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The Real Inventor of Wireless Email? 106

Posted by Zonk
from the i-invented-the-hippo dept.
theodp writes "The NY Times reports on Geoff Goodfellow, possibly the real inventor of wireless e-mail, who says NTP was concerned that his earlier work might undermine its patent claims and went to some lengths to ensure that it did not, including gagging Goodfellow during the RIM lawsuit. Not only did high-school dropout Goodfellow - who hung out as a teen in the lab of Doug Englebart - describe wireless e-Mail in 1982, he implemented it in the early 1990's."
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The Real Inventor of Wireless Email?

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  • Ya know... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MustardMan (52102) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:20AM (#15137723)
    For a guy who has some great moral opposition to patents, he didn't seem to mind taking a 20k payoff to help a company exploit a patent to extort millions from RIM. Doesn't that seem a bit hypocritical to anyone else?
    • Re:Ya know... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mostly a lurker (634878) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @10:11AM (#15137865)
      I hate the kind of comments that carry out character assassination based on flimsy evidence. Mr Goodfellow was retained by NTP's lawyers to provide consulting services. He probably did not even fully understand the situation when he signed the nondisclosure agreement. Sleazy lawyers silenced him for peanuts when he could (if he was that kind of a guy) have negotiated a lot more from RiM.

      What puzzles me is how RiM failed to get in touch with him anyway. According to TFA, RiM was part of the partnership that brought RadioMail to market.

      • Re:Ya know... (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        How much damages could they seriously charge him with if he broke the NDA? The price of the contract? Surely (hypothetically) if he spoke with RiM they NTP couldn't blame a loss in court on him. I would imagine the proceedings of justice take a front row seat over profits. Even if he didn't understand the consequences of his actions, what was the cost to him to change his mind once he realized them? I'd imagine RiM might have gladly shouldered this cost, had it been in the ballpark range of what he was paid
    • by twitter (104583) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @10:57AM (#15138008) Homepage Journal
      For a guy who has some great moral opposition to patents, he didn't seem to mind taking a 20k payoff to help a company exploit a patent to extort millions from RIM. Doesn't that seem a bit hypocritical to anyone else?

      It looks hypocritical but it should be a lesson to all of us. First, they flattered him by remembering who he was. Then they just wanted to talk to him to learn more of that history. Then came the "standard" NDA. The alarm bells should have sounded, but he was too close to the picture to even imagine what he knew was hard to find out. You can only imagine what kind of threats they could have leveled at him after he signed. The lesson here is that NDAs are always anti-social and have the potential for greater harm than you might realize. I can only hope that this backfires bigtime on the lawyers. In the meantime, beware and seek independent legal help when things don't seem right. Hiding evidence sure sounds like a crime. [slashdot.org]

      RIM will not comment on the situation because they too are restrained. As the fine article has it:

      "The moral of the story is that for a long time now the patent system has been misused," said Mitchell D. Kapor, founder of the Lotus Development Corporation, the software publisher, and an adviser to Mr. Goodfellow in the early 1990's. "If it had been properly used, NTP would never have been issued its patents, and they never would have had a basis to pursue a lawsuit against R.I.M."

      They had the basis and they extracted the payment and fear of an injunction is going to keep them quit, forever:

      Although the NTP patents have been tentatively invalidated by the United States Patent Office, a jury upheld NTP's infringement suit in 2002, and R.I.M. chose to settle the legal fight for fear of a federal court injunction against its popular service.

      Half of the burn you smell is provided by NDAs. Non disclosure is an enemy of the truth and that's where abuse happens.

      • I can only hope that this backfires bigtime on the lawyers.

        those aren't lawyers, they're comedians. check out this gem FTA :

        In any case, Mr. Wallace added, "the devil is in the details. "Suppose I write something saying that teleportation is possible by merely converting matter to energy, beaming the energy to a distant location and reconverting energy back to matter," he said. "Does this mean that my statements compromise the patents of the first person to actually make such a system work? No pate

      • Most NDAs I've seen contain specific exclusions against testomony compelled by a court of law, since (at least in the U.S.), a contract can not trump a court of law.

        If RiM decided to depose him, there is little NTP could have done about it (in terms of suing him for breach of contract). RiM would have had to have some idea what questions to ask, since perhaps Goodfellow couldn't be too 'helpful' during the deposition, but they wouldn't have been able to stop him from talking to them.

        The catch would have be
    • > For a guy who has some great moral opposition to patents,

      I heartily encourage him to work hard for little reward and for my improved quality of life.
    • No, not hypocritical at all. It's strictly business, and he was not the cause of the fight nor did he ask to profit from it. $20K is so small it might as well be nothing.

      Hypocritical would have been using the patent system for his own financial gain but, even then, business is amoral to begin with. The real hypocrites are those who realized that prior art existed and sought to prevent evidence of it from coming to light.
      • Hypocritical would have been using the patent system for his own financial gain

        Er, which is what he did. He took 20K to keep his mouth shut about a miscarriage of justice involving the patent system.

        business is amoral to begin with

        Only because it's run by immoral people who try to pass off their immorality by claiming that because they are in business they should be allowed to act like shits and not be run out of town on a rail. The simple answer to which is: "shut the fuck up and get on the rail befor

    • by goldcd (587052)
      As has been pointed out, he did some consulting - signed and NDA and stood by the conditions of it.
      The thing that makes my mind boggle a bit, is that RIM doesn't seem to have made a big deal out of this. You'd think if you were trying to defend agaisnt a patent, you might try to invalidate that patent by point out prior art. Yes?
      The impression I came away from this with is there's a guy who invented a great concept, walked away when the instance went belly-up and happily got on with his life.
      There's NTP
    • I'm not defending him or convicting him, but just because a person is against patents, doesn't mean they're against compensation for their own work.

      A great reason to be against patents is when they squelch innovation, but if we could all be creative and something we create takes off I'm sure we'd all want some sort of compensation. Be that compensation material wealth, recognition, or simply the joy that what we made is helping others, it doesn't matter, we all probably want some compensation.
  • by fuzzy12345 (745891) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:20AM (#15137728)
    Who invented Morse code over wireless? Morse code with signal lights? Who 'invented' putting Usenet articles on magtape to ship them to Australia, before the cables went that far?

    I get steamed when people suggest that every new combination of communications channel and message format is an invention. A new communications channel is an invention, and a new communication format is an invention, but merely thinking "hey, we could do that over this"?

    I think not.

    • More importantly, who first said, "You've got mail"?
    • I hereby declare prior art for non-obvious method and concept of wireless e-mail while high (*).

      *) While high also implies such concepts as "on weed", "stoned" and any other such concept derivable from THC based mind fuck.
    • by fatphil (181876) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @10:05AM (#15137847) Homepage
      And what did the staff and students at the university of Hawaii use back in the 60s to exchange data digitally and near-instantatiously?

      My goodness - they did things like invent the 'aloha' protocal that's still in use today on various media.

      Nothing's new...

      FP.
    • by kfg (145172) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @10:33AM (#15137929)
      A new communications channel is an invention, and a new communication format is an invention, but merely thinking "hey, we could do that over this"?

      Thomas Jefferson, the original formulator of what is and is not patentable in America would disagree with you somewhat. He was rather stricter in his ideas of what was a patentable invention, i.e., the sort of invention that could be given a government enforced monopoly on copying.

      He understood the difference between invention as an idea which could be passed mind to mind and no man or government has the right to control and the invention which was a device which required manufacturing; and thus could be held as a monopoly by force of arms.

      Under Jefferson the Morse Code would not have been patenable, because it is a just an alternative alphabet. A pure abstract idea; and one already prevelant at that.

      It was the telegraph that was patentable.

      KFG
      • Thomas Jefferson, the original formulator of what is and is not patentable in America would disagree with you somewhat.

        WTF do I care what some guy who's been dead for a few centuries *may* have thought? I've got two centuries of history on him, in a field (human innovation) which has evolved beyond his possible imaginings. If you want to resurrect him and get him up to speed opn what he missed, I'd love to talk it over with him. But speculating on what he may have thought absent such knowledge, and worse y

        • Jefferson is one of the people that helped write the Constitution, wrote quite a few papers back in the day pertaining to our government, and generally set the mood until Andrew Jackson came along and screwed everything up. We know quite clearly what he intended because he wrote about it. Same with the other founding fathers. Anyway, the beauty of this is that we don't care what technology you use. We only care about what it does. Yes, technology moves on. But the basic fundamentals of how it works, remarka

        • Funny that Thomas Jefferson is mentioned. Isn't he one of the authors of a document known as the US Constitution that, last time I heard, is still quite relevant today? People who think "WWJD" must care what an idealization of some centuries dead prophet might have thought. I want to know what the giants, centuries dead or not, thought. Then, being an independent thinker, maybe I'll agree with them, maybe not.
    • Who invented Morse code over wireless? Morse code with signal lights?

      What kind of lights? e.g. should using LEDs vs incandscent lamps mean a different patent? Does it matter which colour light is used? What about using non-visible light...

      The way things are at the moment you could probably get a patent on sending Morse code by waving a flag (so long as nobody else beats you to the patent office.)

      I get steamed when people suggest that every new combination of communications channel and message format i
    • Who invented Morse code over wireless?

      Fucking Marconi. [wikipedia.org] The art, she does not get much more prior.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:20AM (#15137729) Homepage
    The first page should ample reason for research into claims that should result in this lawyer being disbarred and financially punished. For an officer of the court to intentionally conceal knowledge from the courts is a terrible terrible thing. In the first page, there is confirmation of prior art and conspiracy to conceal it.

    For those reasons alone NTP should also have its relevant patents revoked and RIM shouldn't be paying a dime to them.
    • For those reasons alone NTP should also have its relevant patents revoked and RIM shouldn't be paying a dime to them.

      NTP is already close to certain to lose their patents. Under the threat of an injunction, RIM was forced to pay $600 million to NTP, nonrefundable. NTP knew that their patents would fall, so they made sure there was no "give it back if your patents are finally declared bogus, with no more appeals" conditions.
    • Stiffer penalties (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      So NTP sues for patent infringement while silencing the inventor of the prior art that would have invalidated those patents? For that, NTP should be financially executed. Their company should be liquidated, if they actually own anything other than $600 million of RiM's money, and used to pay for operating costs for the patent office and legal system that they so flagrantly abused.
  • by Ahaldra (534852) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:30AM (#15137766) Homepage
    I just imagined an NTP lawyer strangling Mr. Goodfellow. But no, he just received less than 20K for not talking to anyone else than NTP during trial.
    To me the most interesting part of the article was
    To this day, Port 99 remains set aside for Mr. Goodfellow's original brainstorm: pushing an electronic mail message to a wireless pager.
    Yet another brilliant illustration why patents don't help independent inventors. Is there a site collecting all these stories?

  • Tesla did it (Score:3, Informative)

    by cyber_rigger (527103) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:34AM (#15137775) Homepage Journal

    http://www.teslascience.org/ [teslascience.org]

    His equipment was not very portable though.

  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:35AM (#15137780)
    I mean, email was invented first, and I am sure someone has a patent for that. Just because the transport medium is wireless instead of over a wire, is there any validity in a patent for "wireless" email? If I had patented email, I would have said over ANY approrpirate digital transport, wired or wireless. Shouldn't the original email patent holder basically hold the patent for "wireless" email?

    This is where patents break down, when people simply mash two patents together and feel they are justified for having a patent based on other people's work. Wireless communcations is patented, as well as the concept of email. Someone saying, hey, lets patent wireless-email should be shot.

    I am sure there were inherent difficulties and specific problems that had to be resolved before making wireless email work properly, but come on. This is the application of two existing patented process, not the INVENTION of a new process.

    This is why patents are failing to encourage innovation, because people with a law degree are simply taking combinations of other peoples inventions, mashing them together, and hoping that someone one day might use the right combination of inventions so they can sue them in courts for stealing their "innovation".

    Patents are stifling innovation because they are being filed by people with no intention of developing the process, simply sitting on them until someone that actually makes the idea work is successful enough to earn them millions in a lawsuit for infringement.

    Patents are shyster documents designed to make shysters richer.
    • Exactly. I read the title of this story and was disgusted. Watch Amazon get a patent for inventing a way of selling things over wireless. Microsoft can get a patent for inventing a way of showing web pages over wireless. We need a new GIF patent, I hear they can be shown over wireless.

      Total crap.
    • Abstracting any innovation to a high degree will render it obvious under the prior art. For example, a huge consortium probably owns a patent on 802.11 wireless. Do we say that since Marconi already sent messages over wireless a century ago this patent should be rendered obvious? Is it really obvious? Is there a difference between a 747 and a the Wright Brother's plane? NTP holds a patent over something more substantial than "e-mail over wireless". It's an implementation that allows for faster updating.

      I gu
    • I mean, email was invented first, and I am sure someone has a patent for that.

      Wrong tense, email (in a form recognisable as that which we use now) was invented over 30 years ago. A patent from then would have expired, even if patents did last that long telegrams and telex messages predate "email" and rely on electrical/electronic telecommunications.

      Just because the transport medium is wireless instead of over a wire, is there any validity in a patent for "wireless" email?

      There's also the issue of why
    • Hm... I get all my e-mail over wireless with my notebook. Actually, when I first started using the Internet in the early nineties I was getting all my e-mail over wireless too. There's a microwave link between the town I lived in and the small city that had the nearest ISP.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:37AM (#15137784)

    Very few things are really done for the very first time.

    A high-school dropout, Mr. Goodfellow had his light-bulb moment in 1982, when he came up with the idea of sending electronic mail messages wirelessly to a portable device -- like a BlackBerry.

    Morse code to portable radios is WW I and field radios would qualify as a message over wireless to a portable device.

    See Wiki wireless [wikipedia.org] and note the part about telegraphs being sent.

    The sum of it is this guy is a publicity whore and these patents are all frivolous so should be treated as such. Or perhaps it is more correct to say all these patents are patents on prior art. Take you pick, like NTP they are fraudsters.

    • this guy is a publicity whore

      Only to the extent that anybody who has a product that they're selling is a publicity whore. Yes, Geoff did an implementation of wireless email many years ago, and was arguably the first inventor of it. At some trade show I went to, he had hired women to walk around like cigarette girls with a laptop and attached radio to invite people to send wireless email.

    • Morse code to portable radios is WW I and field radios would qualify as a message over wireless to a portable device.

      "Portable" radios were probably around for quite a while before. WWI simply encouraged them to be developed to be more rugged and easily portable. Wars tend to have this effect on any technology useful in fighting a war.
  • Goodnight? (Score:2, Informative)

    by bondsbw (888959)
    Not only did high-school dropout Goodnight - who hung out as a teen in the lab of Doug Englebart

    Am I missing something? Maybe theodp needs some sleep?

  • Radiomail? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:38AM (#15137786)
    "Mr. Wallace [the NTP lawyer] maintained that Mr. Goodfellow was retained because he had been mentioned in news articles from the early 1990's "regarding a product called RadioMail" -- his effort to commercialize the wireless e-mail idea -- but that Mr. Goodfellow "could not locate any documentation beyond these articles regarding the product.""

    Wow, it's [google.com] a good [interesting-people.org] thing google [vt.edu] wasn't around [palmtoppaper.com] at the time [highbeam.com] to help.

    Sheesh, I knew that RIM was getting some of their own medicine, so I was only partially sympathetic (both companies deserve a good legal slapping for pursuing such ridiculously obvious patents), but I had no idea NTP was THAT scummy. They knew about prior art. They hired the guy that was practically the embodiment of that prior art -- a guy that didn't merely have something on paper, but actually once ran a business on the principles NTP claimed to be a novel invention at the time of its patents. And they paid him to sign a contract to shut up.

    Can this Mr. Wallace be disbarred for such unethical behaviour?
    • They knew about prior art.

      My understanding of the patent system is that you are required to reveal all prior art of which you are aware. Otherwise your patent is invalid. Er, or something like that. Anyway, not disclosing prior art is a Bozo no-no [snopes.com].

      • Yeah, it makes me wonder if RIM has grounds for invalidating the settlement.

        And I'm pretty sure I have a RadioMail t-shirt hanging around the attic somewhere.
    • " He is an active user of RadioMail, a network that picks up
      electronic messages from wireless modems and channels them into the
      Internet, which makes them instantaneously available to computer
      users around the planet. Within seconds of the quake's beginning,
      Mr. Opfer flashed a message to a broad list of subscribers around
      the nation."

      Wow.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Doesn't this mean NTP sued for damages using a patent they knew to be invalid? Doesn't this mean the USPTO knew the patent was invalid? Thanks to all the morons involved in this case for showing the world how broken the patent system is, you guys couldn't have done a better job if you had been competent enough to attempt such a thing. This case just keeps getting better and better, when are RIM going to file for damages against the USPTO? That is what it's going to take to draw the line in the sand, are RIM
  • Typo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @09:57AM (#15137824)
    So is his name Goodfellow or Goodnight?

    We need more Goodeditors.
  • I can see it already... every 'internet' patent out there will now be 'reinvented' as a 'wireless' patent...

    IPL A) "My client patented 'wireless' streaming media!, time for a lawsuit party!"

    IPL B) "hold on, my client patented 'wireless' one-click buying... you won't get very far with that streaming media without me!"

    IPL C) "Hey now, my client patented 'wireless' media plugins for 'wireless' browsers'... neither of you gets bupkiss without me!

    IPL D) "Haha, my client trumps you all... 'wireless' Linux!"

    IPLs A
  • ...so I'm submitting my patent for spintronic [wikipedia.org] email now. I've a hunch there's something similar in the retail line. One-spintro-clicking? Spin-one-tricking? Spin-one-tron-clicking? Inventing is hard. I'm sure that if I could just see the right combination of spintronics and one-click I'd be rich.
  • IANAL (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Crashmarik (635988) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @10:52AM (#15137989)
    But you have to wonder how the heck it can be legitimate to knowingly surpress facts in a court case. Ahh well I have always felt these suits were what happen when people that should be honest criminals become lawyers.
    • Re:IANAL (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @02:04PM (#15138773)
      It's not legitimate and Wallace may very well find himself in hot water, but given the size of the judgment (I don't know what his share was and I'm too tired to bother Googling it) he probably figured it was worth the risk. If nothing else, he should have plenty of money to hire a good defense attorney if he ever does get hauled into court over this.
  • by Maljin Jolt (746064) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @10:53AM (#15137992) Journal
    Morse, Tesla, Marconi, Edison... And their patents already expired.

    SMTP over packet radio? Decades ago, not just nineties.
  • Um hams have been doing this for a while...
  • Hams have been doing email over packet radio since the 70's! They've also been doing wireless email over radio teletype before that! And if the issue is the portable receiver then I must still stand by those who were using tandy handhelds for packet.

  • Ugh got wireless. Ugh got email. Is Ugh too stupid to put the two together? Maybe if Ugh is a patent examiner at the USPTO. For everybody else, this is obvious.
  • The one thing that concerns me about this whole "wireless e-mail" patent business is that this basic functionality has been available in the amateur radio community for DECADES. Packet radio was pioneering in 1978 by hams in Montreal, Canada. Hams established "wireless" BBS systems through the 1980's, which provided an e-mail like feature via the message board. Further with the rise of the Internet hams have provided e-mail over the amateur radio bands; i.e. wireless e-mail. Perhap's I'm missing somethi
  • The patent (Score:2, Interesting)

    by forrie (695122)

    From my understanding, the patent in dispute here has to do with the ability to "push" email content to a device. RIM's solution to this was, as I understand, to change their methodology so that the client software asks "Do you want to read this?" and then PULLS the message instead.

    If my understanding of it is correct, that's one helluva frivilous patent.

    • So the first case is kind of like a pager or my satellite receiver (where the manufacturer can push useless e-mail to the receiver box)?

      And the second is kind of like, oh, POP, or IMAP?
      • I'm not really sure, but that's probably a good analogy. I just find it rather crude that something so basic as push/pull of content could be "patented" and cause as much legal drama as it has.

        It is a "method" but one that isn't entirely original. It's really a basic functionality of many different subsystems.

  • by DaveCBio (659840) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @02:50PM (#15138948)
    If someone discovers prior art does that mean the settlement between RIM and NTP is void? Can RIM go after NTP for damages?
  • by trb (8509) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @04:22PM (#15139341)
    You can find Geoff Goodfellow's note [mit.edu] at the Telecom Digest [mit.edu] archives. Note that the Telecom Digest has been running continuously since 1981, on the Internet and its predecessor (the ARPAnet), and is in some sense, the original ancestor of services like Slashdot.
  • I worked for a company TVAnswer (renamed to Eon) that had wireless 2 way email working probably around 1993-4. It did not predate the NTP patents but it does show that it wasn't such a novel idea that other people did not think of it. It never went full production because the owners of the spectrum did not roll out base station in all markets but we did have very good connectivity in Reston Virginia a few sites in other states and several international cells. (Mexico City)

    The Eon implementation used the I
  • I suppose that anything that the US Government does that is not classified might prove to be in the public domain, and as such would invalidate NTP's claims altogether. The real deal is that in 1989, one of the agencies of the US Government used unencrypted radio to interconnect e-mail between facilities 700 miles apart. This was a hands-free, no operator intervention system (well, the operators DID have to change the HF radio frequencies every 4 hours or so due to propagation) that send and received E-Mai
  • Just before the time RIM got going from an Asian company that had something similar working somehow using a pager network.

    I told my superiors they should get involved because it was insanely handy. To this day, I wonder if that's where the basic tech came from those guys.

    I once heard some kind of pop star say, "more money. more problems." I think that sums it up pretty good.
  • by hqm (49964) on Sunday April 16, 2006 @10:16PM (#15140438)
    Around 1987 I was doing email SMTP over packet radio, using Phil Karn's network TCP/IP package for DOS.

    There ought to be a death penalty for frivolous or fraudulent packet claims.
  • If a patent like this is able to succeed, then shouldn't it be a violation of the patent to use any device which utilizes any form of wireless networking and SMTP over that connection?
  • Al Gore invented this too.

    Seriously.

    - IP
  • Isn't he the dude with the TTY [google.com]?

    -Don

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