Aug 3, 2011

SpotOn3D

Elevating virtual worlds history denial into an art-form #SecondLife

 

Apparently there is this controversy brewing over SpotOn3D and their web viewer “plugin”, in that they have the intention of filing for a patent on the process by which they have replicated a “viewer embedded in a webpage” experience. Most well respected open source contributors are up in arms over this recent move by SpotOn3D simply because it amounts to what can be describes as a stab in the back to all developers who are contributing to OpenSim development freely.

 

Of course, I had a wonderful opportunity to check this SpotOn3D “web plugin” out before it reached the ears of the media public, and I had then the same opinion that I do now concerning where they are headed with it all.

 

Let’s begin by stating what the SpotOn3D “plugin” is and is not, because it bares repeating in public to put the record straight.

 

It’s Not Really a Plugin

 

By most definitions it is simply a program wrapper that happens to embed a full program, which must be downloaded and installed as a standalone product, into a web page. In this manner, the comparison as a web plugin is laughable at best. It would be like saying that making a wrapper for LibreOffice to embed the program into a webpage is a “plugin”, even though you are downloading and installing a 300MB installation package which also works as a standalone product from your desktop. The reasoning is quite silly when you actually think about it.

 

In the case of SpotOn3D, they have a program that is separate as a wrapper (and provided as open source), in which certain arguments are called in launching the wrapper which tell it what fully installed program to embed into the web page – by their own admission, this plugin could embed just about any standalone program into a webpage, and I know this to be a fact.

 

So, too, SpotOn3D attempts to pass off a full standalone viewer, installation and all, as though it were a lightweight plugin when it’s really a separate plugin framework system calling a fully installed viewer that is a standalone product. But even the plugin wrapper isn’t even theirs to claim, unless they are willing to publicly acknowledge the other 28 programmers who contributed to the very open source project which made the SpotOn3D wrapper possible. I’d also think that those 28 contributors would be pretty pissed off to find some random company making an attempt to patent something based on Open Source works.

 

 

 

SpotOn3D Not a Plugin

 

 

Clearly there is an icon on my desktop that launches the same viewer as the one that is embedded into the webpage via the program wrapper. To also say that this is a novel approach is also untrue in that the only way one can claim such a thing is if you were to entirely ignore the history of virtual world environments, much like the Pilgrims selectively ignored the Native Americans when they first arrived, and pretended the entire continent was uninhabited. (dramatization provided by Eddie Izzard: possibly NSFW)

 

 

 

You own the entire country, yet have no system of ownership? SpotOn3D to the Open Source Community

 

 

The point here is that unless they are willing to ignore everything that came before them, as well as the community which provided the open source software for them to modify in the first place, coupled with throwing gobs of cash into the arena in order to undermine and compete with underfunded and spare-time open source initiatives, then yes I suspect they can claim there is something to patent. It’s really deniability at this point, or at least willful ignorance of the subject at hand, although I suspect it is more like willful abuse of patent process in order to gain an upper hand in a competitive market.

 

Case in point; The claim of bringing virtual worlds to Facebook. In the video above, the claim is that the entire continent is devoid of other people and the Pilgrims are the first to ever step foot there, despite staring point blank at Native Americans. In the case of SpotOn3D and their “plugin”, they are making a claim of doing something different and unique, and touting their “plugin” integration on Facebook, despite the fact I can claim I’ve seen this trick before in 2007 with ActiveWorlds (Press Release Located Here).

 

 

 

ActiveWorlds Facebook Web Embed

 

 

 

Even though we can say that the ActiveWorlds version used Internet Explorer exclusively for the ActiveX embed, and this only worked on Windows operating systems at the time (which wasn’t anything new since ActiveWorlds only works on Windows to begin with), there is definitely a precursor showing that a virtual environment company has embedded their “viewer” into a webpage and even Facebook using a “plugin”. The reason I say “plugin” again with quotes is because the ActiveWorlds variation of this method worked essentially the same exact way as Spoton3D and their “plugin”. It was a specialized wrapper that called the fully installed, stand-alone viewer and embedded it into a webpage via third party methods.

 

 

 

SpotOn3D Entry

 

 

My Dragon is Bigger: Stealing FireBreath

 

The question becomes, how exactly does one patent something that is actually quite common, shows prior art, and is probably covered by GPL or BSD license and by law shouldn’t be hoarded – nor is actually patentable? The answer is simply that you can’t, but being an IP attorney, the CEO of SpotOn3D already knows this – and he also knows that the intention isn’t to actually patent anything but to get a patent pending in order to hang the threat of litigation over anyone who tries to follow in SpotOn3D’s footsteps, and since patent applications can take 4 – 5 years before they are accepted or rejected, this means that SpotOn3D is using the patent system in order to buy themselves a 4 – 5 year head start on using the external plugin system to embed SpotOn3D into webpages, keeping the entire Open Source community at bay (so they hope) while they reap the rewards.

 

Unfortunately, I’m going to take a moment and return their serve with a hope shattering volleyball spike to the face. Feel free to quote me.

 

The secret to SpotOn3D’s “web plugin” is not proprietary, nor is there any way they could possibly patent it, since both the viewer itself and the plugin system they are using are both covered as Open Source (GPL or BSD licenses). Anyone is free to go grab the “plugin” architecture and make their own embedded [insert any program] at will, and no amount of attempted patenting by SpotOn3D is going to change that.

 

firebreath-logo-r26Introducing FireBreath

 

A cursory look at the javascript on the SpotOn3D “web embed” points to FireBreath API calls. A five minute search later provided the link above, complete with source code and documentation.

 

In short, feel free to ignore SpotOn3D’s assertion that they are getting a patent on their plugin system, it’s just a sleazy tactic to give them a head start under threat of litigation. 

 

FireBreath is licensed under a dual license structure; this means you can choose which of two licenses to use it under. FireBreath can be used under the New BSD license or the GNU Lesser General Public License v2.1. Want to steal SpotOn3D’s thunder? Go ahead and download the entire sourcecode and examples for FireBreath.

 

Epilogue

 

If the viewer itself is open source and FireBreath is open source, I’d like to know at what point SpotOn3D is planning to make a case for filing patent claims based on entirely open source methodologies which would prohibit patenting the process to begin with. The odds are much higher that they are using this as a bluff in order to scare off competition in the web browser “plugin” realm, even knowing full well that when the verdict comes in on the patent process it’ll likely be rejected due to prior art, among many other reasons (like trying to patent open source work as your own and violating the initial agreements that came with it).

 

While I like to give companies the benefit of the doubt, in this case SpotOn3D’s tactics make me nauseous. It is this reason, among others, that I have no respect for SpotOn3D as a system.

 

I won’t even get into their “Double Dutch” Delivery system… I can’t support it simply out of principle because it goes against the very nature of cross platform interoperability.

 

As LiteSim developer Gareth Nelson said, “…people have the right to see the source code for the plugin.” and I agree 100%. That’s why I’m providing that to the public since SpotOn3D seems to want to hide the fact they are using FireBreath.

 

As an official quote from Hypergrid Business (and NWN) with a statement  from Steven Lieberman states:

 

According to SpotON3D cofounder and CEO Stevan Lieberman, who is also an intellectual property attorney with Greenberg & Lieberman, the company is in full compliance with GPL license requirements and has publicly released the relevant code elements.

 

“The plugin is an entirely separate program that has been designed to and does work on not only OpenSim, but also on numerous other programs,” he said in a comment at New World Notes.  ”The technology encompassed in the plugin is patent pending world wide as well as copyrighted.”

 

 

That is probably the single most misleading statement I’ve ever heard, but considering he’s also an IP Attorney, that doesn’t surprise me at all.

 

Here’s the link to steal their thunder (or in this case, fire):

 

FireBreath 

 

 

 

18 comments:

  1. YaY! i think im gona wip me up a plugin :P

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  2. Amazing stuff! To think I just wanted to try the plugin and blog about the thing with some pictures of me travels. Then came the shockwave. If SpotON3d were not on the map before they sure are now, and not for the best of reasons.

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  3. I held my tongue when I first saw it, and simply mentioned it didn't impress me because I'd seen it done before.

    But willfully withholding open source methods and code, insisting they are within their right to do so, and then talking about it being patent pending and copyrighted worldwide... that last part finally pissed me off.

    They're using a freely available open source framework for web browser plugin creation - and implying patents in the same sentence as an open source project would make any open source developer boil over.

    Since they seem so determined to keep their "web plugin" program a secret, protected, and behind the thinly veiled threat of patent litigation, I thought I'd burst their bubble and give the open source access they aren't willing to give.

    It's the morally right thing to do, and it disgusts me that they are playing dirty in this.

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  4. This is the "Official Statement from SpotON3D's CEO Stevan Lieberman"

    http://spoton3d.blogspot.com/2011/08/official-statement-from-spoton3ds-ceo.html

    I read it and, since they misrepresented what I said, I posted the following in their blog, I doubt they will publish it:

    "
    Hi Stevan,

    Having read your official statement I wish to state that:

    (A) Stating that I claimed that the reason the viewer may need to be licensed under the GPL is because "the browser is installed at the same time as the plugin, thus it is essentially the same software" is a blatant misrepresentation of what I said. I said:

    "
    First, the GPL program (the original unmodified SL viewer that their viewer is derived from) is not designed to accept plugins that take over the rendering target and have keyboard and mouse commands rerouted from another process. They may have added this capability to it (I haven't checked) but then it would no longer be "unmodified" and therefor no longer qualifying for the exception you believe SpotOn3D can use to relieve themselves from the requirement to release their code under GPL.

    Second, you've seemed to overlook the quotations I provided from the GNU site specifying that:

    "However, in many cases you can distribute the GPL-covered software alongside your proprietary system. To do this validly, you must make sure that the free and non-free programs communicate at arms length, that they are not combined in a way that would make them effectively a single program."

    http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#GPLInProprietarySystem

    "By contrast, pipes, sockets and command-line arguments are communication mechanisms normally used between two separate programs. So when they are used for communication, the modules normally are separate programs. But if the semantics of the communication are intimate enough, exchanging complex internal data structures, that too could be a basis to consider the two parts as combined into a larger program."

    http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#MereAggregation

    Unless SpotOn3D do some very frowned upon hacking their plugin would need to modify the SL viewer in order to work, thus (A) not qualifying it under your quoted exception, i.e. it does not work with an "off-the-shelf, unmodified, program" and (B) making it very likely that their combined program will be considered by a court of law as "effectively a single program" thus needing to be licensed under the GPL.
    "

    http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2011/07/opensim-in-facebook.html?cid=6a00d8341bf74053ef0153904b5a61970b#comment-6a00d8341bf74053ef0153904b5a61970b

    (B) You ignored all that I and the community have said about the inherit anti-competitive and exploitative nature of SpotOn3D's conduct. Instead you chose to just restate the various claims that have been made by SpotOn3D in the articles that have been written about this. People have had a lot to say about the validity of those statements, I recommend you read all that they have written.

    Repeating the statements that have gotten you in the hot chair in the first place is probably not the best way to calm the situation. Please take a step back and reconsider.
    "

    Whomever drafted their response did not take Public Relations 101. Restating falsehoods is not the best way to respond when you are caught with your hand in the communal cookie jar.

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  5. Perhaps it is just a smoke screen to buy time while they profit keeping the competition at bay. Least that is what I have been reading. Anyway, they just released an official statement here...

    http://spoton3d.blogspot.com/2011/08/official-statement-from-spoton3ds-ceo.html

    Not that is says much they haven't said already. I think they could do more harm to themselves in going after this patent but I guess they believe they know what they are doing.

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  6. Um I did this 3D web plugin thing myself with Vivaty in 2008. And before that, MediaMachines in 2004. And before that, with Intervista Software in 1995-1998 (!). So I'm not sure what these people are claiming...

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  7. @Ilan

    Considering the plugin system is interfacing with the SpotOn3D viewer in order to convey the web canvas dimensions and set the windowed size of the embedded viewer automatically, among other things, I'd say it was a safe bet the viewer is modified to work in tandem with FireBreath directly.

    However, even if it were not the case and they were considered separate programs (as SpotOn3D insists) this still doesn't excuse them from the responsibility of releasing the code for the plugin since the framework itself for the web browser plugin architecture is open source, freely available, and licensed under either GPL or BSD respectively. In either case, they have absolutely no reason to insist otherwise. This is why I went ahead and posted the link to the FireBreath site, so all of the open source developers can have access to the same code that SpotOn3D apparently had access to (minus whatever custom code they added, though since both viewer and FireBreath are open source, that would mean even the changes they made should be published as well)

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  8. @tonyparisi

    That's pretty much the point I'm making... what they are claiming doesn't have a leg to stand on, and the fact they willfully withheld information concerning the open source framework they used specifically to make the web browser "plugin" spells double damnation.

    However, the least I could do was publish access to the same framework they're using to make the plugin for others to follow suit if they wish.

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  9. Hi Aeonix,

    We're aware of FireBreath, it's what the Kitely plugin has been using for many months now. :-)

    GPL carries with it some patent protection clauses. I suspect that is part of the reason that they are insisting that their work isn't derivative.

    The bigger problem is the patent threat they try to make to deter competition. Non-compliance with the GPL has less anti-competitive effect on the community in this particular case.

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  10. @Ilan

    I have no doubt you are aware of FireBreath :) I was referring to making it public knowledge for any and all.

    I'm still uncertain they could get a patent for it, since on both sides of the coin it is open source code and freely available. The viewer is open source and so is FireBreath. How will they insist that no other person can put two open source code bases together when they both should be freely available? I'd think that while they can file for the patent and get patent pending, the odds of actually getting a patent are slim. So to me it comes across as a calculated bluff in the spirit of anti-competitiveness and abuse of process.

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  11. And since we're trading press releases:

    http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/Vivaty-Launches-Public-Beta-Vivaty-Scenes-Personal-Virtual-Web-Community-Leading-Social-876420.htm

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  12. Oh so does anybody have a pointer to the actual patent application? I can't rant effectively if I don't know in depth what I'm ranting about :-)

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  13. @tonyparisi

    Haven't heard anything about the actual patent yet other than they are intending to file for one and license their "plugin" to everyone else.

    Brilliant press release, btw..

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  14. Hi Aeonix,

    The problem is that there are many patent claims being made against open source projects as well. Having the source code of prior art released doesn’t prevent patents from being granted as patent reviewers aren’t aware of everything that is out there.

    Once receiving a patent the patent holder who intends to "capitalize on his IP assets" will then start threatening small businesses who can't afford the costs to defend themselves in court or to get the invalid patent overturned. Instead those small businesses will prefer to "pay up" some license fee because it costs them less. After the patent holder gets enough money from those small players it will then go after the bigger ones with a bigger battery of lawyers. Some of the bigger companies settle which allows the patent holder to go after even bigger fish.

    The best way to prevent this cycle from ever starting is to dissuade companies from pursuing this path in the first place. No prior art will prevent some people from trying to patent everything under the sun. Even if most of their patent applications are rejected some are eventually granted. In the meantime they get to stifle the competition just by mentioning that they have a patent pending.

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  15. All I see is hearsay and conclusion-making... There is no beef without registration number and access to the document file. You can validly conclude a bluff as well...

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  16. @eurominuteman

    Not really hearsay or conclusion-making. That's like saying it is impossible to determine the direction an apple falls by looking at it. They've stated their intentions to file for patent, and to license "their" plugin technology to other virtual environments.

    I can conclude that their intentions and actions thus far are leading in a predictable manner, and it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to point out that an Intellectual Property Attorney, who also is the CEO of SpotOn3D, is serious when he says he has intention to file for patents.

    Feel free to wait for the registration number and access to the document itself before you make a conclusion. I prefer acknowledging the brick walls before I hit them, thank you.

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  17. 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 direclty 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

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  18. Hi Tessa & Stevan,

    If you truly wish to talk to people in an open exchange of ideas then why not address them where they are asked in public forums instead of in your own closed venue?

    Do you wonder to why I object to having this discussion inside SpotOn3D's grid, here's why:

    If you are really open to what other people are saying why misrepresent what I said in your previous press release then block my rebuttal comment on your blog? Its text was included here as well:

    http://metaverse-traveller.blogspot.com/2011/07/spoton3d-to-patent-open-sim-in-browser.html?showComment=1312419040769#c6470783078774706412

    If you are open to a public discussion then why hide the reply comment from Rob Knop who also posted a reply on your forum:

    http://scientopia.org/blogs/galacticinteractions/2011/08/03/virtual-world-enthusiasts-should-boycott-spoton3d/#comment-4372

    As of now both our replies are still missing from the comment section below your press release even though this comment section now includes two other comments - people can see you are hiding our comments you know...

    We know you read at least some of the various articles that have been written about your conduct as you've added your comments to them. Why force people to register to your grid, and attend at the time that is convenient to you instead of just answering people in blog comments like people from the community are doing?

    There are several people who have written replies in almost all those comment threads that discuss your patent threats. Are those people, myself included, more willing to spend time talking to other people in forums they do not control than you are?

    I will not condone having this discussion turn into a marketing opportunity for your grid, under your own timetable, with you controlling how long people can discuss the issue. If you want a truly open discussion then begin by taking the time to address the many questions people have already asked you in the multiple threads that deal with this:

    http://metaverse-traveller.blogspot.com/2011/07/spoton3d-to-patent-open-sim-in-browser.html

    http://scientopia.org/blogs/galacticinteractions/2011/08/03/virtual-world-enthusiasts-should-boycott-spoton3d/

    http://cityofnidus.blogspot.com/2011/08/spoton3d.html

    http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2011/08/controversy-erupts-over-spoton3ds-patent-claims

    http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2011/07/opensim-in-facebook/comments/page/1/

    http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2011/08/spoton3d-responds-to-patent-concerns-will-license-plugin-to-other-grids/

    http://iliveisl.com/patents-or-how-browser-access-will-cost-you/

    http://iliveisl.com/how-your-online-voice-matters

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