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.
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)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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):