Two days in Berlin, twenty hours in Doha.

Goodness me. The only thing being talked about, written about – worried about – of late is… I don’t even have to name it it’s so obvious to everyone except cave-dwellers…

Sure, seasonal viruses are commonplace, but this one sure looks anything but commonplace-or-garden. This ain’t just a kind of flu. But this also ain’t something so pandemically awful as the Spanish flu or the 1968 flu outbreak. I wonder – would today’s medicine have been able to nip those two in the bud early? Well here’s hoping today’s medicine will do so for today’s coronavirus. Btw, curiously, outbreaks like these occur almost exactly every 50 years. Spanish flu – 1918; then there was the 1968 outbreak; now – just over 100 and 50 years later, respectively – corona. Spooky coincidences.

As the world enters panic mode, with quarantines, economic downturns disasters, cruise ship passengers locked-down, frenzied bulk-buying, face-masks, gloves and hazmats… what’s to be done? Get to work, I say. But extremely responsibly: social distancing, working remotely if possible, checking your health regularly, and reporting to the doctors if you suspect anything wrong. Exactly what I’m doing at the moment. But before things got really bad I had a very long business trip. Thus, as per, it was: suitcase > airport > takeoff > …Berlin!

Read on…

Corona cancellations, plus my 100th country – Angola!

As you’ll know perfectly well, I love to travel. Far. More often than not I travel for work, but two or three times a year it’s for R&R and tourism. Anyway, toward the end of any year, normally I’ve totted up more than a hundred flights throughout the year or, if not, am not far off. I long ago became accustomed to living like… a rock star on a world stadium tour (the traveling bits, not the rock ‘n’ rolling excess:), or… George Clooney in that film where all he seems to do is live onboard planes up in the air. For me, ‘on tour’ is all about conferences, exhibitions, business meetings, new acquaintances, exchanging ideas, discussions – and all in different towns and cities and countries across the world. In-between there are of course the airports with their inevitable passport controls, security checks, lines, all of which I fairly hate (and you don’t get fast-track lanes everywhere on the planet). Once on the plane I don’t mind it at all: an ideal time for catching up on reading or viewing or emailing. But I digress…

Now, normally come almost-April, I have at least 25 flights under my belt so far in any particular year. But this year, I’ve a mere 17. Which is rather surprising given that I’d gotten in a full nine flights just in January on just one vacation – our Africa-2020 jaunt. So I wanted to get to the bottom of this – why the slow start? After all, this nasty coronavirus can’t have been the reason – its impinging on everyone’s travel plans has only just fully kicked in…

It turns out that, actually, I have been becoming less and less active during the early months of a year. Here’s how…

First: I’ve stopped going to Davos. I used to go every year (since 2012), but no more. Why? Well, it used to be the World Economic Forum. Then, somewhere around 2016–2018, it turned into the World Geopolitical Forum. In a word: cancel. Shame though. It was a rather useful get-together (maybe I should reconsider? I just don’t know).

Second: I’ve stopped going to the yearly winter Munich Security Conference. Sure, it’s a very cool, elite event. But besides useful meetings and acquaintances… there’s a rotten feeling one gets while there. Alas, like with Davos, the inroads politics has made are just too much to bear. Nah. Nyet, spasibo. Not off there again.

Read on…

Flickr photostream

Instagram photostream

Zimbabwe000,000,000,000,000.

I couldn’t write about Zimbabwe without a post on the country’s legendary currency now could I?

It goes like this: An economic crisis and consequent mega-hyperinflation kicked in the early 2000s. It seems Zimbabwe is a world champion of price increases, with prices doubling at one point every hour-and-a-half (according to Wikipedia)!

The reasons for the crisis are often put under the overarching title ‘land reforms’: confiscations of land and farms from white farmers in favor of the black population, then hounding farmers out of the country (any who didn’t agree were murdered), then practically the whole white population leaving the country. These transformations, and the country and its economy being run by ineffective folks led to the mega-economic crisis. This saw the country go from one of Africa’s richest countries to one of its poorest – fast. Incredible really. And all topped off with the hyperinflation.

Now, remember the photo I showed you in a recent Victoria Falls post together with the question ‘how much cash is here?’? This one ->

Well, it’s a lot. No – practically zillions…

The largest denomination in those there notes is for… wait.. ten TRILLION dollars! That’s just one note, remember. Imagine a wad of them? Or a pile – like this one ). And notes like these are sold on every corner to tourists for next to nothing today!

Look at the prices on a menu from 2008:

When things got just too silly – zillion-zillions become a reality – they switched to the US dollar. Then they added the South African rand. Then there were plans to bring back the national currency, but that hasn’t worked out yet – it’d only go hyper-inflational once more…

And that was that Zimbabwe-wise for us. It was time to fly over to… Madagascar! All about which I’ll tell you in an upcoming post.

More pics from Zimbabwe are here.

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Victoria Falls: 2008 vs. 2020.

I’d been to Victoria Falls before – in May of 2008. Back then it was high water season, and much of the time practically nothing was visible – all shut off by a white shroud of spray. I decided then I wanted to return when the water was low. And 12 years later – here I was again: during low water season. Time for some photographic comparisons. And the differences, as you will see were sometimes like night and day. Check them out!…

Read on…

i-Antitrust: time to give you your choice back, folks!

Fighting injustice. It’s just what we do – and keep doing. And that includes fighting major, large-scale injustice…

For example, in 2017, we managed to reach an agreement with Microsoft that encouraged it to stop giving unfair advantages to its own antivirus product. Sure, Microsoft is a modern-day Goliath. But we’re a modern-day David! And we need to be. For someone has to stand up to the giants now and again when they start throwing their weight around unfairly. Not doing so would mean users wind up with less choice.

Then last year saw us having to don the boxing gloves again for another dispute – again on an antitrust issue, but this time with another Goliath: Apple. Fast forward nearly a year – and I have two bits of news for you on this…

But first – quick rewind: some background.

 

Early on – halcyon daze…

Back in 2008, on the back of its extraordinary successes with its iPhones, Apple opened its App Store. And to fill out its ‘shelves’, it invited independent developers to use it as a platform to sell their for-iOS software. Those independent developers jumped right in, bringing with them thousands of apps (fast-forward 12 years and there are now literally millions). Users all over the planet were happy with all that choice, both Apple and the independent developers made tidy profits, all was well, there was peace and harmony, and it looked like everyone would live happily ever after.

But… business is business. At the end of the day Apple exists – like all commercial companies – to make a profit first and foremost. So it started branching out a bit. It created other iThings, all sorts of services, and a lot more besides. Yet still Apple yearned for more. Which was when it turned its gaze toward the markets of iOS applications made by independent developers in its own App Store.

Fast-forward to 2020.

I have a lot of respect for Apple. The company created a successful business model that’s much envied and much imitated. I neither envy nor imitate it, and I don’t agree fully with much of its policy (first and foremost – regarding cybersecurity), but that doesn’t mean I respect it any less (even though I personally don’t use any Apple products). We’ve been cooperating with Apple many years, in various areas, and until recently this was a partnership of equals.

Like tens of thousands of other independent developers, we create useful iOS apps – apps that increase the overall attractiveness of the platform. Together with Apple we had some profitable mobile business going on, but it was the users who benefitted most (as they were supplied with ever-more useful apps). Everyone had it good. Then, at the end of 2018, Apple announced its crusade against independent developers with the release of its Screen Time.

Competition is good, because competition works for the good of the user. In this case, more apps, better apps, more varied apps – more choice (and a developer not falling asleep at the top of the App Store listings)! But for competition to exist there needs to be a level playing field, i.e., fair rules. For everyone. Yet that level playing field – and competition with it – has been destroyed by Apple. Let me tell you how.

iStory that’s hard to believe.

Screen Time entered a mature market in which dozens of independent developers already operated. The App Store offered a great many apps providing parental controls, time management and other related tasks. And it’s here where the craziness begins.

Apple unexpectedly monopolized a wide range of critical functions, by simply turning them off for other developers!

So, like, how, for example, is a parental control app supposed to get by without configurable profiles, the ability to filter URL addresses, application control, and full fledged geolocation? That’s right: it can’t! But it can if it’s an Apple parental control app – for none of this critical functionality was limited in any of its own apps! It’s one rule for Apple’s apps, another for all the rest.

Now, of course, this audaciously odd-ball move was made under a smokescreen of ‘concerns’ about security and privacy; however (also ‘of course’) – these concerns were seen right through real quick to reveal their bogusness.

Next, Apple started banning developers from the App Store, delaying approval of new software builds, and rolling out new unacceptable requirements and conditions. Some apps were shut down, while others had their functionality restricted – rendering them useless. But some independent developers decided to fight back. Including us. Developers came together to form an association with the aim of working with Apple to try and secure fair rules for all, while some filed complaints with regional antitrust authorities and began a public campaign in the press and on social media.

Then, in June 2019, Apple looked like it had hit the brakes and even gone into reverse. However, actually, it was purely a tactical maneuver to feign an expression of goodwill, and which in no way helped solve the problem of equal rights for all – including Apple itself.

Then it released iOS 13… – with yet further restrictions to hit the ecosystem even harder!

Let me give you an example of how the ‘innovations’ of iOS reflected on our parental control app Kaspersky Safe Kids.

First, Apple loads and activates Screen Time automatically on devices upon installation of the new version of the iOS – even if the user already has onboard a similar application. Don’t know about you, folks, but that, to me, doesn’t have much of a ring of ‘free competition’ to it. Looks more like just the opposite: with a ring of intrusion, aka thrusting, aka foisting, aka gatecrashing the party, i.e. – uninvited.

Second, new features on iOS 13 now permit a child to easily delete Safe Kids (i.e., a complete cancelling out of the very meaning of ‘parental control’), and also view websites via Safari (it has become impossible to hide it) instead of via the built-in safe browser that permits filtration of undesirable content. No, really folks!

Third, changes to the policy of accessing the geolocation of a device have taken away parents’ ability to track their child’s location! (No. I am not making this up. And all in the name of security – remember?!)

But wait – here’s what really takes the proverbial biscuit. Are you sitting down?…

All features that have become forbidden to independent developers remain completely ok and wholesome and accessible to… – ta-daa – Apple!

iAudaciousness on this scale simply couldn’t go unnoticed.

Encouragingly, the issue hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s been resonating at the very highest legislative levels around the world. In the U.S. Senate it was suggested to forbid Apple and other large companies from placing their own apps in their own marketplaces, since they, by default, will create preferences for their own products.

In Russia antitrust proceedings have been initiated. In the EU they’re still at the pre-investigation phase. Indeed, slowly but surely the negative consequences of this lowering of competition are coming to the surface. Even from the user side – Screen Time is taking a lot of flak for its functionality shortcomings (even with its functional superiority given that its competitors have all had their functionality curtailed!). Some independent developers see the only way of getting round the issue to be to urge users to move over to Android if they want to keep their kids safe.

And now for that news I said I’d be telling you…

I’m not sure yet if it’s good news or not, but at least some movement must be a good thing – and we’ve been trying to fight for equal opportunities for everyone. This spring, the Federal Antimonopoly Service of Russia will deliver its verdict on our claim regarding the abuse by Apple of its dominant position and the creation of unlawful competitive advantages for Screen Time. Almost all arguments and evidence in the proceedings have already been given and submitted. For us it’s been a very long, complex process (details – here), which has taken up much time, effort and money energy. But we’ve explained our position well, and I have Hope that the decision will be in our favor. Fingers crossed…

When Jobs was in charge – there was nothing like this.

Do you know what this crusade of Apple’s against independent developers gets me thinking about? A fight of the iOS ecosystem against the App Store ecosystem! The former gradually absorbs the juiciest, most profitable markets of the latter. And it looks all the more unsavory given that it is thanks to the App Store that the iOS platform has risen to now make up the basis of the business of the company. Without it, Apple would have had just another failed project – the kind of which there have been many in the history of the IT business.

It all reminds me a little of the infamous letter of Steve Jobs that announced the ‘holy war‘ against Google; in particular one sentence within it: ‘Tie all our products together, so we further lock customers into our ecosystem’.

Probably only Mr. Jobs himself knows exactly what he meant by that. But though he was originally against third-party apps for the iPhone (he later changed his mind), I’ve no doubt whatsoever that among his greatest expectations were those he vested in independent developers: to have their inspiration and resources help create for Apple the best ecosystem. And one thing’s for sure, Jobs wouldn’t have allowed Apple to transform itself into a self-important dictator and turn on the very developers that helped it and subject them to out-and-out discrimination.

I’ve already said this above, but I’ll say it again: I respect Apple. And I have a feeling that there are no issues in our relations we can’t resolve. Apple could opt for a sensible compromise and reconsider the unfair rules of the game. This would make its platform even stronger by permitting independent developers to supply to it full-fledged apps so as to serve the needs of its millions of users optimally.

Finally, please support us in this struggle to secure your right to choose exactly what you want, not what one large corporation decides is best for you. And stay tuned. I’ll be back with news re the FAS’s verdict once it arrives…

Patently great work.

Last month was a great month for K-intellectual property. So nice to get such good news to brighten up dull, damp, dreary March days.

But we’ve had other great months IP-wise of late too…

In September of last year, for the second year in a row we were included in the Derwent Top 100 Global Innovators listing, making us the first – and only – Russian company to get onto this meticulously researched list of the world’s 100 most innovative organizations! Hurray!

A few details about this top-100: Every year the independent U.S. company Clarivate Analytics chooses its most innovational companies in the world based on the quality of their patent portfolios. In particular, Clarivate selects its top-100 based on the following four criteria:

  1. How successful a company is with its patent applications in actually being granted patents;
  2. How global a company’s innovations are;
  3. How often a company’s patents are cited elsewhere (in applications of other IT companies); and
  4. The total number of patents a company has.

This year eight IT players made the list: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Symantec, Tencent and us! Nice to be rubbing shoulders with such worthy contemporaries!

Now for an update to the numbers of our IP team, who never cease to amaze with their hard work and successful results: Our patent practice was established back in 2005; since then our patent portfolio has grown from 0 to 930+ patents obtained in Russia, the U.S., Europe, China and Japan! Besides, we have more than 500 patent applications pending; we’ve won nine court cases, two are ongoing, and we’ve lost none!

In short, we continue to fight – and beat – patent trolls. Trolls – take note!

That’s all for today folks. See you again tomorrow!…

Victoria Falls 2020.

Across desolate desert we drove, down Skeleton Coast we cruised, over dusty dunes we danced. All a bit… dry. It was time for something very wet. And it can’t get much wetter than the Victoria Falls in Southern Africa, so that’s just where we were headed next – on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls aren’t the largest or tallest waterfalls in the world. Nor are they the most powerful in terms of flow rate. However, they do come out the clear winner in another category – the area of the falling water: around 1.8km at ~100+ meters. Which adds up to a most grandiose body of falling water – especially when the level of the Zambezi River is high during rain season. Meanwhile the mid-level water looks like this:

Read on…

More good news from the IP frontline.

I couldn’t help but notice the buzz our latest patent news had gotten about our patent lawyers’ amazing win :). So I’m excited to keep the ball rolling with news of another bombshell victory just a few days later…

We reign victorious in a very important patent lawsuit again! This time against Uniloc (the same Uniloc that managed to snake $388 mln from Microsoft). You should know they sued us over the same patent in 2018, but we came out on top.

Recently, during the negotiation process of yet another patent infringement lawsuit filed by Uniloc, we received a message from the company’s representatives that they’re tired of fighting and ready to end this. Meaning: they’re ready to drop the suit if we are. Of course we were, only without the red tape and within the hour. So we drafted a joint statement on the spot for ‘dismissal with prejudice’, which is a final judgement meaning the case is not subject to further action.

Now to get down to brass tacks…

According to Uniloc, the software license and settings management software used in our My Kaspersky license manager was ‘stepping on the toes’ of other patents. My Kaspersky is a web service to remotely renew subscriptions, launch scans, get product reports, and do all sorts of other useful stuff.

Below is a list of the patents containing descriptions of configurable settings for authorized users. The general idea is that a user with several devices who configures their settings on one can then open the product on another and the settings are already saved. All of these patents (with a priority date of 1998) were acquired from IBM. They had 31 respondents, including Akamai, SAP (represented by subsidiary Concur Technologies), Oracle (represented by subsidiary Netsuite), Ubisoft, Tencent (represented by subsidiary Riot Games), and Zendesk.

US6324578
US7069293
US6510466
US6728766

Expert analysis put our potential damages at $7 million, assuming a claim amount of $90 million.

This was a long-haul case starting back in 2016, but it was temporarily put on hold because the patents in one of the claims processes started before us were invalidated. A year later, the United States District Court of Texas confirmed the invalidation of two patents: `766 and `466, but upheld `578 and `293. Regardless, this was still a win for us, even if we were only involved indirectly. It’s important to understand that when patents ‘survive’ the court of appeals, trolls start doubling down on respondents. However, Uniloc withdrew its claims against us, all the while continuing litigation against other companies. This court of appeals decision was one of three key points on our path to victory. We also helped other companies getting sued to formulate their arguments, as we held a stake in their verdicts as well.

The second major point was our case, which Uniloc was already well acquainted with. We had to keep it ironclad to hold up against all their pressure.

And third was an eight-hour face-to-face mediation with the Uniloc team.

Note that Uniloc revoked its claims exactly one week after GBAS closed its case against us. That just goes to show that our reputation as an uncompromising destroyer of dubious patent practice proceeds us. And I couldn’t be happier!

By the way, this was just one of three lawsuits we’ve been tangled up in against Uniloc, all of which ended in our favor — 3:0.

Our overall patent lawsuit score is 9:0 (not counting pre-trial dismissed claims).

1:0 IPAT v Kaspersky
2:0 IPAT v Digital River (indemnity)
3:0 Lodsys v Kaspersky
4:0 Device Security v Kaspersky
5:0 Wetro Lan v Kaspersky
6:0 Uniloc (1) v Kaspersky
7:0 GBAS v Kaspersky
8:0 Uniloc (3) v Kaspersky
9:0 Uniloc (2) v Kaspersky (the lawsuit I’m writing about here).

So there you have it. Don’t bother wasting your time or money.