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Ultimate Mars Challenge

Friday, November 9, 2012
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Forensics on Trial

Monday, October 15, 2012
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Samsung Fight Among Many In Apple's Patent War

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
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July 31, 2012
 

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Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S (left) and Apple's iPhone 4 are displayed at the headquarters of South Korean mobile carrier KT. Apple claims some of Samsung's designs violate its patents. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)
An epic battle between the two biggest smartphone makers begins Monday in a federal district court in San Jose, Calif., where computing giant Apple is asking for more than $2.5 billion from rival phone maker Samsung for patent violations.

 

The suit would be the most expensive patent violation in history, and it's just one front in Apple's war against phones running Google's Android operating system.

"This is officially World War III," says Carl Howe, an analyst with Yankee Group. "I think this is a case of whether the iPhone really, as Apple claims, changed the world in 2007."

To put that in perspective, think about the smartphone you had before that, Howe says. They were often boxy, and they had keyboards. When the iPhone came out, the commercials showed a hand interacting with the glowing, elegant screen. It had soft edges and a clear, glass face.

The iPhone was a big hit, and Howe says other smartphone makers, including Samsung, changed the way they designed their phones.

"After iPhone was introduced, suddenly all the designs looked like black slabs with touch interfaces, no keyboards and lots of icons," he says.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the world of business, where style and design are part of what make a brand like Apple unique, imitation is seen more as a way to confuse customers. Howe says Apple patented designs for its iPhone and iPad tablet.

"They're things like a flat, clear surface on the front of the product, or a rectangular product with four evenly rounded corners," he says, "lots of things that just sound like, 'Oh, you can get a patent for that?' But they fundamentally determine what the device looks like."

Samsung and Apple would not comment for this story.

A recent court filing by Apple compared pictures of Samsung smartphones before the iPhone and after. Some of the early versions have keyboards or other buttons, and they have sharper corners.

Mark Lemley, a professor at Stanford Law School, says the patent office isn't always right when it grants patents. Take that rectangle with the round corners.

"That really is a patent of stunning breadth if you take seriously the idea, when you look at the diagram in the patent, that Apple gets to own a computer that's shaped like a rectangle," Lemley says. "Well, then designing around [that is] going to be awfully hard for Samsung or anybody else."

Other critics say that even if Apple did it all best, it wasn't even the first to get a patent on these designs. David Martin, the chairman of M-Cam, a company that evaluates the value of patents, says the difference between the emotional response that says these technologies look alike and the actual construction of the patent law are two different things.

"That line has been entirely blurred," Martin says.

Emotional response might be Apple's most effective weapon, especially in this case. Apple did change the way people use and think about smartphones, and it opened up a new market for tablet computers. Analyst Carl Howe says Apple might be able to make a sympathetic case to jurors.

"One of the things Apple is good at [is] they're really good at presenting information in very influencing ways," Howe says. "So I would actually give them an edge simply because they're probably going to be able to make their case in a way that a jury will understand."

This is just one of many cases in the U.S. and around the world where Apple is pursuing Samsung and other rivals such as HTC. In all of them, the other companies pull out a few patents of their own and sue Apple right back.

Lemley, the Stanford professor, thinks it's a sign that something is wrong with the patent system, which is meant to promote innovation.

"They've probably spent $700 million in legal fees, and at the end of the day everybody's got enough patents that they could all interfere with each other making products," he says. "That's not the way we want innovation to work."

For consumers, this might bring higher prices and fewer choices. In fact, in Europe, a judge banned Samsung's Galaxy Tab 7.7 tablet from stores. For Apple, which recently saw sales of its iPhone slow, this could be a battle worth fighting.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Xconomy Report: Big Bets on the Future of Boston Tech

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Friday, July 13, 2012
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July 13, 2012

 
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Who are the companies that will make or break the Boston tech scene? Well, if you look at private companies that have raised more than $50 million in venture capital, a few stand out. There’s HubSpot in online marketing, Jumptap in mobile advertising, Veracode in software security and Wayfair in e-retail. They’re all pretty far along, and all are trying to transform their sectors or create new markets. Together, they’ll help define the future of the tech industry in Massachusetts — whether or not they succeed.
 
Meanwhile, in life sciences news, Waltham-based ImmunoGen has started human trials of a new treatment for ovarian cancer. The company has plenty of big pharmaceutical partners like Genentech, but it owns the new drug all by itself.
 
Our deal of the week is a $12 million venture round for Paydiant, a mobile software startup in Wellesley, Mass., that helps banks and retailers handle transactions by cell phone.
 
And lastly, one more make-or-break company from the local tech scene. Kayak, the online travel firm based in Connecticut and Concord, Mass., is getting ready to raise more than $80 million in an IPO that could hit as early as next week. Let’s hope there are no more sharks in the water by then.
 



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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

 

New Online Users Have A Longer Timeline

By Stan Alcorn   |   Friday, July 13, 2012
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July 12, 2012

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More older adults are using the Internet, thanks in part to introductory classes offered offline. (iStockphoto)

Facebook started as a social network for college students. But now that anyone can join, here's a status update: Many of its newest members are senior citizens.

At 101 years old, Florence Detlor is one of the oldest people on Facebook. She says she's always been someone who wants to keep up on the cutting edge of technology.

"Because that's what makes one time different from another," she says.

When Detlor was born, in 1911, the telephone was a futuristic, fringe technology. These days, she reads novels on her Kindle and updates her Facebook timeline on her third computer. She's an exceptional person — but not as exceptional as you might think.

"For the first time, half of adults 65 and older are online," says Mary Madden, a researcher at the Pew Center's Internet and American Life Project.

That's up from just 14 percent in 2000, when the project started. She says the number of seniors online has really taken off in the past year, and the biggest driver is happening offline, in outreach. That outreach includes classes like the one librarian Josh Soule teaches.

Soule's "Facebook for Seniors" class is usually full, with students who have never used the website before. Henriette Bard doesn't even own a computer.

"I made a big mistake in my life when I should have learned about computers years ago, when my husband was alive," she says. "I didn't, and now I started at 92, just started to learn how to use a computer."

Most of the hourlong class is spent limiting the amount of personal information that's shared on the site. Sharing too much makes these seniors nervous; they're used to socializing one-on-one.

"I imagine it's like talking to people, like email," Bard says.

She learns that it's more complicated than that: Even with privacy settings, most of the action on Facebook is out in front of all of your friends at once. That makes seniors like Tina Santorineou uncomfortable.

"You miss the personal touch, you know," she says. "You don't connect with this person, you connect with everybody. But I don't want to do that."

But like most seniors, she appreciates that younger users do, like her 14-year-old grandniece.

"If you go to her wall, you can see thousands of — or I don't know how many — pictures she has. It's amazing," Santorineou says.

Grandkids — and their pictures — are a magnet for seniors, pulling them into a new social space at a time when most of them are socializing less.

"People actually narrow down their social networks as they grow older," says Shyam Sundar, professor of communications at Penn State.

Sundar thinks websites like Facebook can help seniors fight that isolation. He compares the sites to an ongoing Thanksgiving dinner. However, that only works for people who already have friends and family to fill the seats at the table — people like Detlor, the 101-year-old.

"Family is there, friends are there. I think maybe more friends than family," she says.

In the past couple of months, she's added more than 200 new Facebook friends.

Copyright 2012 WNYC Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wnyc.com/.

Xconomy Report: Don't You Want (to Buy) Me, Baby?

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Thursday, July 5, 2012
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July 6, 2012

mobile shopping
Ads, ads, everywhere. (Jumptap)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — There’s a lot of activity in mobile advertising again. Jumptap, a Boston-area mobile tech company, has raised a new venture round that brings its total funding to over $120 million. The rumor around town is that the company will either go public or get acquired by someone like Amazon.com. In the past 5 years, Boston has seen a number of big mobile-ad acquisitions, such as AOL buying Third Screen Media, Apple buying Quattro Wireless and PayPal buying Where.
 
Speaking of mobile ads, we’re keeping an eye on a new crop of local startups in the sector, including Session M, Adelphic Mobile, Celtra and CraveLabs, which helps businesses create mobile ads through Facebook status updates.
 
Our two deals of the week have to do with building the data center of the future. Burlington-based DynamicOps, an IT spinout from Credit Suisse, is being acquired by virtualization giant VMware. And on the networking side, Nashua, N.H.– and Cambridge-based startup Plexxi has raised a total of almost $50 million in VC funding as it goes after big players like Cisco and HP.
 
Finally, Avid, the Burlington audio and video tech firm, is selling off its consumer product lines to companies in R.I. and Canada. Counting a round of layoffs, Avid will lose 20 percent of its staff, or about 350 employees.



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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at Xconomy.com airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

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