The Politest Patent Discussion, OSHW v. Patents

We’ve covered [Vijay] refreshable braille display before. Reader, [zakqwy] pointed us to an interesting event that occured in the discussion of its Hackaday.io project page.

[Vijay] was inspired by the work of [Paul D’souza], who he met at Makerfaire Bangalore. [Paul] came up with a way to make a refreshable braille display using small pager motors. [Vijay] saw the light, and also felt that he could make the vibrating motor display in such a way that anyone could make it for themselves at a low cost.

Of course, [Paul], had patented his work, and in this case rightly so. As jaded as we have become with insane patent trolls, our expectation on receiving the tip was that [Paul] had sued [Vijay] out of house and home and kicked his dog while he was at it. A short google search shows that [Paul] is no patent troll, and is a leader in his field. He has done a lot to help the visually impaired with his research and inventions.

Instead we were greeted by a completely different conversation. [Paul] politely mentioned that his lawyer informed him that in order to protect his IP he needed to let [Vijay] know exactly how the information could be used. No cease and desist, in fact he encouraged [Vijay] to continue his open research as long as he made it clear that the methods described could not be used to make a marketable product without infringing on [Paul]’s patents. They’d need to get in touch with [Paul] and work something out before doing such.

[Vijay] responded very well to this information. His original goal was to produce a cheap braille display that could be made and sold by anyone. However, he did use [Paul]’s work as a basis for his variation. Since [Paul]’s commercial interests relied on his patent, there was a clear conflict, and it became obvious to [Vijay] that if he wanted to meet his goal he’d have to pick a new direction. So, he released his old designs as Creative Commons, since the CERN license he was using was invalidated by [Paul]’s patent. He made it very clear that anyone basing their work off those designs would have to get in touch with [Paul]. Undaunted by this, and still passionate about the project, [Vijay] has decided to start from scratch and see if he can invent an entirely new, unprotected mechanism.

Yes, the patent system is actually encouraging innovation by documenting prior work while protecting commercial and time investments of beneficial inventors. Well. That’s unexpected.

Kudos to [Paul] for encouraging the exploration of home hackers rather than playing the part of the evil patent owner we’ve all come to expect from these stories. Also [Vijay], for acting maturely to [Paul]’s polite request and not ceasing his work.

Electronic tolling system

For us the hardest part of any project is coming up with the seminal idea. Once in a while you just need to cheat by recreating an existing product. That’s what EngineersGarage did with this toll plaza project. If you take a look around the various tabs at the top of that article you’ll see that they’ve used an 8051 microcontroller to bring together a character LCD, RFID reader, and a keypad. From there it’s a slew of coding to add the functionality for reading multiple tags, looking up stored value, and creating a replenishment system. Sure, it’s not really of much use in this form, but it’ll give you something to do with those shiny parts you have sitting around, and it might just lead you down a path to something more meaningful. As usual, there’s a demonstration video of this after the break.

If this doesn’t float your boat, perhaps this other RFID access system is more your thing.

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Black Hat 2008: FasTrak toll system completely broken


FasTrak is the electronic toll collection system used by the state of California. Motorists can purchase a toll transponder for ~$26 and link the serial number with a debit account to have their tolls deducted automatically. Today at Black Hat in Las Vegas, security researcher [Nate Lawson] presented not just the privacy problems with FasTrak, but why absolutely no transaction from the tag should be trusted.

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