Thursday, April 26, 2012

Apple may lose iPad trademark in China

BEIJING: A top Chinese official has sided with a Chinese firm involved in a legal battle with Apple over the iPad trademark, suggesting the US giant could lose the right to use the iconic name in China.

Proview Technology, based in the southern city of Shenzhen, has been locked in a protracted legal battle with Apple over ownership of the Chinese rights to the "iPad" trademark, which both claim as their own.

"Currently, Shenzhen Proview is still the legitimate registered owner of the iPad trademark," Fu Shuangjian, deputy minister of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, told reporters, according to an online transcript.

The Taiwanese affiliate of Proview Technology registered "iPad" as a trademark in several countries including China as early as 2000 -- years before Apple began selling its product.

The US titan subsequently bought the rights for global trademark -- including from the Taiwanese affiliate -- but Proview claims the deal did not include the rights for mainland China.

Last year, Apple took Proview to a Chinese court, claiming trademark infringement, but the court ruled the US company lacked "supporting facts and evidence" for its claim.

The US company is now appealing the case but debt-laden Proview, which makes computer monitors, has since filed trademark lawsuits against Apple in China and is also suing the technology giant in the United States.

Fu -- whose administration deals with IP infringement cases -- said that according to Chinese law, a trademark transfer must be approved by the Trademark Office. He implied that in this case, approval had not been given.

"Due to the huge impact of this case, the court's final ruling will directly affect ownership of the iPad trademark and Industrial and Commerce departments will carefully and properly handle the case," he said.

It is rare for a Chinese enterprise to accuse an overseas firm of trademark breaches -- although foreign companies frequently complain of intellectual property rights violations in China.

Apple is hugely popular in the Asian nation, where die-hard fans have been known to line up for days to get their hands on the latest offerings from the US giant.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nokia's elusive recovery rekindles strategy doubts

When Stephen Elop bet Nokia's future on a deal with Microsoft, he was hit with a barrage of criticism. After a year of respite, the chief executive is again being haunted by a decision that is costing the shrinking mobile phone company sales and favour.

Nokia switched from developing its own Symbian operating system for the as-yet untried Windows Phone software in February 2011 and is now stuck in a sales gulf between phasing out its old smartphones and ramping up production of the new ones.

Sales of the Lumia range that runs on Windows have fallen short of forecasts. Nokia issued a profit warning last week ahead of first quarter results due on Thursday and its shares fell below 3 euros this week, their lowest in 15 years.

In the meantime, Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy range, which runs on Google's Android system, continue to steam ahead in the smartphone market, leaving what was once the strongest brand in mobile phones way behind.

"Nokia should have bet on Android. That would have been a powerhouse in terms of mobility, search, etc," said one telecoms industry executive who has done business with Nokia for years.

"Elop had one bet to make and he made the wrong bet."

Elop joined Nokia from Microsoft in 2010. The following year, his previous employer said it would pay Nokia billions of dollars in their partnership and pay $US250 million a quarter to support the platform.

At first, critics said Nokia should have stayed with Symbian or done a deal with Android, which like Apple now has hundreds of thousands of apps available, against Windows Phone's 80,000.

Nokia also dropped its second operating system Meego which it only used in its full version on one Nokia phone.

Nokia says Windows gives it the best chance to stand out in the crowd of similar smartphone models on the market.

"Windows Phone provides Nokia with an attractive and vital point of differentiation," said Jo Harlow, chief of Nokia's smartphone business. "We are building something exciting. People who try a Lumia device are telling us loud and clear that they love the Windows Phone experience."

Analysts mostly came round to the idea that Microsoft could be the best bet and that business could pick up in 2012 but several European telecoms operators told Reuters this week they were unconvinced by the new Windows models.

"Windows is a great operating system, but it seems that customers aren't buying it," said Juhani Risku, a former innovation chief at Nokia, who left in 2009 and is now a designer and analyst. He is one of Nokia's most vocal critics.

"It is dangerous to go only with one system, even more so when it's not your own."

Giving up the upsside
Not having its own system could also cost Nokia the ability to make money from software development and services.

"They gave up the upside. Now they're a hardware producer," said Harry Jarn, CEO of Finnish virtual operator Cubio, who worked at Nokia for more than 13 years. "Nokia is, without a doubt, a much smaller firm in the future."

Nokia is still using Symbian in some smartphones but will only support it until 2016, which will put off buyers who tend to load their phones with apps and content that they want to keep for several years.

Analysts said any real sign of recovery for Nokia is now likely to come in 2013 at the earliest, rather than this year as previously hoped, and will depend on better products and improvements in the Microsoft software.

A new version of Windows Phone is due later this year. Microsoft also plans to use its phone design - with boxes that automatically update even if the app is shut - on computers, which should improve people's familiarity with the system.

"In the fall there will be new family of products which will put Nokia on the same line with rivals. Currently, there are still gaps in the high-end," said Nordea analyst Sami Sarkamies.

One bright spot is that Nokia's fight for recovery is forcing the Finnish company to move more quickly. While it used to take two years to develop a new model, Elop brought the first two Windows phones to market within a year.

"If Nokia could have demonstrated this speed in the last few years, some of its current problems may have been avoided," said Pete Cunningham at research firm Canalys.

He added that partnering with Android might have caused another problem as other phone makers using the system are struggling to compete with Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE, which are selling smartphones for as little as 100 euros, which leaves very little room to make any profit.

Monday, April 16, 2012

AICTE adopts Microsoft’s cloud-based solution to improve technical education

All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Microsoft Corporation announced that AICTE will deploy Microsoft Live@edu over the next three months to more than 10,000 technical colleges and institutes throughout India. The cloud deployment will expand students’ access to high-quality technical education and collaboration.

Live@edu is a hosted communication and collaboration service that offers e-mail, Microsoft Office Web Apps, instant messaging and storage to AICTE’s more than 7 million students and nearly 500,000 faculty members, for a total reach of 7.5 million users — roughly double the size of the Los Angeles population. Live@edu is the leading cloud suite for education, with more than 22 million people using the service worldwide. At 7.5 million users, the AICTE is Microsoft’s largest cloud customer ever. 

“Microsoft’s cloud platform will make for a truly progressive ecosystem and contribute to the country’s technical education by providing a better communication and collaboration platform for institutes and students,” said Dr. S. S. Mantha, Chairman of AICTE.

AICTE is the governing body for technical education in India and is responsible for certifying and managing technical colleges and institutes. The technology industry and higher education are both becoming increasingly vital to the economy. To carry out its charge of evaluating the curriculum and quality of education for all technical institutes across the country, AICTE needed to have consistent and timely communication with these colleges, some of which are located in the remote districts of the country. Live@edu is the first step in AICTE’s deployment of Microsoft cloud computing for education. AICTE also plans to deploy Microsoft Office 365 for education when it becomes available later this year, providing access to Microsoft Exchange Online e-mail and calendar, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Lync Online and Microsoft Office Professional as the technical infrastructure to support member colleges and institutes.

Kapil Sibbal, Union Minister for HRD, said, “India is seeing rapid economic activity and growth.  Developing India’s youth and their skills is going to play an important role in the country’s inclusive growth.  The union budget also laid emphasis on skill development and so does the proposed 12th Five Year Plan with a National Policy on Skill development. The PPP model (public-private partnership) is most essential in running and managing training institutions to address the skill gap most efficiently. Microsoft’s commitment to empower students by deploying Microsoft Live@edu for 7.5 million users across the country with AICTE is commendable and a step towards an informed and developing India. I congratulate both AICTE and Microsoft on this significant milestone.”

The implementation is already underway and is being managed by Microsoft and a set of Live@edu partners. Full deployment is expected to be complete by summer 2012.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

US court wary of Apple request to block Samsung

Washington: A U.S. appeals court on Friday showed few signs that it was prepared to support a request by Apple Inc (AAPL.O) to block immediately the sale of some Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) smartphones and tablets.

In a high-stakes patent dispute, the court heard arguments about whether a federal trial judge acted correctly in December when she ruled that Apple failed to provide enough evidence to support an injunction of Samsung's Galaxy product line.

The court's judges reacted with skepticism to a premise put forward by Apple's lawyer that for the purpose of getting an injunction, Apple does not need to show a causal link between patent infringement and a loss of customers.

Apple's lawyer, Michael Jacobs, said it is enough to show that Samsung likely infringed on Apple patents used in products such as the iPhone, and that Apple is likely to be hurt. The trial judge found those things but not enough evidence of a causal link.

Judge William Bryson on Friday asked about a hypothetical case in which an automaker copied the design of a cupholder from a second automaker. Under Apple's argument, if the second automaker later lost market share, it could ask for an injunction against sales by the first automaker, Bryson said.

"Can that possibly be right?" he asked. Bryson is one of three judges who heard the case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.Judge Sharon Prost said some evidence of a link is important. Harm such as lost customers, she said, "could have been for reasons completely different from the infringement."

The Apple-Samsung dispute is scheduled to go to trial in July in federal court in California.Apple, maker of the iPad and the iPhone, wants the immediate injunction because even if it wins at trial, it might not see the benefits of a verdict until late in 2012, Jacobs said.

An order to stop sales by South Korea-based Samsung would have the potential to affect settlement considerations.The two companies are fighting their legal battle worldwide, filing complaints in at least 10 countries as they struggle for market share in the tablet and smartphone markets.

The appellate judges on Friday wrestled with what evidence Apple would need to show that a competitor got ahead through unauthorized use of a patented Apple feature. For example, would it be enough for Apple to survey consumers about which features are important to them? How many consumers would matter?

That kind of requirement would make it all but impossible for a patent holder to win an injunction because it is difficult to get inside a consumer's mind, Jacobs said."We know it is a combination of elements that goes into any purchasing decision," Jacobs said.

One characteristic that the Apple and Samsung products share is the "snap-back," which affects how a user navigates the touch-screen on a tablet or smartphone.

Samsung did not copy the "snap-back" feature or any other patented part of Apple's design, but even if it did, that would not be a primary draw for a consumer, said Samsung lawyer Kathleen Sullivan.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Searching for speech technology's holy grail

Telephone your credit-card company, health insurer or just about any big consumer-facing company, then speak into the receiver: for new accounts, say "new"; or billing, say "billing." Forget it. You shout and stumble through the phone maze and often land at the directory's start.

Recognize this experience? Somehow, voice recognition — despite some of technology's most awesome achievements (tablets! the remote control!) — remains an anathema. We still can't talk to computers like Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Turns out building voice recognition to acknowledge a "yes" or "no" — let alone complex conversations — isn't so easy."There are 200 ways to say 'yes: Sure, okay, yeah, uh huh' " to name a few, says Alex Rudnicky, a speech recognition expert and researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Penn. "Getting that right is surprisingly difficult."

The foundations of most voice technology used today date back to the '70s. But with the proliferation of smartphones and new voice technology, devices like Apple's iPhone 4S have upped the ante on voice recognition.

Growing, billion-dollar business
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, manufacturers including Samsung Electronics and Nuance Communications unveiled TVs with voice-activated functionality.

In fact, Nuance helps power the Siri "personal assistant" system on the Apple iPhone 4S. Nuance translates spoken words into text. Siri then analyzes the text, figures out what it means and translates the words to intended actions.

Voice recognition is a lucrative, yet decentralized market that spans everything from toys to healthcare. The voice-related enterprise space alone that includes automated customer service is a roughly $10-billion market, says Richard Mack, vice president of communications for Nuance. Clinical documentation is an estimated $15-billion market.

Mobile and consumer voice products including cars and electronics are estimated at $5 billion, adds Mack. That figure doesn't even include TVs or third-party developers, who are just gaining traction in the growing voice-recognition space.Next-generation speech recognition "is really going to be ubiquitous," says Seth Rosenblatt, a senior editor for CNET, which highlights tech trends and consumer-product reviews. But it won't happen overnight.

Great expectations
But soon after the new iPhone hit shelves in October 2011, some consumers experienced less success. Transcripts of dictated texts, for example, sometimes appeared jumbled. Consensus emerged that the voice technology, though ground-breaking, remained a work in progress.

Part of Siri's mixed reception stems from Forstall's demonstration."That great demo set expectations up pretty high," says author McFedries, also a technical writer. "A lot of people don't realize it's a beta product," he says. In a rare Apple move, the tech giant launched Siri as a developing beta product.

So why release Siri before it's ready? Apple needs consumers to road test the technology, and collect their data to fine tune its product. "The way voice recognition works, it needs a lot of data," McFedries says. "That's the only way to get this to be a really good product."