The dramatic saga of Commerce One’s fundamental Web Services patents has apparently concluded with a happy-enough ending. Based on pioneering work by Robert Glushko and Marty Tenenbaum, among many others, this patent portfolio began with work spun out of CommerceNet (the nonprofit consortium) as Veo Systems, Inc.

Last year, there was a court-ordered auction of the bankrupt company’s patents to a then-unidentified high bidder who some feared would begin to use the patents to shake down the nascent Web Services industry. In time, it appeared that Novell acquired those rights, and this week, a new consortium “of five technology and consumer electronics companies – I.B.M., Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony – who share an interest in promoting the spread and adoption of the free Linux operating system” named Open Invention Network made them available under royalty-free licenses.

Company to Start Offering Free Use of Patents It Holds
November 10, 2005

A new patent-holding company, the Open Invention Network, is expected to begin operations today with the unusual business plan of buying certain patents and licensing them without charge.

The company has the financial backing of five technology and consumer electronics companies – I.B.M., Novell, Philips, Red Hat and Sony – who share an interest in promoting the spread and adoption of the free Linux operating system.

The chief executive of the Open Invention Network, Gerald Rosenthal, is a lawyer and a former director of I.B.M.’s intellectual property licensing program.

At I.B.M., Mr. Rosenthal led the lucrative technology-licensing program, which has routinely earned $1 billion or more in recent years. He will be pursuing a different strategy at the new company.

“By itself, this is not a money-making enterprise,” he said. “Our goal is to enable the Linux ecosystem to grow.”

As users or distributors of the free operating system, the five corporate supporters of the Open Invention Network all have a vested interest in fending off threats to Linux.

Legal challenges to Linux users have already surfaced, but none have slowed the adoption of Linux, which is used everywhere from corporate data centers to consumer devices like digital music players. Yet the legal risk, analysts say, is an uncertainty in the outlook for Linux.

In March 2003, I.B.M. was sued by the SCO Group, a Utah company, which said that I.B.M. had illegally contributed code to Linux from the Unix operating system. SCO had obtained the licensing rights to the Unix software and contends that Linux, a variant of Unix, violates its rights. SCO is seeking $1 billion in damages. I.B.M. denies the charges in the case, which is pending.

Another worry for Linux users is the rise of specialized intellectual property firms that acquire software patents, and then make money by licensing the patents as widely as possible.

That concern arose when the patents of a bankrupt dot-com company, Commerce One, were auctioned in December for $15.6 million.

Computing specialists worried that the patents dealt with technology that was broadly used in Internet commerce, and, if aggressively enforced, could result in many companies having to pay license fees. The winning bidder, however, was later identified as a lawyer representing JGR, a subsidiary of Novell.

Novell, a Linux distributor, is placing those patents in the new portfolio of the Open Invention Network, based in Pound Ridge, N.Y.

Patents owned by the Open Invention Network will be available free to any company, organization or individual that agrees not to assert its patents against others who have signed a license with the new patent-holding company. The Open Invention Network will continue to identify and acquire patents related to Linux.

Mr. Rosenthal sees the new company as a guardian of innovation in an environment for technology development.

“If you look at the Internet and Linux,” he said, “a lot of it has been the result of collaborative work without anyone really owning the intellectual property.”

Rumor has it they’re adding an API — but only for advertisers. The goal would be finer-grained campaign scheduling and optimization, but not for publishers to shop which ads they’d like to run. Already, some of the commentary has focused on publishers’ wishes to replace the mapping function that assigns ads to pages — sometimes, the last thing you want to see on a tech news site is yet more ads for microprocessors. Perhaps, as one publisher put it, you’d be better off with 5% of a lobster-and-caviar referral sale at Amazon during the holidays :)

Lots of additional details in the extended entry…

Read more

Now, what would it take to build an open-source clone of Craigslist one could run locally?

Craigslist Circles the Globe With Online Classifieds, One City at a Time
By ERIC PFANNER, International Herald Tribune
Published: January 17, 2005

LONDON – A motor scooter in Manchester, an apartment in Amsterdam, a poster in Paris. All are available via Craigslist, an online bulletin board that presents a new challenge to the established players in the estimated $100 billion global market for classified advertising.

Craigslist was started 10 years ago by Craig Newmark, an Internet pioneer in San Francisco, as a way of keeping friends up to date on events in the Bay Area. It spread through the United States before going international in 2003, with sites in London and Toronto. The expansion accelerated in late 2004 with a flurry of sites, including ones for Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Sydney. About a dozen other international start-ups are planned in the next few months.

Rohit pointed out that Reader’s Digest, of all things, had an article (not on-line apparently) this month on how researchers are using fMRI to contribute new insights in behavioral economics.

Monkeys (and the article’s author) were observed using fMRI while participating in artificial trading games to investigate what parts of the brain are activated when the traders encounter cooperative or uncooperative behavior. The Cingulate cortext, long known to be involved in emotional and abstract thinking, shows particularly heightened activity after one player betrays another. The researchers hope to draw conclusions about what conditions build trust in trading communities

fMRI studies with monkeys who were trained in simple games of chance
have located particular neurons in the monkeys’ brains that fire at a
rate proportional to the expected utility of the payoff for whichever
outcome is currently being examined. This places these kinds of evaluation functions at a more basic level than had previously been suggested.

eWeek on Google moving into product reviews:

Google Inc. is combining online reviews into its Froogle shopping-search service, but rather than eliciting new opinions it is aggregating reviews and ratings from around the Web.

The Mountain View, Calif., company announced on Wednesday a beta of Froogle Product Reviews, which so far is limited to electronics products such as MP3 players and computers.

Google also recently rolled out a feature within Froogle that is common on online shopping sites—the ability for users to store shopping lists and wish lists. By creating a log-in, users can add products found from searches onto their lists and make the wish lists accessible to friends and family, Google announced.

Here’s a review of Archos AV340. Note that these reviews come from scraping, not from an epinions-like interface.

Can’t find much more about the specific submission process for those issues yet…

CACM: CACM Editorial Calendar

SEPTEMBER 2005: Tagging the World: RFID Technologies and Issues

Passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags will make it possible to add tags to almost every manufactured object, spurring a revolution in how the physical world is connected to the ever-growing information environment. Though motivated by the needs of supply-chain management, RFID tags are likely to find consumer applications as well. Only beginning to be addressed are many theoretical and practical issues in data management, distributed systems, privacy, and data mining.


DECEMBER 2005: The Semantic E-Business Vision

As research in the foundation technologies for the Semantic Web develops, the application of these technologies to enable Semantic eBusiness is of increasing importance to the professional and academic communities. Ever-growing competition is forcing organizations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their business processes, placing increased onus on managers to develop systems incorporating emergent technologies that offer seamless availability of knowledge. Semantic eBusiness provides organizations with means to design collaborative and integrative, inter- and intra-organizational business processes and systems founded on that seamless exchange. This section will present examples of innovative, knowledge-rich business models that enhance the vision of Semantic eBusiness.

Brad DeLong quotes Andrew Samwick:

…the fraction of all [US] retail sales that are conducted via E-Commerce … [is] still only 2 percent, at about $17.6 billion out of $916.5 billion last quarter. The growth rate for [US] E-Commerce is about 2-3 times the pace for total retail sales, but even though that sounds like a lot, it will take a while for the E-Commerce share to become very important in the aggregate. (Simple extrapolation of the last five quarters of growth in each series would get to an 8 percent share in another 10 years.)

(I’ve taken the liberty of inserting qualifiers in the text — the original author seems to have thought unimportant the distinction between ecommerce and American ecommerce. But he’s talking about American ecommerce and quoting figures from this Census Bureau report.)

So there’s still a lot of B2C commerce that’s still not using the web. Even in the $23-billion-a-year American book industry, Amazon has a minority — Amazon’s selling US$2 billion a year in the US but $5.8 billion a year overall. (Notice, again we have the long tail: Amazon has the most online transactions, but most online transactions aren’t on Amazon. America has the most sales, but most sales aren’t in America.) I think online book sales in general are only a small multiple of Amazon’s sales, and Amazon apparently only has around 9% of the book market (assuming all of Amazon’s sales are books, which isn’t quite true).

(As another footnote, eBay’s gross merchandise volume is around $30 billion, of which more than half was in the US’s $70 billion a year [from the above Census report].)

So American retail ecommerce is 2% of American retail sales; presumably in the world, ecommerce is an even smaller percentage, particularly by PPP. Even in industries like book publishing, which is almost perfectly suited to online selling (large numbers of different products, each highly standardized, costing many dollars per kilogram, not perishable, requiring significant research to find products suited to the buyer) online selling seems to be a minority of all selling.

How can we make ecommerce more useful? It clearly has a long way to go.

eBay takes a giant leap in the Classifieds direction: a new feature that allows customers to post want ads for items they are looking to buy on its Web site.. Amazon has Wishlists, and now eBay does too… CNET:

The launch of the “Want It Now” feature represents a departure from eBay’s traditional setup, which allowed people to search the auctioneer’s listings, but didn’t give them the opportunity to display what sort of products they were looking to purchase.

The company also created a tool that allows individuals selling products on eBay to search the want ads and find buyers who might be interested in their auctions.

Using the system, registered eBay users can place a 30-day ad that describes what goods they would like to buy. The system gives anyone searching the postings access to the buyer’s background information, such as their community feedback rating and geographical location. The tool does not give sellers direct access to customers’ account names, but instead allows them to e-mail information on specific auctions to an eBay member, while keeping the potential buyer’s screen name anonymous.

The “Want It Now” tool appears to be catching on with eBay users already, despite the fact that the company has not yet publicly promoted the feature. eBay first started letting people post the ads Nov. 30. By Friday morning, close to 200 people had created want ads in the eBay Motors section of the company’s site, one of its most active product categories.

eBay expects the new feature to allow its customers to find the items they are looking to buy faster, while giving people selling items a chance to make sales more quickly. The company also believes the system will give its sellers a chance to gauge demand for specific categories of products.

The launch of the want ads represents eBay’s full-fledged entry into the classifieds sector, a business it recently stepped into when it bought a 25 percent stake in, a bare-bones classifieds site operating in 45 major cities. In early November, eBay announced plans to buy, a Dutch classified-advertising Web site, for about $290 million in cash.

Congrats to Sergei Burkov of Dulance for creating the world’s first price-triggered RSS feed that “turns any newsreader into a personal shopping agent.”


Online shopping revenue is estimated to grow by 25 percent this holiday season, with the most active shopping day on the Web — Black Monday, if you will, to the traditional retail world’s so-called Black Friday — now right around the corner.

Consumers, it has been estimated, will spend more than $15 billion on the Internet for gifts this holiday, according to comScore Networks. That’s up between 23 and 26 percent from the comparable November-December period last year.

Just as it does offline, holiday shopping activity kicks off around Thanksgiving.

But unlike the offline world, where Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one of the most active shopping days, the Monday following the feast marks the day when the action really gets going on the Web.

Last year, more than $300 million was spent on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The reason consumers spend so heavily on that Monday, according to comScore, is that they’ve “returned to the workplace — long a favorite location from which to shop online.”

From the start of the year through Nov. 14, online retail sales have risen 25 percent to $42.9 billion. The fourth quarter is estimated to ring in about $20.1 billion to $21.1 billion in online sales.

The holiday season will account for nearly three-quarters of fourth-quarter virtual-cash-register sales on the Web, according to estimates.

The head of Yahoo ‘s shopping operations, Rob Solomon, said online shopping this year is expected to peak Dec. 6. In an interview with

Two services Yahoo Shopping has launched this year are “attribute” search and “safe products,” said Solomon.