The new Treo arrived, and apart from some SIM and Cingular issues, seems to work well. It seems that software patents have stopped it from being even better, though.
The Treo keyboard is very good, for something with chiclet keys, but there are times when Graffiti, Palm’s early written-character-entry system, is easier. The Treo 650 doesn’t provide out-of-the box access to Graffiti, but it turns out the device still has the character recognition buried inside. Installing the free Graffiti Anywhere enables you to invoke that capability by writing anywhere on the screen.
Great! but here’s where patents get in the way. When I first learned Graffiti on the “Palm Pilot” (a name killed off by trademark demands), it used a set of single-stroke characters, with the exception of the standard “X”. A pain to learn, perhaps, but quick to enter ever after. I start up Graffiti Anywhere, start writing
this is a test, and wind up with
Then I remembered Xerox’s patent infringement suit against 3Com. Xerox claimed ownership of a system for recognizing “unistrokes” — characters written in a single stroke — and sued. 3Com defended by arguing, among other things, that Graffiti did not infringe because the “X” took two strokes. A bit of Googling and Westlawing turns up a 1997 complaint against U.S. Robotics, a trip to the Federal Circuit, and finally, a 2004 judgment from the Western District of New York finding the patent invalid.
Good news, but in the meantime, 3Com decided to dot its I’s and cross its T’s (literally) to hedge its bets against potential damages or injunction: In 2003 it licensed from Jot the more cumbersome two-stroke Graffiti 2.
Or, as PalmOne explained in its 2004 Form 10K
We cannot assure that palmOne will be successful in the litigation. If we are not successful, we may be required to pay Xerox significant damages or license fees and pay
significant amounts with respect to Palm OS licensees for their losses. It may also result in other indirect costs and expenses, such as significant diversion of management
resources, loss of reputation and goodwill, damage to our customer relationships and declines in our stock price. In addition, Xerox unsuccessfully sought and might again
seek an injunction preventing us or Palm OS licensees from offering products with Palm OS with Graffiti handwriting recognition software, even though we have largely
transitioned our products to a handwriting recognition software that does not use Graffiti as well as to physical keyboards. Accordingly, if Xerox is successful, our results
of operations and financial condition could be significantly harmed and we may be rendered insolvent.
Even now that the Xerox patent has been ruled invalid, no one seems to be rushing the original Graffiti back into production. Once again, end-users lose out. A seven-year patent fight leaves even big companies exhausted. So that’s why I can’t write an undotted “i” on the shiny new Treo. Yet another reason to be glad not everyone’s rushing to join the software patent game.