Newspapers’ Decline Will Impact BC Severely

deloitteI attended Duncan Stewart’s roadshow presentation of Deloitte’s Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Predictions 2009. While there wasn’t much that was especially surprising for anyone that closely follows these sectors, the decline of the newspaper industry is worth noting:

The need for new business approaches has become increasingly apparent. While publishers have reacted, this has not always been at a sufficient pace. Given this context, up to one out of every ten print publications could be obliged either to reduce print frequency, cease physical printing or, in some cases, shut down entirely in 2009.

Duncan made an interesting point by connecting the decline of newspapers to BC’s pulp and paper industry. In short: failing newspapers is bad for BC. When you look BC’s reliance on the forestry industry, it’s pretty clear why:

  • The forest industry accounts for at least 15 percent of the province’s economy.
  • Direct 2006 forest industry activity totaled $10 billion, representing 29 percent of good producing industry GDP and 7.4 percent of total provincial GDP.
  • Forestry activity contributes approximately $17 billion to the province’s gross domestic product (GDP).
  • In 2006, forest products made up 41 percent of all B.C. exports, with a value of roughly $13.6 billion a year.
  • 90 percent of BC lumber exports and 71 percent of pulp and paper products are exported to the United States.

John Diack, former CEO of Circon Systems, put the magnitude of the problem in perspective for me – the Los Angeles Times newspaper uses approximately one-half of the pulp and paper output of the entire town of Port Alberni. Ouch.

Will Patent Feuds Scuttle Android Developers?

Recently, the technology press has been aflutter with coverage of Google’s newly released Android mobile operating system and the first Android-enabled commercial handset from HTC being offered by T-Mobile. Much of this coverage has focused on Google’s ZXing barcode recognition SDK, a software library that turns an Android-enabled cameraphone into barcode scanner. Barcode scanning-enabled applications, such as Compare Everywhere (formerly called Android Scan) were among some of the most interesting winners of the first round of the Android Developer Challenge.

Unfortunately, many of these developers are ignoring the existence of key patents related to use of cell phones as barcode scanners that may ultimately doom their application. Several firms, including Neomedia and Scanbuy, have received patents on accessing content by taking a photo of a barcode with a cell phone, or linking physical media to information on a network using an mobile device. Are these patents defensible? Probably not, as they likely fail the requirement that an invention be non-obvious to someone versed in the state of the art.

Whether or not these patents will withstand judicial scrutiny in the long term is inconsequential. The patents have been issued and in the short term their owners will undoubtedly attempt to use them to extract funds from Android developers that build on top of ZXing to create barcode scanning-enabled mobile applications. Those that have managed to create an application that generates revenue will have to choose between paying up, folding, or taking the fight to court. I happen to know that some of these same patent holders have attempted to shake down other, non-Android, mobile application developers aggressively in the past.

What’s especially interesting is that this is an issue that Google appears to be carefully and studiously ignoring. While the EFF has been attempting to bust down some of these patents, that won’t be good enough in the short term. Until those patent hurdles are removed, developers will need to realize the risk that they may be facing by building on Android and the ZXing library.