Daily Archives: September 9, 2009

No Merger, but an Alliance Between Huawei and AlcaLu

There’s talk of an alliance — but definitely not a merger — between Huawei and Alactel-Lucent.

Comparing and contrasting the trajectories of the companies involved, with Huawei on the ascent and Alcatel-Lucent in a seemingly endless slump, I aver that Huawei has the upper hand heading into this entanglement.

Alcatel-Lucent isn’t exactly negotiating from a position of strength. Its increasing desperation has the potential to result in more gives than gets for the Franco-American telecommunications-equipment vendor.

Google Sales Executives Take Their Leave

A few high-profile sales executives have deserted Google recently.

The defections neither suggest nor presage serious problems at the web-search market leader. More likely, it’s a case of well-remunerated executives whose options have vested seeking new challenges in less-corporate confines.

Money buys physical and professional freedom. Google’s plutocrat executive class will occasionally choose to exercise its options — in more ways than one.

Obama’s Facebook Warning Didn’t Go Far Enough

President Obama gave students a warning about Facebook yesterday. It was wise counsel, but he should have provided a stronger admonition.

Let’s put aside for a moment whether what one posts on Facebook as a youth might come back to haunt him or her in later years. For the record, if your earlier Facebook post relates to an action that was criminal, egregious, or patently unethical, you can be sure it will come back to haunt you like Banquo’s ghost. People, and the times in which they live, won’t change so much that what’s glaringly wrongheaded will become socially acceptable within the span of a few short years.

In the big picture, that’s a secondary concern. A bigger worry — one that should trouble Facebook users more than whether what they post publicly on the site will eventually result in personal or professional grief — is whether Facebook can be trusted with anything that is stored on its servers.

Facebook is a business. Its investors have piled prodigious amounts of money into it in expectation of an obscenely profitable exit. Facebook, because of the way it is constructed as a business, can only achieve that result if it trades comprehensively on the personal, private information that its subscribers have entrusted to it.

Some will counter that privacy no longer exists in the Internet era. Regardless of whether that’s true, Facebook is a new type of Internet beast, designed expressly to make private information a public commodity.

Unlike instant messaging, email, even web search, Facebook’s sole business value turns on its capacity to trade on the personal, private data of its subscribers. I would go so far as to suggest that the full realization of its business model ultimately depends on how thoroughly it mines every last scrap of personal data that its subscribers supply.

The loss of privacy was an unintended consequence of preceding Internet technologies. In the particular social-networking sphere that Facebook inhabits, the stripping away of personal privacy is its raison d’etre.

Analyst Says F5 Gaining Ground at Expense of Cisco and Citrix

If an analyst at Deutsche Bank is to be believed, F5 Networks is not only benefiting from relatively bullish customer spending, but it’s getting the competitive measure of Cisco Systems and Citrix at the lucrative high end of the application-delivery networking market.

According to an Associated Press (AP) report, Deutsche Bank analyst Brian Modoff said his checks show F5 Networks’ biggest-spending customers in the technology, government, financial services, and telecommunications industries are placing more orders than anticipated for the company’s products.

Modoff also reports that “the competitive landscape continues to favor F5,” with the company doing especially well in high-end accounts.

Unintended Consequences and the Patent System

The patent system, in the USA and many places besides, is broken. That’s an assertion that seems indisputable. Debate ensues only when we discuss what should be done to rectify the problem.

It’s at that point that disputants generally break into two groups: one specifying a need for further, tighter regulatory measures that insist a patentable idea be practically demonstrable in the form of a working prototype or a finished products; and another group, philosophically libertarian, that proposes the elimination of patent law completely. This latter group contends that ideas shouldn’t be fenced inside a regulatory framework, that they should be free to circulate.

I have some sympathy for the latter viewpoint, but I think the first approach is the only practical way forward. I acknowledge that further regulation could complicate and compound the problem. Regulation, after all, has unintended as well as intended consequences.

Patents are a prime example. The purpose of patents was (and supposedly is) to protect and foster innovation, so that individuals and organizations could pursue research and development, often at great cost and over lengthy periods, that would eventually result in commercialized products and services for the presumed benefit of — don’t laugh — the greater good.

Well, it hasn’t worked out that way in practice, has it? Instead, we have seen the rise of despicable “patent trolls” and commercial endeavors, such as Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures, that have no intention of developing and making manifest abstract ideas that the organization’s lawyers rush to patent after brainstorming sessions.

I humbly posit that the creation of patent trolls and companies such as Intellectual Ventures were not what the creators of patent law had intended to result from their work. Which brings us to the question: How is it possible to change patent law without entailing further unintended consequences?

Several proposals have been mooted over in the comments section at Timothy B. Lee’s Bottom-Up blog. There’s an urgent need for patent reform, no question. We just have to take care that the prescriptive cure is well considered, thorough, and mitigates the quantity and severity of unintended consequences.

In other words, we need to be cognizant that good intentions alone won’t keep us from stumbling along a wayward path to litigious hell.