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Input Devices Patents The Almighty Buck

CueCat Patent Granted, Finally 184

Posted by timothy
from the you-lose-even-if-you-win dept.
RobertB-DC writes "Who could forget the :CueCat, the amazing device that would bring 'convergence' between the real world and the online marketing Utopia of the late '90s? Belo, the Dallas-based newspaper and TV conglomerate, spent millions of dollars on the project, only to be ridiculed from the start and eventually becoming a sort of poster kitty for the Dot-Com Bust. Well, the device's inventor and chief cheerleader, J. Jovan Philyaw, didn't forget. His patent application, in progress since 1998, has finally been granted. The story comes from a Dallas alternative weekly, since the local Belo paper is still smarting from its $40-million-dollar black eye."
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CueCat Patent Granted, Finally

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  • and write the book ":CueCat for Dummies"? I'll be an instant millionaire!

  • by Majik Sheff (930627) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:21PM (#25572053) Journal

    So, the cueCat was in a box (the patent office) and its state was unknown for years until someone finally opened the box and looked at it? I can only assume the cueCat was dead, but that assumption probably changed the outcome.

    First again?

    • by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:26PM (#25572123) Homepage Journal

      First again?

      You assumed you were first, and by doing that, you changed the outcome.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I guess the cueCat is out of the bag... You know, I'm glad this is anonymous.

    • by anomaly (15035)

      If I want a sermon, I'll go to church. If I want to be entertained, I'll go to the movies. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.

      Every movie or TV show I've ever seen is preaching something - perhaps not something you or I might consider "religious" but it's preaching nonetheless.

  • ... to buy my flying car!

    Anyone thinking that getting a patent will make a broken concept work is naive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      A method for interconnecting a user's location to a destination location on a network. The unique information is received at the user's location, which unique information has no associated routing information embedded therein. Network routing information is associated with the received unique information in response to receipt thereof. The user's location is then interconnected to the destination location across the network in accordance with the routing associated therewith in the step of associating.

      I smell a patent troll brewing...what better place than in Texas?

  • I used one (Score:4, Interesting)

    by afidel (530433) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:25PM (#25572113)
    I declawed one with the software patch that stripped the 'encryption' to use it as a normal barcode scanner. It was great for a little inventory problem I had at work. I made an Access DB that kept track of LTO tapes by scanning a label on each box and tape. That way when I had to do a restore from tapes on hand all I had to do was pull up its label in the DB and it gave me the box and row number.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:38PM (#25572327)
      What happens when your Access DB is what needs to be recovered from the backup tapes? What then?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        What happens when your Access DB is what needs to be recovered from the backup tapes? What then?

        He gets stuck in an infinite loop!

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by afidel (530433)
        It wasn't in the backup set, it was on my laptop. The only loss if the DB went tits-up was that I would have to go back to hand searching the boxes, it's not like deleting a row in the DB destroyed the tapes =)
    • Re:I used one (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:48PM (#25572481) Homepage

      I declawed 20 of them one by soldering a jumper that disabled the encryption at the unit. Most of them were easily hacked this way. I've got several still in use as Point of Sale barcode readers at a couple of customers.

      In fact I still have about 5 of them in their poly bags in the basement. I had more but fittingly, my cat peed on them.

      I cleaned out 5 radioshacks when they were trying to get people to take them.... please take them!

      • I remember the radio shack bins outside when I was a kid full of things. I grabbed a couple and lost them over the years...

        Few weeks ago a buddy asked if I knew what "this" was... It was a CueCat...

        Now it hangs proudly ready to be soldered on my cork board next to the bills.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by afidel (530433)
          No need to solder it, here's [blort.org] a site with drivers for just about every OS including a JAVA decoder if your OS doesn't have a specific driver =)
    • by merreborn (853723)

      There's a serious secondary market for those things. I used to work for a used book merchant. We had a half dozen of 'em, and used 'em to scan ISBN bar codes on the books we received for quick cataloging.

      You can pick up a "declawed" CueCat for $10. Most better barcode scanners *start* at $60.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Tacvek (948259)

        It is worth noting that there are two different basic types of CueCat declawing.

        The normal format for the CueCat is a long "encypted" string that contains three pieces of information, A serial number, information about the barcode type, and the raw barcode data.

        The first type of declawing merely makes the serial number be a sting of dashes or zeros. This was only really useful with the official software, as the unoffensive drivers that support the CueCat's native format normally ignore the serial number.

        The

    • by nsanders (208050)

      If only they made software and hardware to do this for you..

      • by afidel (530433)
        Since my budget was $0 I got to improvise. It was a miscellaneous duty and they figured I could spend the time looking by hand when an old restore was needed, recent restores were done from snapshots on the Filer. The first time it took me 3+ hours to find all the tapes needed for a restore I decided to work smart instead of hard.
    • It's a great little barcode scanner for simple jobs. I keep track of books and DVDs with it. Where I work we have a rather sizeable library and we purchased a barcode scanner for the same purpose that cost upwards of $150 ... and it doesn't really work any better than the declawed cuecat.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      You've been waiting 9 years to repost that, haven't you~

  • Brilliant!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by TheDarkener (198348) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:26PM (#25572127)

    A barcode scanner at every normal person's PC that "allows" them to view advertisements on products they've already purchased? Count me in!

    • Re:Brilliant!! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rycross (836649) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:42PM (#25572381)

      The idea would be that you could scan a barcode on an advertisements or articles to get more information on a product. The problem is that you need a special piece of hardware to do what a URL written down on the page could do.

      The basic idea isn't without merit, however. In Japan, they use barcode-like codes [wikipedia.org] to encode extra information with advertisements. You could see a product that interests you, use your cell phone camera to take a picture of the code, and then have your phone load up the web site based on the code. The difference here is its more convenient instead of less.

      • You know, that makes me think of the barcode reader Nintendo made for the Gameboy advance:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_e-Reader [wikipedia.org]

        You could buy barcode cards to work with GBA connectivity to open things in Animal Crossing, among other things. It was about as successful as the Que Cat.

        • It was about as successful as the Que Cat.

          You might be a bit confused as there was never any indication the e-Reader line lost money.

          • by AndrewNeo (979708)
            It, too, like most Nintendo products, probably printed money.
            • by Chyeld (713439)

              It was about as successful as the Que Cat.

              You might be a bit confused as there was never any indication the e-Reader line lost money.

              It, too, like most Nintendo products, probably printed money.

              Or at least scans money....

          • Hmm, actually, I just assumed it didn't make money because it disappeared from stores after a while. I'm actually happy if it made money, I thought it was a neat idea.
      • The difference here is its more convenient instead of less.

        Well, where's the fun in that? Silly Japanese.

    • by nurb432 (527695)

      It was more then just advertisements in practice. You could order items out of catalogs 'out of the box'.

      Much more if you made some changes.

    • This is big.
  • Crap patent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by russotto (537200) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:31PM (#25572207) Journal

    Clearly, this one got approved via the Patent Office's rule that "If you can't decipher the run-on sentence, approve the patent".

    Yeah, I know the patent rules pretty much require run on sentences, but Claim 1 here is ridiculous even given that.

    Best I can tell, Claim 1 covers doing a lookup of a code at a remote site and receiving something like a URL back, then following that URL. The code has to have been received before the user connected to the network.

    That is, if I set up a server which returns a redirect for "8972" of http://www.cat.example.com/ [example.com] and "1513" to http://www.dog.example.com/ [example.com] and I send you (via US mail) "8972", which you then enter at my site and get redirected to the cat site, the patented method has been used.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by RayMarron (657336)

      > That is, if I set up a server which returns a redirect for "8972" of
      > http://www.cat.example.com/ [example.com] and "1513" to
      > http://www.dog.example.com/ [example.com] and I send you
      > (via US mail) "8972", which you then enter at my site and get
      > redirected to the cat site, the patented method has been used.

      Are you saying that makeashorterlink.com and tinyurl.com (for example) are infringing on this patent? Holy vague claims, Batman!

    • by timster (32400) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:57PM (#25572631)

      Maybe their business plan is to sue tinyurl?

  • by timpintsch (842091) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:36PM (#25572291)
    Does anyone know if I can still pick these up for free at Radio Shack? I remember having a stack of them but my Grandma threw them away because she thought they were pens that were defective. No, really, she did.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I still have a dozen cardboard boxes of them, including all PS/2 revisions and the short-lived USB versions, that I used to test my CueCat driver for Linux (here [myspace.voo.be] if you care about abandonware.)

    • I bought a USB one on ebay for just a couple of dollars. Works great, no special software needed. It pretends to be a USB keyboard.

    • by doconnor (134648)

      I remember seeing some recently at Active Surplus Electronics, the legendary Toronto electronics store.

    • by Schnapple (262314)

      Does anyone know if I can still pick these up for free at Radio Shack?

      No, Radio Shack told all its stores to get rid of them years ago. Not just throw them away but literally destroy them, preferrably with a hammer. Seriously. My Google-Fu fails me but I'm certian I remember reading this info a few years back.

  • by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:37PM (#25572305)

    The plastic bag that my copy of Wired came in had a big hole in it when it got to my house. The CueCat was either stolen or it fell out.

    /not really disappointed

  • by SomeoneGotMyNick (200685) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:39PM (#25572337) Journal

    What do I do with the box of these that a frustrated Radio Shack manager gave me?

    I went in asking for one and he told me I can't have one unless I take his entire inventory of them. I ended up with dozens of them.

    On a side note, I then went to the bank and asked for a dollar, but they didn't give me a boxful of them... no fair...

    • Is it entirely too obvious that maybe you could sell them on ebay?

    • What do I do with the box of these that a frustrated Radio Shack manager gave me?

      Whatever you do, don't open it! I opened mine and it was dead :/

    • Send me one?

  • by JungleBoy (7578) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:40PM (#25572343)
    Awesome! I still have a brand new unused CueCat in my desk drawer next to me right now! My ship has come in! ...I think. Wait, what's going on here?
  • it looks like a sex toy

    all its good for anymore

    i guess

    i said i guess!

    • You can use a Cue Cat for zapping books into LibraryThing [librarything.com], the social book-cataloging site. It's a lot faster than adding everything manually, and it works even if encryption hasn't been disabled.

      I bought a USB model for a whopping 10 USD. Then I declawed it by severing the fifth leg from the left on the bottom of the microchip, using a pair of fingernail trimmers (full declawing instructions (pdf) [greyhead.net], scroll down to page 5). It works nicely in Windows and Linux, no drivers, and I can zap pretty much any ba

  • Am I the only one who read the headline and then burst out laughing?
  • by GospelHead821 (466923) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:56PM (#25572613)

    I understand why and how this idea failed, but I think that it had such a great deal of potential. Not for flashy things like electronics, but for mundane things like office supplies. Rather than digging around Corporate Express's web site or typing in a list of part numbers, how much easier would it be just to use the CueCat on a barcode printed in the catalog? I was kind of disappointed that the worthwhile, vaguely interesting applications for this technology never materialized.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      how much easier would it be just to use the CueCat on a barcode printed in the catalog?

      Much more difficult actually...

      Opening the company website and typing in a short product code is pretty damn easy. And as an added bonus, it works on every computer out there... You don't need to carry around a big, bulky, barcode scanner, attach it to the computer you're using, install the software from CD, just to scan a bar code, and then remove it later.

      Even if you're only ever using it on a single computer, having

    • by bendodge (998616)

      It failed because the producers bundled it with what their consumers considered to be a nuisance good - junk mail. Nobody I know of pores over advertisements often enough to want anything of the sort. Now, if they had just sold it as a cheap barcode scanner WITHOUT ENCRYPTION and provided some subscription service that housed a zillion barcodes from everything (Google?), then perhaps it would have fared better.

  • by rAiNsT0rm (877553) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @01:59PM (#25572655) Homepage

    Geez I guess it has been that long. I was one of the first to figure out that it sent a coded mix of letters and numbers with the scanned barcode inside so that it could be hacked to function as a proper barcode scanner. I also was one of the first to get a certified cease and desist letter and a followup call by one of their attorneys.

    I still have a bunch of both the serial and USB versions wrapped and new... however now they would actually have proper legal grounds to prosecute so I won't be redistributing my code online again :)

    Never thought I'd see :CueCat come up again on the 'ole Internets.

    • by Panaflex (13191)

      CueCat was developed pre-DMCA, and so was your code I would assume. You're not breaking their patent by replicating their method - and I assume you distributed code previously which did not result into a court-ordered injunction. No one brought full enforcement of their cease and desist and you never signed a settlement or agreement.

      In other words - you're totally clear.

      • by rAiNsT0rm (877553)

        Yes, it was certainly pre-DMCA... I still have the letter as a kind of geek badge of honor but I don't remember the exact reasoning or law they cited. I did run it past my families lawyer at the time and he said to take down my code and just call it a day. I was young and had no money so that was what I did.

        Basically it was about circumventing their software and making public the fact that each :CueCat had a trackable ID that was associated to you (Radioshack had to take your name, address, and phone# to ge

        • by Misch (158807)

          There is a nice package out there called Readerware. It does lookups on major retailers on the web, and can scrape information out of their websites, or other sites on the net.

          Hasn't been updated in a while, but the scrapers still seem to work, and the barcode reader integration is really nice.

          (If you have a collection of DVDs, CDs and books and you want to file for insurance, being able to build a catalog like that is VERY nice.)

        • by Panaflex (13191)

          Well, if it makes you feel better... I accidentally (*whoops!*) dropped a plate of enchiladas in Jovan's lap once. Wow can he jump!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rAiNsT0rm (877553)

        Heh, I actually found an article that explains it from 2000 and I even got a mention in it :)

        http://www.securityfocus.com/news/89 [securityfocus.com]

        I just found it now googling for what the legal basis was... I had never read it before... so I gotta thank you for making me curious!

      • by shaitand (626655)

        'CueCat was developed pre-DMCA, and so was your code I would assume. '

        Yup but that only makes his pre-DMCA distribution of a circumvention device (his code) legal. They can't go back and prosecute him for what he did then.

        That doesn't mean they can't prosecute him if he distributes that same circumvention device now.

        • by Panaflex (13191)

          The problem with your argument is that the output of a CueCat doesn't meet the legal standard for copyright.

    • by Warll (1211492)
      Doesn't the right of first sale cover this?
  • Still available, a web page to decode the cat. http://www.logorrhea.com/cuecat/cuecat_decode.html [logorrhea.com]
  • by HiVizDiver (640486) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:04PM (#25572725)
    A bit offtopic, but with the aforementioned "hack" to enable it as a more generic device, a friend of mine uses it to catalog his book, CD, and DVD collection. He has a whole spreadsheet for his books that tells him how many pages, how long it took to read, his overall "review" (couple of sentences) of the book, etc.

    A bit anal retentive? Yes, but I could see it being useful for making a record of just about any "collection" you had that already had barcodes on it.
  • I smell a lawsuit! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Teilo (91279) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:05PM (#25572743) Homepage

    Hmm. This is the same thing the CompareEverywhere app for Android (G1) does.

    http://compare-everywhere.com/ [compare-everywhere.com]

    Is the patent broad enough to ace these guys out?

  • by Whafro (193881) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:09PM (#25572805) Homepage

    I remember being the first to publish the basic decoder for the CueCat... got a nice little writeup in Wired, which led to a nice little writeup from a Kenyon & Kenyon lawyer in the form of a C&D.

    Highlight of my sophomore year in HS: http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=7222&cid=835493 [slashdot.org]

    Their patent claim is interesting -- launch a web browser when an item is scanned. Sounds like it shouldn't meet the non-trivial requirement to me, but I'm not in IP law anymore...

  • Bad Summary (Score:4, Informative)

    by Zordak (123132) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @02:10PM (#25572833) Homepage Journal
    If you look at the "Related Applications" section, I see something like a score of issued patents in this family, give or take a few. So this is not anything like the "real" :CueCat patent. This is a continuation-in-part, meaning they are adding new matter to the original application (some incremental improvement, usually). Apparently, these guys are intent on patenting every little incremental improvement they can think of for their famous failure. Why? Are they stacking their portfolio with an eye to future litigation? If true, that's the real story.
  • It works great. The computer thinks it's a keyboard. When I swipe a barcode it types the digits and hits return at the end. Who needs software?

    • by shaitand (626655)

      That's because yours is already hacked. The originals used a simple encoding scheme to encrypt the output.

  • That way People will know what obscure piece of tech trash you are rambling about.
    • by 72beetle (177347)

      Never heard of the cue cat? And you call yourself a geek?

      Hmph.

      • by daeley (126313)

        And you call yourself a geek?

        Never mind that, they're apparently unable to search Wikipedia without assistance!

  • "It fails to solve a problem that doesn't exist."

    I can't remember where I read that, but it sums up the entire thing perfectly...

  • And I got one of the early ones that could be turned into regular scanners by cutting a trace.

  • by macraig (621737) <mark@a@craig.gmail@com> on Thursday October 30, 2008 @03:33PM (#25574059)

    This news prompted me to drag out my two :Cats and decrypt the output on them, so I can finally use them as raw scanners. I dug out the copper trace to pin 10 of the Hyundai IC on both of them and, voila, it outputs raw numeric ASCII data whenever it spies a barcode. I've had archived details on how to do this for years, but never got a round tuit (those tuits are pretty scarce and hard to find in their own right). Turns out I Googled the part number on the PCBs and found several pages detailing the process for that specific PCB.

  • by cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @03:40PM (#25574143)

    I remember those, when they first came out, they seemed stupid. It solved a problem for an advertiser, but never solved anything for the end user. Doomed to failure.

    Plus, in the install instructions, it gave instructions on how to reset your BIOS settings if it wasn't recognized. You expect someone to reset BIOS settings to use something not really useful? Whatever.

    we used one at my last place, a 'declawed' one was a useful cheap barcode scanner for books.

  • by ewhac (5844) on Thursday October 30, 2008 @04:00PM (#25574409) Homepage Journal
    Why do I get the feeling that the :CueCat could find new life as a support peripheral to some stupid new Facebook "application"? "Here are the barcodes from everything in my room! L0lz!!1!!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ivan256 (17499)

      A fast way to Tweet "here's what I'm consuming right now".

      I can't help but feel that I just made the world a worse place.

  • It takes effort and attorney's fees to keep a patent idling for ten years. This is a classic tactic of ne'er do well patent attorneys used to keep 'before their time' ideas in the patent process until they can be used to make money. This has become a patent after 10 years for one of two reasons: 1) They think there is a big fish to extort/sue now 2) They are tired of paying attorneys
  • If the whole point of a patent is to give someone exclusive rights to their invention for a limited time, why do we have a system that takes 10 years just to get a patent at all?

    Are these excessive "patent pending" periods part of a ploy to lengthen the "limited time"?
  • I believe that the company would make some good money if they marketed the device to hackers and encouraged them to tinker and play with it by making it customisable and the software free.
  • Aahh... this brings back great memories! Back in High School, a mate and I cleaned out a couple of local radio shacks, made minor hardware mods to the beasts, and sold them on eBay. This was a great entrepreneurial experience!
  • I submitted a project similar [blogspot.com] to, but much better of course ;-), than CueCat for Google's 10 to the 100 challenge...

  • The Cuecat is still tremendously useful for the folks at librarything. My wife has one and it has proven a real timesaver given we have about 2000 books or so on our shelves

    http://www.librarything.com/cuecat [librarything.com]

    So perhaps in some instances it has a real and viable purpose?

  • I'll never forget the day a few years back, when visiting a local Goodwill, and noticing that one of their "premium" items (the ones locked in a case, which folks with half an IQ point would recognize as being worth somewhere between dick and squat), was a Cuecat, for $2.75 no less. Even more ironic is that a few years earlier, they were being handed away for free at a Radio Shack.

    So keep an eye open, you might own a piece of nonhistory from a nonprofit (hah!) for a few bucks.

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