E3D On Patents And Not Being Evil About Them

In our community it’s certain that there will be many people with very strong views about patents. It’s fair to say that the patents system is at times not fit for purpose, with such phenomena as patent trolls, submarine patents, and patent war chests doing nothing but leading it into disrepute. So it’s interesting to read the words of 3D printer hotend manufacturer E3D, as they talk about why they feel the need to patent some of their inventions, and how they intend to proceed with them.

The result is a no-nonsense explanation of why their work being reproduced by overseas competitors has brought them to this point, and in short: they’re patenting very specific inventions rather than broad catch-alls, they are making what they call a legally binding promise not to enforce the patents against non-commercial or academic experimenters, and they will continue to open-source as much as they can.

Will it work for them, or is it the start of a slippery slope? We can see why the E3D folks have taken this step, and we hope that they will continue to act in a responsible manner. If not, as those who have followed the maker-oriented 3D printing business for a long time will know: treading the line between open-source and closed-source can be fraught with danger.

Arm Gives Gift To Startups: Zero Cost

Who hasn’t dreamed of pulling together some gadget in their garage and turning it into a big business? Of course, most gadgets today have a CPU in them, and Arm CPUs power just about any kind of embedded device you can think of. If you just want to use a chip, that’s easy. You buy them from a licensee and you use their tools for development. But if you want to integrate ARM’s devices into your own chips, that’s a different story. You have to pay fees, buy tools, and pay licenses on each chip you produce. Until now. Arm’s flexible access for startups program will let you apply to get all of that free.

To qualify, you have to be an “early stage silicon startup with limited funding.” Normally, flexible access costs about $75,000 to $200,000 a year and that doesn’t cover your license fees and royalties. The plan offered to qualifying startups is the $75,000 package, but that still includes access to nearly all Arm products, technical support, a few introductory training credits, and development tools. After your first tape-out, though, it looks as though you’ll have to pony up.

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Brute-Forced Copyrighting: Liberating All The Melodies

Bluntly stated, music is in the end just applied physics. Harmony follows — depending on the genre — a more or less fixed set of rules, and there  are a limited amount of variation possible within the space of music itself. So there are technically only so many melodies possible, making it essentially a question of time until a songwriter or composer would come up with a certain sequence of notes without knowing that they’re not the first one to do so until the cease and desist letters start rolling in.

You might well argue that there is more to a song than just the melody — and you are absolutely right. However, current copyright laws and past court rulings may not care much about that. Aiming to point out these flaws in the laws, musician tech guy with a law degree [Damien Riehl] and musician software developer [Noah Rubin] got together to simply create every possible melody as MIDI files, releasing them under the Creative Commons Zero license. While their current list is limited to a few scales of fixed length, with the code available on GitHub, it’s really just a matter of brute-forcing literally every single possible melody.

Admittedly, such a list of melodies might not have too much practical use, but for [Damien] and [Noah] it’s anyway more about the legal and philosophical aspects: musicians shouldn’t worry about getting sued over a few overlapping notes. So while the list serves as a “safe set of melodies” they put in the public domain, their bigger goal is to mathematically point out the finite space of music that shouldn’t be copyrightable in the first place. And they definitely have a point — just imagine where music would be today if you could copyright and sue over chord progressions.
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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.