Nigerian Patent Infringement Lawsuit: Scam or Shame?

   
   
   
   
   
olpc production keyboard
Original XO or infringed IP?

Now I'm not quite sure what to make of this at the moment but a United States-based Nigerian-owned company has sued OLPC for an alleged patent infringement about multilingual keyboard technology. As MarketWire.com puts it:

The patent infringement lawsuit was filed on November 22nd, 2007 as a result of OLPC's willful infringement of LANCOR's Nigeria Registered Design Patent # RD8489 and illegal reverse engineering of its keyboard driver source codes for use in the XO Laptops.

More specifically LANCOR claims that:

...OLPC purchased two KONYIN Multilingual Keyboard models (KONYIN Nigeria Multilingual Keyboard and KONYIN United States Multilingual Keyboard) with the express purpose of illegally reverse engineering the source codes for use in OLPC's XO Laptops.

After reading that story I went to look for the Nigerian Patent Office's website, unfortunately according to the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) directory there's no such thing. Probing further I found that the Nigerian Industrial Property Offices use a @yahoo.com e-mail address. That was the point where I stopped my search for an online-version of Patent # RD8489 even though I would really liked to take a look at it!

What was left for me at this point was to try and understand how exactly OLPC could have infringed on LANCOR's patents. According to the MarketWire.com story:

LANCOR is a pioneer in the development of advanced physical multilingual keyboard technology using four shift keys and characters with combining properties to allow for direct access typing of accents, symbols and diacritical marks during regular typing. LANCOR's technology named Shift2 keyboard technology has been used to create a new class of region specific based keyboards called KONYIN Multilingual Keyboards, which are currently on sale globally. (http://www.konyin.com)

An "advanced physical multilingual keyboard technology using four shift keys and characters with combining properties to allow for direct access typing of accents, symbols and diacritical marks during regular typing"? Looking at the KONYIN website and the different layouts they're offering it seems to boil down to being able to assign multiple characters (mainly special characters) to a key by introducing an additional "shift" key.

Now I'm no lawyer so I have no clue of how this story might end. However I personally have to say that I would be surprised if OLPC had knowingly (and you can't purchase two keyboards and reverse-engineer them without knowing about it!) committed patent infringements. For one these people live and breathe open-source technology so such a patent infringement sounds like the last thing they would do.

Secondly they turned a vision that many called unrealistic only 2 years ago into a device that's being mass-produced as we speak and invented some outstanding technologies in the process (XO display anyone?). Why would they risk being caught with their hands down someone else's pants over something such as keyboard technology?

What do you make of the whole story?

Related Entries

43 Comments

I rather doubt that at this late date something as comparatively trivial as a keyboard, and a keyboard whose unique feature appears to be four shift keys rather then one, would have a defensible patent.

More likely this is either an attempt at legal blackmail or it's a relatively cost-free advertising campaign designed to piggy-back on the international exposure of the OLPC.

I'm not quite sure how being in favour of open-source software prevents you from violating other peoples intellectual property. If anything, you would seem MORE willing to do it, because generally you don't believe that patents should exist.

I am familiar with the Konyin Yoruba keyboard from one of the Yoruba mailing lists.

AFAIK (IANAL) this patent infringement claim is ludicrous. Yes, you can patent hardware keyboards. QWERTY and Dvorak were patented, along with others. I'm pretty sure you can't patent a soft keyboard layout.

Let's assume that OLPC bought the two Konyin keyboards, which seems to be a natural thing for them to do. What does the alleged reverse engineering consist of? Since the OLPC doesn't use the Konyin hardware design, nothing. Why is this alleged reverse engineering supposed to be illegal, in a charge separate from the patent infringement claim? No reason given.

Unix keyboard layouts and SCIM IMEs have had the features claimed for the Konyin keyboards for many years. The principal limitation on console and X keyboards is that you can get only one Unicode character per keypress. Konyin keyboards generate two Unicode characters (for letters with two accents) for some keypresses. Well, that's no problem in SCIM.

So I don't see what Konyin's beef is. Unless there is something weird in Nigerian law that I don't know about. There's certainly plenty weird in Nigeria, but where isn't there?

I find it intriguing that this was announced shortly after the Wall Street Journal article by Steve Stecklow and James Bandler (November 24, 2007) mentioned how much funding OLPC has received.

Simon, one thing is to be against IP in principle, and other is to run an international effort like this like a loonie activist. As much as I believe that Negroponte lives inside his own reality distortion field, to simple knowingly break Nigerian law, well, I think a bit too far.

Unless Edward's scenario is true: may be some kind of really weird piece of Nigerian legislation is there to allow for this. We need an expert on Nigerian IP law to tell us the truth.

As if Nigerian email scams weren't enough.

Amen.

The prefix "RD" suggests the registration is a Registered Design, not a Patent. The Nigerian Patents and Designs Act sections 12-22 implements a Register of
Industrial Designs.

Comparing the XO Nigerian layout

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Nigeria_Keyboard

to the KONYIN layouts

http://www.konyin.com/?page=product.Multilingual%20Keyboard%20for%20NIGERIA&subpage=layout

shows that the assignment of symbols to keys is different as is the method to access them. The KONYIN has a dedicated "Ng" key on the right side.

There is further information in the Nigerian User Guide:

http://www.konyin.com/products/NIG/KONYIN-NIG(UsersGuide).pdf

The KONYIN claims its uniqueness is in delivering TWO key-scan codes (Unicode) to the PC driver. As far as I know XO uses the standard XKB mechanisms and a regular SINGLE key-scan code from the keyboard.

Sounds pretty goofy to me.

Their patent (if it exists) would be indefencible, of course, on grounds of prior art. Even the earliest of microcomputers (certainly the VZ200 I had in 1983) had alternate shift keys to allow the input of unusual characters and character combinations.

Folks,

see the bigger picture. Nigeria, one of the largest 3rd world nations, is currently in the phase of selectiing a loptop for their children. They consider the XO as well as the Classmate.

What better excuse could you have as a gouvernment to dismiss the XO without looking bribed again like in the Mandriva case when somebody else (maybe a software vendor?) offers such a nice exit route that in turn leads to a Windows powered classmate notebook.....

As a governement, they will say, they can not risk to choose a notebook that potentially violates their own law.....

I am willing to bet that exactly this will happen....

"I'm not quite sure how being in favour of open-source software prevents you from violating other peoples intellectual property. If anything, you would seem MORE willing to do it, because generally you don't believe that patents should exist."

You know of any example? You know of any FOSS project leader advocating or stimulating it? Or is it just a general ignorance or disdain for FOSS that made you insult FOSS programmers?

On the other hand, do you know of any MS product, to pick only one proprietary company, that has NOT been shown to infringe on patents or copyrights?

Winter

> What better excuse could you have as a gouvernment to dismiss the XO without
> looking bribed again like in the Mandriva case when somebody else (maybe a
> software vendor?) offers such a nice exit route that in turn leads to a Windows
> powered classmate notebook.....

I may be sounding a bit unoriginal on this one, but I really doubt your conspiracy theory.

OLPC project is flawed in so many ways (support? hundred dollars a laptop? "demands" to Intel to stop Classmate project?) that it will fail miserably anyway. It is failing right now actually.

Anyway, all of these "gadget charities" sound like a complete bullshit to me.

I've used to work in Nigeria, in Lagos specifically. Why the hell would you give bloody gadgets to people who live on the streets and have no food? Because it makes you feel better? They will steal and sell it next day you give it to them.

@grmbl:

Why the XO?

Very simple: Help them to help themselves.

Support the clever, smart young people so that THEY can change things from inside.

Just dropping food packages from airplanes will never change the situation.

Proof: The last 40 yrs of wasted 3rd world support that just kept them alive but did not empower them to help themselves.

Scratch that company and whoops, whaddya know, it bleeds redmond. Who'd have thunk? Monkey-boy strikes again!!!!

Considering Intel has on it's website source code used for one of the 1st IBM PC type keyboards used (source code must be like 1980s). Try look on Intel's site for chips such as 8042 or 8031 (don't recall which chip was used but the code should be available somewhere).

Then, also, other companies wanting to sell their chips to build keyboards will also have sample code as well which may work similarly or differently depending on what chips are used so with enough examples around, you can't be a very good engineer if you need to reverse-engineer a keyboard.

If you look at the Timex Sinclair (1980) it uses a combination of keys to input codes or graphics.

Considering Intel has on it's website source code used for one of the 1st IBM PC type keyboards used (source code must be like 1980s). Try look on Intel's site for chips such as 8042 or 8031 (don't recall which chip was used but the code should be available somewhere).

Then, also, other companies wanting to sell their chips to build keyboards will also have sample code as well which may work similarly or differently depending on what chips are used so with enough examples around, you can't be a very good engineer if you need to reverse-engineer a keyboard.

If you look at the Timex Sinclair (1980) it uses a combination of keys to input codes or graphics.

In what way do their multiple shift keys differ from the combination of shift keys and the AltGr key on a modern keyboard?

To get an at-sign (@) on my keyboard, I have to press AltGr-2.

Greetings, From Miss Anita.

I am Miss Anita; I am from Federal Republic of Nigeria. I want us to do business if you are truthful person.

I hold Nigeria Registered Design Patent # RD8489 which was held by my late client, who die in December 2003 In a Plane Crash, if you are interested to do this business with me get back to me with your full information.

I can not file a lawsuit against the good people of OLPC, because my late client registered the Beneficiary of the patent as his (Foreign Business Partner) and also the documents of the patent are with me.

I want to file lawsuit against OLPC in your country for security and political reasons. I want you to help in claiming and retrieve this fund from the security company and so it can be delivered to you in your country for investment purposes.

Please feel free to write back to me for father clarifications. If you find this of interest do not hesitate to contact me as soon as possible. Email addresses. [email protected]

Your Telephone Numbers and fax. Your Age. Your home Country Address and your Occupation.

From Miss Anita

Prior art, I presume, would also include macros, where multi-key actions have been assignable to key combinations for many years now.

Well, if the patent is in fact about having four "shift keys" - i.e., either modifier or introducer keys, probably modifier - then that patent will be easily defeated if the filing date is later than something like 1985 at least.

In 1985 I was working in Japan. Keyboards with four shift keys were the norm - such keys as 'front', 'jis', 'kana', etc. Keyboards had as many as 5 glyphs on a single key.

Though I don't remember all the manufacturers at this late date, I certainly remember one, Micrognosis, the company I worked for at the time. We made keyboards for our equipment for far East customers that had 4 'shift' keys.

If you look at LANCOR contact address, you'll find that our friend Adé G. Oyegbola lives at 1 Timber Ln, Natick, MA 01760. Now why would he go to Nigeria to file a patent if his company is based out of his home in Massachusetts, just a few miles from OLPC HQ?

The Boston Globe has more on Konyin lawsuit:

"A friend of Oyegbola who owned a Konyin keyboard saw the XO laptop and was struck by its resemblance to Lancor's product.

"He said, 'Wow, I saw your keyboard on OLPC,' " said Oyegbola, who then visited the foundation's website. There he saw a document describing a keyboard layout that seemed nearly identical to his own. "They didn't try to hide anything," Oyegbola said. "They just copied everything verbatim."

Oyegbola said that such copying is forbidden under Nigerian patent law. In addition, purchasers of the Konyin keyboard must agree not to use its software as a basis for making a similar product - a process called reverse-engineering.

Oyegbola claims that the foundation not only reverse-engineered his keyboard's software, but published it on a website used by its software developers. "They took our code and made it open source for all the world to see," Oyegbola said."

http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2007/11/28/laptops_for_kids_group_sued_over_keyboard_design/

The OLPC's keyboard layout was clearly derived from the german keyboard layout, which already existed the day I first used computers (1986).

The OLPC keyboard has the key to activate the additional characters, whereas the "patented" keyboard introduces two new keys.

And for drivers: I think that writing your own driver is way faster and leads to much better results than reverse engineering one. The mapping of keystrokes to unicode-characters would have to produce the same character for the requested same key label pressed.

All in all, I think the company is a leech, trying to get a free ride on every OLPC sold in Nigeria. Unfortunately they hurt the children in their own country with that.
Probably they should try to get hold on some conscience.

Forgive me if I'm making a stupid comment, but your phrasing suggests that you are under the impression that the linked marketwire.com "story" is a news story. It's not, it's a press release from LANCOR. If you click on the "about marketwire" tab at the top of the page, the blurb makes this clear: "... providing peace of mind that your press releases reach the right people at the right time ..."

Nigeria was the most corrupt African nation on Transparency Internationale's 2005 list. In 2006 they were the 17th most corrupt in the world. In the 2007 list they only moved to the 31st most corrupt. To find this shocking or surprising is simply naive.

http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2007


.

@Winter

I'll address the glaring flaws in your logic in reveerse order. Because I can.

On the other hand, do you know of any MS
product, to pick only one proprietary
company, that has NOT been shown to
infringe on patents or copyrights?

I can't say I do, although that proabably has something to do with my lack of encylopedic knowledge regarding Microsoft's products, and their related technologies. I do feel however that given the many 1000's of products Microsoft manufactures, atleast some of them were probably developed with wholely original technology. Furthermore, just because a company settles a patent lawsuit doesn’t mean they actually infringed on another parties intellectual property; a settlement adverts the possibility of catostrophic losses in the event that the court sides with the plaintiff.

You know of any example? You know of any
FOSS project leader advocating or
stimulating it? Or is it just a general
ignorance or disdain for FOSS that made you
insult FOSS programmers?

Actually I do. His name's Richard Stallman, you might have heard of him. He's the founder of the Free Software Foundation and the author of the GPL Licenses which govern the majority of open-source software. Game, Set and Match?

I didn’t intend for my comment to be taken as an attack on the Open-Source movement. I appologize if any hyper-sensitive programmers were offended. I don’t even neccesarily believe that software patents are correct.

The article stated:

For one these people live and breathe open-source technology so such a patent infringement sounds like the last thing they would do.

I simply fail to see how the two are correllated, I chose to highlight this descrepancy by offering possible reasons why this would not be the case. If anyone can think of any arguments why it would be, I would be happy to be enlightened.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum (UK - 1982, also in the USA under the Timex brand I believe) had up to SIX tokens per key (some were "words" rather than "characters", but the concept is the same)

Prior Art? I should think so....

Windows keyboard
Shift, ctrl, alt = three shift keys

Macintosh keyboard
Shift, ctrl, alt, apple key = four shift keys


On the Macintosh combinations are used for direct entry of symbols and other special characters

The patent is invalid.


The Macintosh was introduced in 1984 with these features.

If you look at the keyboard layouts on konyin.com, you'll see that they are completely different from OLPC. Konyin uses a second shift key next to the standard shift key, while OLPC uses AltGr, just like Windows international keyboards (although the OLPC layout differs substantially from the Windows international layout as well).

Simon, I think you have mischaracterized Stallman's position on patents. It would be like if I complained about the absurdly low speed limits on a road I drive everyday and you claimed that I was telling people to ignore those limits or that I was doing so myself. Can't you see that would be the wrong strategy for getting the law changed?

In the same way, it isn't good for free software when people make illegal copies of Windows/Office or when they ignore someone's patents. If I don't agree with the law, then it is by following it as strictly as possible myself and insisting other people do so too that everyone will see what the problem is.

Now there are times when civil disobedience is the right strategy, but this isn't one of them and I never saw Stallman say that it was.

@Tom

I agree with you that simply not believing in the law doesn't justify not following it (although certain Natural Law advocats would disagree). In retrospect I believe I misinterpreted Winter's comment. I assumed he was questioning the belief amongst the open-source community that patent laws are misguided. So to answer his actual question. No, I'm not aware of any open-source leaders urging their followers to violate patent laws. However given the obvious reprecussions if they were to do so this hardly constitutes proof that patent-infringement does not have their private support.

In the interest of moving on to the meat of the issue, I am hovewer, willing to concede that Open-Source software is not more liekely to infringe upon intellectual property.

What I'm not willing to concede to is your arguement that open-source architects have a greater incentive to abide by patent-laws then the companies for whom millions of dollars in revenue is at stake.

Trying to turn the tide of public attention by applying the law as strictly as possible yourself seems to be an extremely misguided strategy. People don't be need to be taught to hate closed-source software, they need to be taught that alternatives exist. If you intentionally cripple your products because of patent-laws, there is no way you will ever be able to overtake the closed-source beheomoths.

Finally a note about civil disobediance. Contrary to your belief, software is the ideal field for civil-disobediance. There are no lives on the line, most open-source projects don't have huge piles of cash, and the costs of entry are almost comicaly low.

RE SIMON:
generally speaking those in the FOSS community DO honor copyright law, thats why they created the GPL! The last thing they're going to knowingly do is violate copyright law, the MSFT FUD flies everywhere, constantly, FOSS folks know and understand the danger of copyright violations for that very reason (think Novell vs SCO

Some (many of the 'big' ones) FOSS developers are payed their salaries (doing FOSS work) by companies like intel & IBM who then use that software themselves. If these developers didn't value copyright law their employers would get hosed in a copyright battle.

what do you really know about FOSS that you can even debate winter's post?

I'm not debating Winter's point. I realize I misinterpreted it. What I'm debating is the assertion that "For one these people live and breathe open-source technology so such a patent infringement sounds like the last thing they would do." I still haven't seen any evidence that believing in Open-Source gives you additional incentive to uphold intellectual property laws.

"Some (many of the 'big' ones) FOSS developers are payed their salaries (doing FOSS work) by companies like intel & IBM who then use that software themselves. If these developers didn't value copyright law their employers would get hosed in a copyright battle."

You know who also works for big corporations? There own programmers. Why would Torvalds motivation be any greater then Joe Anonymous over at Adobe.

TJ's comment above is on the mark. The patent being asserted here is a design patent-- these cover the appearance of a product, not the function of the product.

So the apparent basis of the lawsuit in Nigeria is that the OLPC keyboard looks too much like KONYIN's keyboard.

TJ's links show that the OLPC keyboard doesn't look much at all like the KONYIN keyboard except for the reuse of the well-known QWERTY layout and the presence of additional shift keys. Since KONYIN's "Ng" keys are not copied, there's no apparent evidence for infringement of a design patent.

Could KONYIN win anyway? Sure. This wouldn't be the first time that a nation's courts ruled in favor of one of its own inventors over a foreign company in spite of the law and facts.

Could there be other issues involved here? Sure. We haven't seen the original patent, the lawsuit, or the applicable laws.

But I don't expect this case to go anywhere. Most likely the inventor is upset about some unrelated issue and is now in a state of dysfunctional codependence with his Nigerian lawyer.

Even if the lawsuit succeeds, it applies only to Nigeria. The worst likely outcome for the OLPC project is that it ends up having to pay the inventor a few dollars for each laptop sold in Nigeria. But I think that's highly unlikely.

. png

From the Boston.com
http://www.boston.com/business/technology/articles/2007/12/01/one_laptop_per_child_orders_surge/
"The founder of Lagos Analysis Corp., Ade Oyegbola, was convicted of bank fraud in Boston in 1990 and served a year in prison. Oyegbola insists his Nigerian patent is legitimate and said he plans to file a copyright-infringement lawsuit against OLPC in an American court."

That served him right

The said suit against OLPC is frivolous. They do not have a Registered Patent in Nigeria.What they have is a Registerd Industrial Design. It lapsed a year ago . It is a nullity to have a Rgistered Design that would protect a function.Nigerian Courts will uphold the rule of law.

Hummmm

Does this mean that Negroponte agrees that this guy has a patent in Nigeria?

"Negroponte said the lawsuit is without merit, because OLPC uses a keyboard programming technique developed in 1996, long before the Nigerian patent was filed." Boston Globe (Link above)

The lesson I learn from the posts above is that a good Nigerian citizen is a corrupt one. I back my understanding from additional writings by Chinua Achebe

No Longer at Ease
A Man of the People

As per my comment here on November 28th about this being a Nigerian Registered Design, it has been found to be just that, and a poor one to boot.

The PDFs of the Nigerian Design Registration are now to be found on Groklaw:

http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20071201221628452

Konyin certainly has gotten a lot of publicity with this lawsuit. The fee to file the lawsuit is certainly a cheap way to get web views.

That's not the only patent they infringe on. Check out U.S. Patent #5,531,529 and #7,101,101
OLPC infringes on both, but their legal guys deny it. Of course, one needs over $1,000,000 in hand to sue them.

I've written this before, will write again. PLEASE ignore this crap lawsuit nonsense as the machination of hustlers. Just hustle the laptops through to the kids.

If you must be more orderly, then find a Nigerian lawyer that isn't dirtier than the system (I'll be happy to check with contacts PRONTO) and they'll walk you through.

P.S. I'm Nigerian. You ought to trust me 100% (ok, no jokes about scam artists, please.) Can't wait to have lots of real kids and students computing...

Michael Byrne may need to be a liitle bit unbiased in order to appreciate the whole story and make an objective comment. if there is a law suit on this, then it's the court's duty to consider all relevant laws applicable whether municipal or foreign in order to arrive at a decision. It might be a litttle bit premature to jump into conclusions.

XO Tablets for Sale

Buy Your XO Tablet on Amazon.com
OLPC is selling the new XO Tablets on Amazon.com for just $149. Buy yours today!

xo-tablet-amazon.jpg

Discussions

Recent Comments

Community Forum

Close