Today we had two interesting meetings with two very different companies that both touched on something that has been a common topic of discussion and explanation on our trip. Our first meeting was with a company called Sportvision who does virtual reality for sports broadcasting and is best known for doing the yellow “first and ten line” on all professional and most college football games. Sportvision surprised me in a couple of ways. Firstly, I didn’t really think about not only all of the computer and programming work that goes into doing some of these services (for instance using cameras and computers to detect and track baseballs and players) but also the math and physics that some of Sportvisions services require. Take for example some of the information that is displayed during a baseball games. Not only does Sportvision track a baseballs position and speed, but from this data they have also found an algorithm to determine the spin on the ball using its speed and trajectory. Never before had I thought about all of these intense calculations and work that went into some seemingly simple data displayed on an info graphic during a sports game.
One thing that our contact at Sportvision Mike talked about that tied into our second meeting of the day was the idea of intellectual property and patents and specifically the roles of these things concerning the use of contractors. In an environment that is competitive and crowded as the software industry, intellectual property and patents become extremely critical to maintaining an edge. So when contractors are involved in developing this IP, it could become extremely difficult and frustrating when you move onto a new company and project but might not be able to use the knowledge or ideas you developed previously.
Our second and final meeting of the day was with the law firm Fenwick and West where we met with a team of patent litigation lawyers who explained to us the ins and outs of patents, filing them, and defending or attacking them in court. The main thing that I got out of this meeting was that patents and the patent system (as far as the software industry goes) is incredibly flawed. Firstly they explained a group of people called “patent trolls” who collect seemingly old and useless patents en masse and then use them to sue large companies over incredibly loose infringements (for example one of these groups sued twitter for a patent concerning two-way radios for truckers under the grounds that their patent included the idea for social media) in hopes that the large companies will settle rather than pay millions in legal fees. There is seemingly no way out of these legal battles for the companies who are being sued as they either have to settle or go to court and even possibly lose due to the loose and broad nature of some of these patents, which is also the second flaw in the patent system. Because the system allows for some patents to get approved that are incredibly broad and vague, companies are able to sue each other and waste large amounts of time and money and intellectual power over fighting each other rather than focusing on collaboration which could help both parties involved.