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?