Monday, August 27, 2012

Apple bites back.

Like other sectors, the smartphone business is pretty incestuous. Not at Arkansas levels, but it's getting to the point where a widget is a widget. A swipe is a swipe. They are borrowing ideas back and forth.

The iPhone's debut in 2007 was quite the big deal, but if you think Apple was the first company to build a smartphone, you're cracked. In fact, there were few innovations with the iPhone. But Apple marketed it brilliantly, and for what it was, the iPhone was pretty incredible.

Once the demand for smartphones was spurred by the iPhone, the race was on.  Small companies began building features, apps and code for them. The US Patent Office got slammed. As companies like Apple, Google, Samsung, Motorola and others began taking note of these innovative features and code, they started buying up the small companies in order to own the patents.

Fast forward to the recent patent trial between Samsung and Apple. What a cluster phuque.

It's clear that the patent system has gotten out of hand. It's the newest profit center for big companies like Apple, Google, RIM, HTC and Samsung. Not that those companies needed the money. (well maybe RIM, but anyway...)

Now a new beast has been born: The Patent Troll.
The favorite tactic of a patent troll is to file lawsuits in such a way that it's cheaper to settle than to fight the lawsuit in court. As a result, company are bled resources that could be directed towards legitimate develop that instead serve as a feast to the leeches.
Not all branches of the software industry follow this model. For example, the internet largely avoids patent litigation. And that is fortunate. If the internet followed the smartphone model, every website button, every font, every animation would be patented and few sites would exists, because only the large and powerful could maintain a sufficient arsenal to survive. 
Instead, the internet opts for a democratic/collectivist solution where everyone works on common standards that are free for all. And despite claims from some industry figures that patents are "essential" to preserving "innovation", the internet has thrived and developed with remarkably few pesky patents.
The corporations I'm picking on aren't all bad per se, but the movement toward buying up patents and then suing in court is troubling. It's not just Apple, but they are involved in the most recent major lawsuit, and are the recipient of a pretty big award from Samsung over the Galaxy S II and other models.

The things that pass for patentable, to me, portrays an out-of-control patent system as much as anything. I am being told that a bounce at the end of a paging effect is some kind of protected thing. And a rectangular shape with rounded corners is exclusive to the iPhone.  That describes most phones in the world.  I think that's a pretty bad precedent, because it is difficult to see an end game beneficial to the consumer. Innovation will suffer because of fear of violating some obscure patent.

Most other sectors of business have managed to peacefully coexist.  Will I soon need to go back to the dealership and have my brake pedal removed because Chevrolet violated Ford's patent?  Nope.

The court system is already overloaded with litigation-happy lawyers and frivolous medical malpractice suits. Will the next big industry in the US be patent insurance? Great, another layer of BS on the top of the shaky foundation that is the US economy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tea is to China as steak is to NYC

What does the price of meat tell us about the economy?  NPR has an interesting article about legendary NYC steakhouse, Delmonico's.

Delmonico's, the New York City steakhouse, has been around forever. 
The New York Public Library's archival menu collection doesn't go back quite that far. But it does have a Delmonico's menu from 1918. The archive also, sort of randomly, has a Delmonico's menu from 1988. Delmonico's current menu is online.New York Public Library 
Click here to view a PDF of Delmonico's menus from 1918, 1988 and 2012.
One item that's on all three menus: filet mignon.  This allows us to ask an interesting (to us) question: How has the price of filet mignon changed over the past century? Here's the answer, adjusted for inflation.