my model to analyze the 3D CAD and identify unprintable features and regions on the CAD.
As expected, my work was original so I got my masters and my supervisors traveled all over the world to make presentations with my work. My paper has been quoted so many times.
This post resonated with me because it showed every technology today is a work done by someone somewhere. Now open source has made the domain of patents very murky. In fact, most patents expire before technology catches up with them.
For instance, UAV’s unmanned aerial vehicles use several technologies/algorithms found in CanadaArm. When the parent expired, several drones flooded the market.
Now, when it was oy CanadaArm and US Defence equipment using these algorithms, it was not helping the world much. This does to say that patents actually impede development and progress. Stratasys sued Makerbot for patent infringement because Makerbor was sold ~$2,000 while Stratasys systems were sold for >$500,000. Stratasya later acquired 2D systems but when we looked at the role of Stratasys, it did not contribute significantly to the growth of 3D printing today as well as what 3D printing enabled. I have equipment in the field for which some parts are made with 3D printing. Today, an engineer can get a $200 3D printer and learn it within an hour. But when Stratsis was running things, the engineer could not even get a model printed with anything less than >$3,000.
Now, back to Africa. We are seeing that we have not began to scratch the surface of what is possible in the hardware space with products that are expensive today bit we can’t make them. Here, most of our engineers in Afeica do not know that the patents in the products we are struggling to get in Africa to develop, have expired.
I have laser scanning systems I am building to cost <$300. A lot of businesses in Africa cannot get the services provided by these scanners because they scanners are sold for >$35,000 from europe and America.
To address the issue of breaching patent rights, my supervisors ar Universiry Of Ottawa (a Korean), trained me on product development and I plan to spread this knowledge in Africa. She said the first step is to pick up a product, journal or thesis. Then reproduce everything in that productor paper. Something happens when you do this. You already know a lot of tools, software, methods etc for achieving a particular goal.
When you cut an onion onto pieces, you don’t glean any insights from and about the onion. But when you peel each layer one by one, you will mean a lot about the onion. Some people call this reverse engineering but I call it innovation. The goal is not to copy the product but to understand it.
After you have understand this product, you start from 1st princples, to build your own. When this is done, you are likely to avoid copyright and parent infringements because you are building your own product but leveraging best practices already achieved in the mainstream products.
In conclusion, fear of patents will hold Afeica down for a longer period of time. u dwratanding that most patents have expired and that we are free to start making our product without desiring them, will lift Africa.
Disclaimer: I am CEO of FuelFACT Technology Solutions Inc. We build systems to solve problems in the retail downstream sector using first principles to reduce costs and make service delivery and support cost effective.
*Femoral Acetabular Impingement (FAR)
Too many typos… cellphone autocorrect misbehaving as usual.
I really wish I have more knowledge on tech as a lawyer it would help me to fully grasp your thought.
Your analysis is quite educative.
This is an eye-opener to the huge potential that awaits the Tech industry in Africa. If we understand that most patents have expired, that will spur the need to reproduce products using the best practices achieved in the mainstream products. This goes a long way in avoiding copyright and infringement. Identifying and understanding the issue is one, taking a step further to reproduce the mainstream product with the right knowledge, tools, skills, and techniques using best practices will bring about vistas of innovation and solutions to African problems. Africa needs to leverage this approach to tap into markets yet untapped.