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From: "Michael Gasperi" <gasperi@alynk.com>
X-Real-Life-Name: Michael Gasperi
Subject: Lego Protocol Patent
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Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 14:54:45 GMT
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I periodicaly search patents assigned to Interlego just to see what kind of
stuff LEGO might be up to.  I noticed this one granted in September on a
communications protocol.  I don't get into this level of programming detail
and it might not even apply to mindstorms, but I thought I'd share the
number with the rest of you.
http://www.patents.ibm.com/details?pn=US05952932__
BTW It is very unusual to have 55 claims in one patent.

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From: "Ralph Hempel" <rhempel@bmts.com>
X-Real-Life-Name: Ralph Hempel
Subject: RE: Lego Protocol Patent
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> I periodicaly search patents assigned to Interlego just to see what kind of
> stuff LEGO might be up to.  I noticed this one granted in September on a
> communications protocol.  I don't get into this level of programming detail
> and it might not even apply to mindstorms, but I thought I'd share the
> number with the rest of you.
> http://www.patents.ibm.com/details?pn=US05952932__
> BTW It is very unusual to have 55 claims in one patent.

Good grief! Maybe I should get involved in patent law (or at least spec'ing
for patent lawyers).

Honestly, the basic protocol that is described has been implemented LOTS of
times in small proprietary projects. In fact, the fire alarm system I'm
currently implementing uses a multi-drop half-duplex master/slave
system for sending information from one master panel to the slaves.

It includes a message synchronization scheme, a major/minor protocol
byte, integrated sequence/retry counter byte, and length and checksum byte.
Read Tannenbaum's "Computer Networks" and you'll find it's not a very
original idea.

There really isn't anything special about these little protocols, I guess
it's who gets it on paper first. The intent (I hope) is not to discourage
others from using similar protocols in DISSIMILAR products, but to keep
opportunistic scavengers from creating products SIMILAR to the RCX.

Cheers,

Ralph Hempel - P.Eng

--------------------------------------------------------
Check out pbFORTH for LEGO Mindstorms at:
<http://www.hempeldesigngroup.com/lego/pbFORTH>
--------------------------------------------------------
Reply to:      rhempel at bmts dot com
-------------------------------------------------------- 

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From: kekoa@pixel.Stanford.EDU (Kekoa Proudfoot)
X-Real-Life-Name: Kekoa Proudfoot
Subject: Re: Lego Protocol Patent
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Date: Wed, 3 Nov 1999 17:45:45 GMT
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Ralph Hempel <rhempel@bmts.com> wrote:
> Good grief! Maybe I should get involved in patent law (or at least spec'ing
> for patent lawyers).
> 
> Honestly, the basic protocol that is described has been implemented LOTS of
> times in small proprietary projects.

I agree with everything you've said, Ralph.

My turn to say somthing about patents.  I know the job of being a patent
clerk must be amazingly difficult -- how can any person possibly know about
enough prior art to tell the obvious from the obscure from the ingenious --
but sometimes there are claims in patents never cease to amaze me, and this
patent in particular contains several such claims.  Now at the same time, I
think I see what TLG is afraid of and why they would want a patent like
this.

Now I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me there are several claims in the
patent that are so broad they are ridiculous.  If you keep reading though,
you'll find that the claims get more and more specific to Mindstorms.  See
e.g claims 4 and 5 and the others that are similarly worded.  Not to say
that the scheme described in those claims has or hasn't been used before,
but if anybody knows of a previous system that worked that way, that person
knows too much about communications protocols.

The point of the patent, I believe, is not to preserve the brilliance of
the communications protocol, but is instead to thwart, to some extent or
another, a competitor from selling a compatible product.  Unclear but
doubtful that the patent will prevent a determined competitor from selling
a similar product.

This being the first message I can recall posting since Mindfest, I should
say that that event was very fun, worth going to, etc.  I enjoyed meeting
everybody, attaching faces and personalities to various projects and
newsgroup postings, and being surprised that a set of plastic bricks could
bring so many friendly and like-minded people together for an enjoyable
weekend.  Everybody I met had something interesting to say or share.
Amazing.

-Kekoa

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