Tindie Seller Reviews A Knock-Off Of His Own Product

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, online creators are being sincerely flattered at an alarming rate these days. We Hackaday scribes see it all the time, as straight copy-pastes of our articles turn up on other websites under different bylines. It’s annoying, but given prevailing attitudes toward intellectual property rights, there’s very little point in getting upset about it anymore. But what if it’s hardware that’s being infringed upon?

Hacker and Tindie store proprietor [Brian Lough] recently ran into this problem with one of his products, but rather than get upset, he did a remarkably fair and thoughtful review of the knock-off. The board in question, a D1 Mini Matrix Shield, makes it a snap to use LED matrix panels in projects like his Tetris-themed YouTube sub counter. The knock-off came via Ali Express, with the most “flattering” aspect being the copy and the images on the Ali Express listing, some of which are pulled straight from [Brian]’s Tindie store. While the board’s layout is different, it’s pretty clear that it was strongly inspired by the original. And the changes they did make – like terminal choices and undersizing some traces – only serve to lower the quality of the knock-off. Surely this was a cost-cutting move, so they could undercut sales of the original, right? Apparently not – the knock off is more expensive. Yes, [Brian]’s board is a kit and the imitator is fully assembled, but it still begs the question of why?

Hats off to [Brian] for not only making a useful product, but for taking the time to engineer it properly and having the ambition to put it on the market. It’s a pity that someone felt the need to steal his work, but it seems to be a rite of passage these days.

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Who Could Possibly Need An FPGA With 9M Logic Cells And 35B Transistors?

Xilinx recently announced the Virtex UltraScale+ VU19P FPGA. Of course, FPGA companies announce new chips every day. The reason this one caught our attention is the size of it: nearly 9 million logic cells and 35 billion transistors on a chip! If that’s not enough there is also over 2,000 user I/Os including transceivers that can move around 4.5 Tb/s back and forth.

To put things in perspective, the previous record holder — the Virtex Ultrascale 440 — has 5.5 million logic cells and an old-fashioned Spartan 3 topped out at about 50,000 cells — the new chip has about 180 times that capacity. For the record, I’ve built entire 32-bit CPUs on smaller Spartans.

That led us to wonder? Who’s buying these things? When I first heard about it I guessed that the price would be astronomical, partly due to expense but also partly because the market for these has to be pretty small. The previous biggest Xilinx part is listed on DigKey who pegs the Ultrascale 440 (an XCVU440-2FLGA2892E) at a cost of $55,000 as a non-stocked item. Remember, that chip has just over half the logic cells of the VU19P.

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Morse Code Catches Google Swiping Lyrics

We think of Morse code in terms of dots and dashes, but really it’s a kind of binary code. Those symbols might as well be 0s and 1s or any other pair of characters. That attribute is exactly what led to a sting operation a music lyric site called Genius.com pulled on Google. At issue was a case of song lyrics that had allegedly been stolen by the search giant.

Song lyric sites — just like Google — depend on page views to make revenue. The problem is that in a Google search the lyrics appear on the search page, so there is no longer much incentive to continue to the song lyric site. That’s free enterprise for you, right? It is, but there was a problem. It appears that Google — or, according to Google, one of their partners — was simply copying Genius.com’s lyrics. How does Genius know the song lyrics were copied? According to news reports in the Wall Street Journal and other sources, they used Morse code.

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Trademarking Makerspace (Again)

A British company has filed a trademark application for the word ‘MakerSpace’. While we’ve seen companies attempt to latch on to popular Maker phrases before, Gratnells Limited, the company in question, is a manufacturer of plastic containers, carts, and other various storage solutions. These products apparently provide a space to store all the stuff you make. Something along those lines.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen someone try to glom onto the immense amount of marketing Make: has put into the term ‘makerspace’. In 2015, UnternehmerTUM MakerSpaceGmbH, an obviously German tech accelerator based in Munich, filed an application to trademark the word ‘Makerspace’. A few days later, we got word this makerspace wasn’t trying to enforce anything, they were just trying to keep the rug from being pulled out from under them. It was a defensive trademark, if something like that could ever exist (and it can’t under US trademark law). Swift and efficient German bureaucracy prevailed, and the trademark was rejected.

The trademark in question here covers goods including, ‘metal hardware and building materials’, ‘trolleys, trolleys with trays’, ‘guide rails of non-metallic materials’, and ‘lids for containers’, among other storage-related items. While this is far outside the usual meaning for a ‘makerspace’ – a building or club with a whole bunch of tools – if this trademark is approved, there is always the possibility of overzealous solicitors.

Fortunately, Gratnells released a statement today saying they would not defend or continue this trademark. This is in light of the recent, limited reaction to the trademark application. The word Makerspace is safe again another day.

Thanks [Tom] for the tip.

Ask Hackaday: How Should Hackers Handle IP Agreements?

My buddy Harold recently landed a new job at a great technology company. It came at a perfect time for him, having just been laid off from the corporate behemoth where he’d toiled away as an anonymous cog for 19 years. But the day before he was to start, the new company’s HR folks sent him some last-minute documents to sign. One was a broad and vaguely worded non-compete agreement which essentially said he was barred from working in any related industry for a year after leaving the company.

Harold was tempted not to sign, but eventually relented because one needs to put food on the table. Thankfully he’s now thriving at the new company, but his experience got me thinking about all the complications hackers face with the day jobs that so many of us need to maintain. Non-competes and non-disclosures are bad enough, but there’s one agreement that can really foul things up for a hacker: the Intellectual Property Agreement.

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The Sincerest Form Of Flattery: Cloning Open-Source Hardware

We’re great proponents (and beneficiaries) of open-source hardware here at Hackaday. It’s impossible to overstate the impact that the free sharing of ideas has had on the hacker hardware scene. Plus, if you folks didn’t write up the cool projects that you’re making, we wouldn’t have nearly as much to write about.

We also love doing it ourselves. Whether this means actually etching the PCB or just designing it ourselves and sending it off to the fab, we’re not the types to pick up our electronics at the Buy More (except when we’re planning to tear them apart). And when we don’t DIY, we like our electrons artisanal because we like to support the little guy or girl out there doing cool design work.

So it’s with a moderately heavy heart that we’ll admit that when it comes to pre-built microcontroller and sensor boards, I buy a lot of cheap clones. Some of this is price sensitivity, to be sure. If I’m making many different one-off goofy projects, it just doesn’t make sense to pay the original-manufacturer premium over and over again for each one. A $2 microcontroller board just begs to be permanently incorporated into give-away projects in a way that a $20 board doesn’t. But I’m also positively impressed by some of the innovation coming out of some of the clone firms, to the point that I’m not sure that the “clone” moniker is fair any more.

This article is an attempt to come to grips with innovation, open source hardware, and the clones. I’m going to look at these issues from three different perspectives: the firm producing the hardware, the hacker hobbyist purchasing the hardware, and the innovative hobbyist who just wants to get a cool project out to as many people as possible. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but can cloning go too far? To some extent, it depends on where you’re sitting.

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