Category Archives: SpotON3D

SpotON3D: Losing patience around patents

There has been much to-do around SpotON3D’s plugin to present the Viewer through a browser / Facebook page.  Specifically, the furore has been around SpotON3D’s revelation that they have filed a patent application for the technology. A lot of this furore has been on the matter of prior art existing around the concept of a web browser plugin (the inDuality product is frequently pointed to), and the fact that others in the OpenSim environment have been working towards similar capabilities. Another cause for upset has been the perception that SpotON3D are using the fact that they have filed for a patent on the technology as an anti-competitive roadblock to discourage others from working on the same idea out fear of facing financial penalty should the SpotON3D patent in fact be granted at some point in the future.

SpotON3D have twice made efforts to directly address concerns in these matters through face-to-face group meetings. The first of these was held on their own grid, and was not a roaring success due to a number of reasons. The second attempt was held last night at their Content Creator’s Expo being held in Second Life. Hosted by Tessa Kinney-Johnson, SpotON3D’s COO and Stevan Lieberman, SpotON3D’s CEO, this also wasn’t an inspiring success.

A major reason for this was the seeming unwillingness for those at SpotON3D to actually engage with others on specifics (i.e. what area(s) of technology they are patenting), repeatedly deferring such discussions until the patent is published. Instead, they would only go so far as to circle around what the patent may not be, and the patent process itself. I say “may not” here, because the answers Stevan Lieberman gave last night were vague because as he himself put, it, “I don’t fully understand all of the technology”.

While this may well be true, it also came across to some as evasiveness: SpotON3D called the meeting, have seen the questions that have been asked repeatedly in public forums (which they’ve previously refused to answer), and so should have been somewhat better prepared to deal with this kind of question a little more openly.

Obviously, there are reasons for SpotON3D not to go into specifics – just as any company filing a patent application would avoid discussing precise details, simply because doing so would tip-off “the competition” and lead to complications through the patent process etc. However, while this attitude may well appear to be right and proper from a legal perspective (Lieberman is himself an intellectual property attorney), it tends to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the environment in which his company is working. This was exacerbated by his refusal, as the conversation broadened, to indicate two further patent applications SpotON3D is in the process of filing.

In many respects, what we have here is both a failure to communicate – and in fairness, this is not just SpotON3D’s fault, although they do carry the brunt of responsibility and they’ve managed to turn this entire situation into something of a PR disaster as a result. I could go on at length as to why, but Maria Korolov has been me to the punch in expressing why this is so, and her comments are an excellent read on the matter.

Simply put, SpotON3D are doing themselves no favours – not so much by filing this (and other patents), although some may well differ within me in this opinion – but in the manner in which they are both interacting with, and reacting to, the OpenSim community as a whole. In this regard, were I to point out just one aspect of the advice Maria gives to SpotON3D to help alleviate matters, it would be this:

Give something back to the community. Now.

Much of the damage SpotON3D have done to themselves stems from the fact that they appear to constantly come up with reasons not to give back to the community they claim to be a part of. Yes, they have plans to do so “next year”, but that simply isn’t enough. They need to be seen to be contributing now, and moving away from what appears to be repeatedly citing reasons why they cannot.

In this, SpotON3D further haven’t helped generate a feeling that they are working openly with the rest of the community as they’ve recently taken steps to lock-down the plugin so that the Viewer no longer supports the ability to access other grids when displayed through the plugin. Whatever the reasons for doing so, it doesn’t really measure=up to SpotON3D’s claims of openness towards the greater community.

Beyond this, the company needs to offer more of an olive branch if they want to be be seen as being genuine in their efforts to broker greater understanding and cooperation. This may sound unfair to those at SpotON3D, who may well feel as if they have attempted to reach out on at least two occasions, only to receive a rap across the knuckles, and had to face-up to placard-wavers and the like. But the move really has to come from them, and demonstrate they themselves are willing to bring something to the table that can be discussed.

And with the greatest of respect to Tessa and Stevan, they need to ensure that whoever does this is a) fully briefed on all aspects of the technology and the kind of questions they are liable to face – and be prepared to provide answers; and b) is able to engage with people positively and with both openness and empathy.

Further Reading

SpotON3D to host content creator’s workshop – in SL

This weekend will see SpotON3D, who have been the source of much controversy around patent issues of late are holding a 3-day exposition this weekend at their sim in Second Life.

The aim of the weekend is to enable people to: “Learn more about our products and services, on how to expand your business to SpotON3D, the SpotON3D Developer Program and much more!”

Schedule of Events

The weekend’s programme is as follows (all times SLT):

FRIDAY - August 19th, 2011

  • 11:00: CCEXPO INTRODUCTION with Tessa Harrington
  • 12:00: SpotON3D’s GEEKSPEAK: Ask the SpotON3D TechTeam Your Questions
  • 13:00: Developer Discussion Group with Philippe Pascal
  • 14:00: Concurrency: Should the number of users be your sole reason for expanding?
  • 15:00: Scotty Bevill of Bevill Edge®
  • 16:00: Music
  • 17:00: SpotON3D ‘s Patent Pending Plug-in: Is it a threat or a benefit?

SATURDAY – August 20th, 2011

  • 11:00: CCEXPO INTRODUCTION by Tessa Harrington:
  • 12:00: Reserved
  • 13:00: Amleth McCallen performing
  • 14:00: Vardasilver Spearsong about RP
  • 15:00: SpotON3D Office Hours
  • 16:00: Sunny Salamander, SpotON3D Chief Developer, Business Tools : HOTSWAP
  • 17:00: AgileBill Firehawk/ AgileBill Krebs – http://www.agiledimensions.com

SUNDAY – August 21th, 2011

  • 11:00: CCEXPO INTRODUCTION by Tessa Harrington
  • 12:00: SpotON3D Chief Developer – Business Tools :: BoostCLOUD Severs
  • 13:00: Lesley Scope aka Light Sequent :: Cybergogy for a 3D Educational
  • 14:00: Maxmillion Kleene performing
  • 15:00: Phoenix DaVinci - What I like to create: HotSwap Scenes?
  • 16:00: GridWrap - Hosted by Tessa Harrington & Wildfire/Raine Morgwain, Guest Sandy Adams.
  • 17:00: Wildfire Morgwain – Virtual Entertainment- The Next Great Cinematic Frontier?

Patent Discussions

Most interestingly, SpotON3D have decided to open part of the event to discussions around their move to patent the wrapper they’ve developed to present the Viewer thro popular web browsers. This is scheduled for Friday at 17:00 SLT.

In all, SpotON3D has filed five patents for technology linked to their Virtual World offering, although it is the wrapper patent that has so far gained the widest coverage, and it is this that appears to be the focus of the discussion planned for Friday.

The company have already attempted to hold one discussion around their actions, but this didn’t go very well, as Maria Korolov reported at the time. Whether this attempt is any more or less successful is open to question; but at least it is leaning a little more towards “neutral ground”. The last meeting was boycotted for a number of reasons – one being it was held on SpotON3D’s own grid. Given this meeting is still going to be held on SpotON3D’s own region (SLurl) in SL, it remains to be seen as to whether it is regarded as “neutral” enough. The other aspect of the discussion is, of course, just how open the SpotON3D folks are prepared to be in relation to their patents; on the strength of their last meeting, some observers might be prone to say, “not very”.

For more information on the expo, see:

(With thanks to Maria Korolov)

SpotON3D put themselves on the spot

Today, those behind SpotON3D attempted to host an Q&A session concerning their plans to patent code they use to to display the Viewer through a number of popular browsers.

I say attempted because, as Maria Korolov explains, things didn’t turn out too well. Part of the problem is that the event was announced at very short notice for many, although I actually received notification by way of a comment on this blog at 07:53 BST (23:53 PST Saturday), some eight hours prior to the event being held; unfortunately – and possibly due to the links included in it – WordPress fed the comment to my spam folder without issuing any notice to myself & I failed to see it until several hours after the meeting had taken place. Had I managed to see it ahead of time, I would have certainly posted and Tweeted about it.

The announcement / comment in full read:

This is an official statement from SpotON3D

Due to the reaction of the OpenSim community about our World on the Web plug-in and the pending patent, we’ve decided to take the debate to another level and give everyone – BOTH SUPPORTERS AND NON-SUPPORTERS, the chance to bring their ideas and questions directly to us one-on-one. Our goal here is not to win anyone to a particular way of thinking, but to try answer the biggest questions and at least understand each other’s POV. And who knows? Maybe this can help start a continuing dialog between the OpenSim community, SpotON3D and the many other grids out there.

Stevan and I will try and answer as many questions as possible in a 1-1.5 hour period of time. Due to a previously schedule business trip, Stevan will most likely only have one hour. I will be staying an extra half hour or more if necessary. I can not answer any legal questions, because … well, I’m not a lawyer! Any questions about the legal aspects of the patent, plug-in or other legal matters not answered at this event can be addressed directly to Stevan via email at Stevan@spoton3d.com.

THE VENUE< TIME< DATE – August 7th at 8 am PDT/SLT/MVT
The meeting place will be in SpotON3D in a Quad MegaSim called OUTREACH. Any and all voice chat in the main sim will be relayed over all four sims, so please be patient and fair to everyone else. This mega sim will hold about 150 people, so it will be on a first come first serve basis. Below you’ll find some general guidelines

This event will be filmed, archived and uploaded to our media page, as well as the usual web sites for everyone, so that everyone will have something to review and point others to.

We are looking forward to this being a productive event for both SpotOn3D and the community. You can teleport directly into OUTREACH ISLAND, if you have the World on the Web Plug-in installed on your Windows PC, (sorry MACers and Linux guys … that’s next on our to do list) and just click on the 3DURL below – works just like a SLurl. http://3durl.com/map/veesome/Outreach%20Island/135/126/22

Thank you!
Tessa & Stevan

Quite why other announcements appear to have been issued much later is unclear; Maria reports some did not receive notice until just four hours ahead of the event, or 05:00 EST / 02:00 PST – times hardly conducive to gaining someone’s attention.

SpotON3D put the short notice for the event down to wanting to hold it before Stevan Lieberman had to depart for a week to attend a conference; however, given their press release responding to community concerns on the matter went out on Wednesday, and has continued to garner negative feedback in the interim, one cannot help be feel the company could have worked to ensure more advanced warning could possibly have been given.

Another problem with the event, apparently, was that SpotON3D opted to host it on their own grid, rather than a “neutral venue”, which put some of their critics off, with some suggesting that SpotON3D might seek to censure their views / comments. As a result, they refused to attend; others actively called for a boycott. Therefore, whether their attendance at the meeting might have resulted constructive dialogue taking place was sadly rendered moot.

That said, SpotON3D appeared unwilling to move beyond the position they’ve established through Wednesday’s press release, nor discuss much in the way of specifics – thus rendering the stated aim of the meeting, “to try answer the biggest questions and at least understand each other’s POV”, also somewhat moot.

The controversy is set to continue.

Addendum

The video of the meeting is now available on the SpotON3D livestream; unfortunately, not all questions can be heard (thanks to Maria Korolov for the link).

The Viewer: licence to patent?

Just last week, I reviewed SpotON3D’s approach to accessing grid-based virtual worlds – presenting the Viewer through your web browser and, for those that use it, Facebook.

The presentation of the browser in this way is not new: as Kitely’s co-founder Ilan Tochner pointed out, a UK start-up company, Pelican Crossing (now defunct) did something similar back in 2007. How far that attempt might have gone is now a matter of conjecture. But Pelican Crossing were not alone: others have taken stabs at this approach – and as such, SpotON3D are hardly the first.

inDuality, circa 2007: Viewer-in-a-web page (image from Pelican Crossing)

But they are the first to apply for a patent on the capability to run the Viewer through a web browser / Facebook page with the intention of then licencing the technology to other grids wishing to use it on (quote) “a sliding scale to those grid owners that show an interest”. 

This intention to patient the technology around the wrapper-side of things has led to something of a row in the Open Sim community, with many leading lights (Mr. Tochner among them) taking issue with SpotON3D’s position – and not without cause, it would seem.

Essentially, the matter boils down to two core issues:

  • Whether the code used to present the Viewer through a web browser / Facebook page is actually patentable
  • Issues of open source licensing that involve the Viewer code as supplied to the open source community by Linden Lab under GPL

Patent pending

SpotON3D are focused on the patent issue, as this is obviously where the money is, longer-term, arguing that the software that enabled the Viewer is unique and therefore patentable. in this, they cite an essay on patents and open source software by Lawrence Rosen, an attorney-at-law and general counsel for the Open Source Initiative, which would appear to support their position.

The flip side to this is the issue of prior art (and, one would assume, the first to invent rule that is applied in the USA). This could be used to encourage the US Patents Office to re-examine SpotON3D’s patent application. However, in order to do so, those concerned at SpotON3D’s actions need to have the Patent Application Number for the plugin – and so far, SpotON3D have refused to release it. While they are under no legal obligation to do so, this is being taken as a sign of bad faith in the wider community.

Licence revoked?

The licensing issue is somewhat separate, but could call into question the benefits of patenting the wrapper technology.

The Viewer software in its native form is not well-suited to being presented through the an intermediary form of presentation such as a Facebook page or web browser. This raises questions as to what has been done to the Viewer code in order to make it more amenable for this kind of use, and while SpotON3D insist they remain in compliance with GPL requirements, but others argue this is not the case.

“How do you integrate your plugin with the viewer without modifying the viewer?” Gareth Nelson, himself a plugin creator asked SpotON3D. “You can’t just alter the render target. There are changes to the input handling needed to make it work inside a browser plugin applet, so you patched the viewer too.”

The crux of this point is that if the modified Viewer-side code can be shown to work closely with the plugin that presents it to a web browser / FB page, then it could be strongly argued that the plugin is in fact derivative work, and therefore itself subject to open source distribution in accordance with the GPL.

The potential pot of gold

To many, this all may sound like a lot of fluff; after all, it doesn’t impact on our ability to access the likes of SL and OpenSim directly through the many and varied standalone Viewer offerings that we have. But, while the Viewer-as-a-browser-plugin may seem questionable in reaching a larger audience, the same is not necessarily true with the ability to “access” grid environments through Facebook.

Say what you will about Facebook, but the fact remains that a huge number of people play games in it. Many of these people probably won’t touch OpenSim environments simply because a) they exist outside of Facebook and b) (more importantly), it all adds up to a lot of hassle - going to different websites, registering your details, selecting an avatar, downloading software, installing said software…

But – present Joe Facebook-User with the option of doing all this with the minimum of effort, and with software that self-installs in the background; and all from his Facebook page – and you have a potential winner. Doesn’t matter to him as to whether the Viewer ends up somewhere on his computer – as long as Facebook offers him the ability to remove it, should he become bored and move on to other things.

Linden Lab have been trying to court Facebook users for over a year – and largely tripping over their own feet in the process. Here is an approach that might just work; and those who hold the patent on it stand to potentially make a small fortune if others want to get in on the act – or at the very least, stands to funnel the flow of potential FB users into their own grid (with the financial rewards that also offers).

This is an issue that is likely to run for a time, with the debate now spreading to SpotON3D’s own statement on the matter of patents, which has added fuel to the flames that are already burning.