Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Pick A 2D Code, Any Code

What is taking so long for mobile marketing to adopt physical world connection?

A 2D code can say a thousand words.

Two of these codes link to a website I chose. Can you tell what codes they are, who provided them, and how to get to that site?

These are only a few of the many 2D codes available today.

Two of the codes are easy to recognize, but can you identify the others?

In order for physical world connection to get adopted, there will have to be a "standard" code or scanning application that can read ALL 2D codes. This will be done by a software application, or in a universal database (won't be a direct connect function).

Barcodes are easy for a consumer to recognize and are "owned" by a corporation, but getting a camera phone to resolve them isn't.

Until camera phones can resolve a 1D code (barcode), 2D codes will be the physical world hyperlink of choice for both corporations AND consumers. Both consumers and corporations can create them on their own.

Here's the tradeoff for a mobile marketer and brand, do you want a direct connection with a limited number of codes, or do you want as many phones as possible to interact with your ad?

When the service providers choose their physical world scanning platform(s), they should keep in mind ALL of the abilities and limits from each 2D code supplier.


Larry said...

Have you compiled a list of the + and - of the different 2d codes. Would like to see your thoughts on the different ones.

Anonymous said...

I think the 1D code resolution problem is the important one to resolve first, mainly because the 1D barcode exists in superabundance--every product has one, most every consumer is aware they exist if for no other reason than they see it scanned at the POS terminal at store checkout (here in the US), and presumably the 1D owners can "connect" anything they want to a 1D query with the right tech. Seems to me that the 2D code variants will more likely become the migration path once the average consumer gets used to scanning 1D's and benefits from doing so and then starts demanding ever more content which can be provided by 2D. It would prove very frustrating to users who try to click on the wide variety of (non-satndard) 2D barcodes and up getting no response. Why not take advantage of the ubiquity and standardization of the existing 1D codes first since so many of us are familiar with them?

Scott Shaffer said...

"Why not take advantage of the ubiquity and standardization of the existing 1D codes first since so many of us are familiar with them?"

I agree that would be the easiest, but it eliminates a HUGE market that could develop from consumer contributions/applications.

What does a consumer want from PWC versus what does a brand want ?

There are few reasons why 1d code scanning is on hold.

For an example, take your camera phone and try taking a picture of a sentence in any print article. Camera doesn't cut it.

Ok let's say 1d codes are scannable, so what then? Besides price comparison what other applications are out there?

Are you going to rely on all of the brands to make their barcode provide something when scanned?

Or will you have innovative thinkers use this technology to create applications that use a barcode for informative uses?

Do you think 1d code scanning will get adopted by the masses just for mobile marketing campaigns? I don't think so.

So when you look at the companies that offer this ability, see who is REALLY benefitting from it. Is it the brand or the consumer?

The service providers in the States (from my conversations at CTIA) are afraid to commit to ANY 1D code player because of barcode scanning litigation. It is now impacting the 2d code players too.

There are plenty of innovative ideas being developed for 1d and 2d codes.

What should/could be done?

I see some of the players trying to make the camera on the phone do all of the work.

There is an easy way to implement this.

Anonymous said...

If money didn't matter to consumers we wouldn't be shopping so much and so diligently for bargains on the internet. My phone can become my new mobile internet connection to see if I can save money while on the go. Maybe it's just me. But to get people to embrace "codes" with a cellphone at all requires them to start somewhere. $$ doesn't talk--it screams. 1D is easiest IMO for the reasons stated previously (above post). You know, ever since you pointed out 4INFO I've been demoing it to the younger crowd--NOT ONE of them has heard of/observed the power of even that simple "text for info" application. Consumers need to walk before they can run. You have been doing a great job educating those who are aware of your blog. Scanbuy is also to be commended. Even the consumer news reporters get it--everyone likes to save money--isn't that why we see Scanbuy in the news? For now I'm gonna follow the BP's money because they will make things happen notwithstanding the very informative, thought-provoking blogs of all types, including yours, which is among the best, PP. P.S. I agree with what you've essentially said many times before: The consumer must benefit (first...and by permission) before there will be any chance for a BP to benefit. That's where the all-important creativity comes into play.

Anonymous said...

2D codes are a dime a dozen, for God's Sake. Every day, another 2D code! And how long would it take for any vendor of a 2D code to mimic the best thing in another code if anything can be copied?

Somehow I have a feeling that the 2D code that will be the winner will be the one with the best IP behind it.

As a potential partner, customer, or vendor, why risk a possibly very expensive patent suit and judgment, even an injunction, if you can avoid it?

Anonymous said...

2D lawsuits?.....use Aztec.

Anonymous said...

"Use Aztec"?

The problem is that some 2D codes may be have IP behind them (because the company producing them also has other IP) that protects the APPLICATIONS of any bar code that may apply in this space.

In other words, it will do no good to use a public domain code like Aztec if the particular application of Aztec code infringes on another company's patents!

Smart companies will have patents both on their codes AND on the applications of those codes. Companies that have not done so will be the losers in this space; they don't have a ticket to play.

jesse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Oops, in my previous post, the first paragraph should have gone:

The problem is that some 2D codes may have IP behind them (because the company producing them also has other IP) that protects the APPLICATIONS of any bar code that may apply in this space.

And, just to elaborate more, what if a company has basic IP surrounding the use of codes to connect to the internet, or to do certain kinds of transactions, and also has a code that works on camera phones. That code will in effect be protected by important IP, and the code of other companies may not -- using a public domain code doesn't get around those problems.

Anonymous said...

As Scott mentioned, reading 1D code on standard camera phones does not work due to problems with the optics. They just are not designed to focus on objects that are a few inches away. Plus this is not going to change with higer resolution sensors. With a higher resolution sensor, the lens needs to be larger and thus one loses depth of field.

2D codes are the only way to go to deploy widespread mobile consumer applications.

Regarding the code that will win out. It will be the one that provides maximum usability for all parties in the ecosystem. Codes like QR and Data Matrix were at their inception designed for industrial purposes not consumer apps and certainly not camera phones. Thus they are hard to read and hard to use in print applications.

mCode from Nextcode is designed from the ground up to provide maximum capabilities, flexibility and performance for camera phones and consumer applications. Plus you can get free reader software and code publishing tools from the web at www.ConnexTo.com.

Anonymous said...

"Regarding the code that will win out. It will be the one that provides maximum usability for all parties in the ecosystem."

Yeah, but how long are those advantages maintainable for any given code, so long as it is customizable? So what if mCode now has some temporary advantages -- how hard can they possibly be to mimic by others? Why can't, say, Google come out with its own code, just hiring good people in machine vision to put together another 2D code?

Does mCode have any patents protecting its applications, at this late stage of the patent game?

Scott Shaffer said...

While these comments are very educational, they confirm why service providers are hesitant to adopt this disruptive technology.

Keep the comments coming, it would be nice if some of these anonymous people would post their affiliation.

That's fine if you don't feel like posting your name, but email me so I can get your input on this technology in the future.

Anonymous said...

"As Scott mentioned, reading 1D code on standard camera phones does not work due to problems with the optics. They just are not designed to focus on objects that are a few inches away. Plus this is not going to change with higer resolution sensors. With a higher resolution sensor, the lens needs to be larger and thus one loses depth of field."

Look, this argument is just smoke and mirrors.

To solve the problem of reading 1D codes or any 2D code, one mainly needs a macro focus, which is a very cheap item, or better yet an autofocus that will focus on close by objects. The Nokia N93, which is going to be able to read standard 1D and 2D codes, has such a focus, and it's likely this is the wave of the future.

Even for general photography, there's little point adding higher resolution without adding the ability to adjust focus, manually or via autofocus, because the resolution will be wasted on poorly focused pictures. Yet once one introduces adjustable focus, it's no big deal at all to add a macro setting.

Anonymous said...

I think the industry should get together and adopt a 2d code standard. Economies of scale and mass adoption are not going to happen otherwise.
Standardization has already happened in Japan, where different groups have teamed up and formed a non-profit association to promote the "QR Code".

Anonymous said...

Certainly the industry must ultimately coalesce around a standard.

But it's going to be important that those who have basic IP related to the concept be compensated properly. Some have been out there promoting and/or developing this concept for well over a decade. (And the even the Asian market developed only well after the pioneering efforts of American companies in the print-to-web space).

These hearty pioneers can hardly be expected to just go away after their tireless dedication to and promotion of the concept.

Scott Shaffer said...

"I think the industry should get together and adopt a 2d code standard"

I agree.

What I see happening is some companies are using their innovative skills to create applications for their 2d codes, while others are relying on litigation for adoption by default.

Anonymous said...

"What I see happening is some companies are using their innovative skills to create applications for their 2d codes, while others are relying on litigation for adoption by default."

But how would you really know that this is what is going on?

Just as often, a pioneering company WILL have invented AND implemented any number of basic applications, and patented them, and then some other company simply copies wholesale all those applications and technology, adds a few minor tweaks that ANYBODY can add, and declares that they now have a "superior" solution, and shouldn't be enjoined from pursuing it.

In fact, in most of these domains, it is the BASIC applications invented by the pioneers that are by far the hardest to conceive and implement robustly (and how many of the current flock of 2D codes could seriously be described as ROBUST?), and the application tweaks added by the copiers may take just a few weeks to implement.

Should the copiers be allowed to take over the market on the basis of unutterably trivial temporary advantages, and possibly a better PR department, and the true pioneers who have pushed the idea for years upon years be shut out? How does THAT policy serve anybody but the copiers?

Anonymous said...

Just to follow up on my previous post, it's important to realize how easy it is to copy someone else's idea once it has been implmented in software. An engineer simply looks at the way the implemented software behaves, and can pretty easily infer exactly what has to be done to create an identical piece of software. This is what Microsoft has done from time immemorial.

But to CONCEIVE of that software, and to struggle through the process of determining how it should be designed so that users will use it can be a major undertaking. Copying is ALWAYS an infinitely easier path to take.

Yet copiers want to pretend that they've done all the work that the original designers of the software did in creating that original application.

The most outrageous case of patent and IP abuse, of course, is when an individual is fully exposed to a pioneering company's source code and technology as an employee or contractor, and then simply goes out and mimics the identical functionality - which does certainly happen. In their arrogance, they may imagine that they owe nothing to the technology and source code to which they were exposed, but it's simply undeniable that they have been given a huge leg up by the source code, detailed patented ideas, and trade secrets to which they were exposed.

Yet such people will often declare that they have a "superior" solution simply because they added a few tweaks to the underlying technology -- after all the advantages their exposure to the technology offered them.

So, simply looking at the end product hardly gives the real picture about who is truly "innovating", and who is simply cheaply copying and tweaking.

Scott Shaffer said...

The disconnect lies in innovating and implementing.

I agree that the person that had the vision should be compensated for their foresight, however, they should also not prevent others from allowing this technology to get implemented.

Where do you draw the line? What is the metric for this compensation?

Rhetorically speaking, have the patents we are discussing, as they relate to a camera phone, ever been challenged in court?

Anonymous said...

"Rhetorically speaking, have the patents we are discussing, as they relate to a camera phone, ever been challenged in court?"

Well, I gather that Neomedia has sued Scanbuy, whose main application is on camera phones, so that's one challenge, I suppose. Of course, that court case is still in progress. Personally, I don't much like Scanbuy's chances.

But it's also a mistake, I think, to focus on whether relevant patents apply only to camera phones; some of the basic patents apply effectively to any digital device, camera phone included.

As to how pioneers should be rewarded, and what the appropriate metric might be, well, to be frank, that is something of a mess. There's a recent post over on the Patently-O blog that tries to address some of this issues underlying this problem.

One of the main points at issue is the effect of an injunction. An injunction allows a patent holder effectively to throw competitors out of the business of making and selling a patented invention. In some cases, such an injunction could for all practical purposes put a copying business out of business entirely. Historically, this has been done many times by patent holders. This may well be the fate of some of the late entry players in this market who have not licensed the technology from patent holders (who don't have to grant that license if they don't want to, because they themselves wish to build a business based on their invention).

Anonymous said...

And another point.

The best way to fight a patent suit is with a good countersuit, based on patents that ALSO cover the application in question.

Let's say for the sake of argument that Neomedia really has patents that cover the print-to-web capability. If the company they sue for patent infringement ALSO has in its possession patents that for all practical purposes cover the same application (which can easily happen), then that company can simply countersue Neomedia for patent infringement itself. This is a well known phenomenon of "Mutually Assured Destruction" in patent litigation.

The point is, companies who wish to enter this market will do well to have or acquire patents that enable them to fight back such suits. Otherwise they don't have ticket to play the game. And it also implies that the existence of company such as Neomedia does not necessarily mean that they fully control the progress of technology.

Anonymous said...

And still another point.

As I said, it's quite possible for more than one set of patents effectively to cover the same application, such as print-to-web.

It may well be that a very good strategy for a company entering this market would be to acquire one set of those patents, because the licensing deals, if any, offered by the company owning the other set may be prohibitive. It can be far cheaper simply to buy an available set of relevant patents and fight off a patent suit with a countersuit.

This is one way in which a reasonable price can be negotiated for the right to operate in a given market.

Again, while the notion the layman has of patents is that they simply cordon off a market, the realities are a lot more complicated and flexible -- but they require that parties play the patent game intelligently, and invest in them strategically.

Anonymous said...

Very good discussion on this topic. Regarding patents in the Neomedia vs Scanbuy suit, refer to a comment on the above WSJ article. It appears that Scanbuy tried to get some patents after Neomedia and they have been rejected.

Anonymous said...

It would appear Scanbuy will have to license with NeoMedia in order to use their patended Paperclick tecnology if Scanbuy wants to be a player in the "physical world connection" space.

Scanbuy's rejected patent applications:

20060011728 Mobile device gateway providing access to instant information

Transaction History
Date Transaction Description
03-22-2006 Mail Non-Final Rejection
03-20-2006 Non-Final Rejection


20050011957 System and method for decoding and analyzing barcodes using a mobile device

Status: Final rejection
02-28-2006 Mail Final Rejection (PTOL - 326)
02-21-2006 Final Rejection


20050004844 Integrating bardoce scanner enabled services in existing e-commerce applications

Transaction History
Date Transaction Description
03-23-2006 Mail Non-Final Rejection
03-20-2006 Non-Final Rejection


20050029356 Scanner reader Active-X plug-in

Transaction History
Date Transaction Description
05-02-2006 Mail Final Rejection (PTOL - 326)
05-01-2006 Final Rejection


20050029354 System associating sets of data into one barcode

Transaction History
Date Transaction Description
02-28-2006 Mail Non-Final Rejection
02-21-2006 Non-Final Rejection

(Note: Non-Final rejections have 3 months to appeal, otherwise they are pronounced Final Rejections)

Anonymous said...

Scott, you said: "What I see happening is some companies are using their innovative skills to create applications for their 2d codes, while others are relying on litigation for adoption by default."

Creativity and vision coupled with a good business plan that includes patent protection is a much surer bet (especially from an investors point of view) than merely demonstrating innovative skills to create (mobile) applications in the absence of patent protection. I sense a bit of sour grapes in your perspective even if its only a reaction to those pesky patents that may ultimately have to be licensed by everyone's prospective client base in the mobile marketing/PWC space. Neither of us is a patent attorney by our own admission, so we'll just have to wait and watch to see how the litigation plays out. In particular, the Scanbuy-Neomedia litigation should shed some light on this issue of patents and soon I'm hoping. As you say, it's really holding back major participants of many different stripes.

Scott Shaffer said...

There are other companies with intellectual property, as it relates to this application, besides the two that are mentioned above.

I don't have sour grapes, I'm disappointed. Disappointed because it's taking so long, and disappointed at how some of these companies are trying to implement.

I have discussed numerous ways and applications this disruptive technology could be adopted, without having to get service providers to implement.

The 2 major obstacles preventing adoption, could be eliminated with some "outside the box" thinking.

Anonymous said...


I personally rather doubt that the slow uptake of these ideas in the US has anything at all to do with patent litigation. The deeper problem seems to be getting carriers to adopt it, and to push for phones that could read, say, 1D barcodes. The US is just behind Asia and Europe in general in the mobile space.

Maybe the patent situation might affect the uptake at some point, but right now it seems to be only speculation that that will turn out to be so.

Anonymous said...


In fact, as noted in a another comment, the patent situation could very possibly make settling on a standard code a lot easier, not harder.

There are over a dozen codes, and may soon be dozens more. How does that mess get pared down to a more manageable size, when the relative differences between them may often be small, particularly as they start to be tweaked over time to achieve the same good features as some represent? Do we really want a dozen codes out there each trying to establish a separate standard? How long could it be before this confusion settles down? Isn't it very plausible that without factoring in patents, things will be more confusing, not less so?

If one important criterion behind the selection of a code is good IP supporting it, the numbers get cut way down. And it's very likely that codes with the most significant IP would also be among the very best, simply because they've been worked on for some time already, which having significant IP would probably imply.

And I certainly can't imagine a good reason for a major company like, say, Microsoft or Google Mobile to get behind a code with poor legal protection and great legal exposure. If patents and IP mean anything, they should certainly be a significant factor in determining which overall technology to go with!

Scott Shaffer said...

Or find a method that goes around the current IP.

Anonymous said...

"Or find a method that gets around current IP"

Certainly it will be possible to work around SOME patents. But why believe that there is some method of avoiding ALL the IP out there? Isn't that in fact very implausible.

Look at it this way. The idea of using bar codes to hyperlink the physical world is, by any sensible account, a bold, revolutionary leap in their use that takes us far beyond the standard applications of bar codes to retail and logistics. It is exactly the sort of novel, non-obvious, and importantly useful idea that patents were meant to protect -- just as was true of the electric light, the telephone, and airplane flight. There was a time when that idea simply didn't exist. I think we can safely say that it didn't exist before 1990 (just to pick a round number). But now, that idea DOES exist, and is being talked about by hordes of people. Somewhere along the line, someone came up with the idea, and invention, and started to reduce that idea to practice. If they had any sense, they submitted a patent on that basic idea, which, again, did NOT exist before that time. Indeed, they most likely would have submitted a number of patent applications, and any number of claims so that there would be no legalistic way of squeezing out of the coverage of the patent.

Now why imagine that the patent should not generally cover that idea, with full breadth, given that there was nothing like it before? How could one possibly work around such a patent, given its breadth?

And this doesn't even cover the full complexity of the situation from the point of view of coverage. Other inventors at roughly the same time may have essentially come at the same basic idea from different directions, and may have patents that also "lock out" anyone who would create an application using the concept, because these additional features are in fact essential to any acceptable application of the idea. So, in fact, not only is the "original" inventor have patents that cover the area, likewise these other inventors will own such patents.

Now the point is, it's going to be impossible for people who come on the scene many years later to create such an application without reckoning with all of the players already owning basic IP. Indeed, even the owners of such IP will have to reckon with each other -- they essentially have to enter a "Mutually Assured Destruction" pact, if the market is to proceed.

Of course, it may be possible for a new entrant to "work around" some of the IP that's out there, because there's prior art against it, or the claims are in fact narrow, or due to some other defect. But the idea that they can work around ALL of it is just a fantasy, I think. Any one running such a business who isn't seeking some way to prevent themselves from being thrown out of business because they infringe on pre-existing IP just doesn't have the business maturity to manage a technology firm in today's environment. Could they possibly be good people to put one's stake in as a customer or large company?

Anonymous said...

You said: "Barcodes are easy for a consumer to recognize and are "owned" by a corporation, but getting a camera phone to resolve them isn't.

Until camera phones can resolve a 1D code (barcode),"

Who is closest to 'perfection' in resolving the 1D barcode? We know about Scanbuy...anyone new out there that you've come across in your travels, PP? What might the solution be in your opinion? TIA.

Scott Shaffer said...

There are a few players that are working on resolving a 1d code, but the action is with the 2d code.

I think most in the industry realize it will be a while before 1d codes can be resolved.

The 1d code (barcode) is recognized by everyone and is pretty much a corporate "thing".

The 2d code is unique because both corporations and consumers can think of interesting ways to utilize them (and there a number of camera phones that can identify them).

The battle is between 2d code creators and the applications they generate AND the 1d code players and their loyalty to the brands.

You can find the players here .

I think there's a great solution for EVERYBODY

Larry said...

What is the solution you have in mind?

Larry said...

What is the solution you speak of?
Or if you can not tell us at least do a riddle to see if we can figure it out.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think it's probably a mistake to think that the important thing is exactly the nature of the "solution" offered by a 2D code -- though there are pluses and minuses.

The technology has to walk before it runs. By far the most important thing to have happen is to have widespread ADOPTION of a 2D code as a link to the internet (as well as, perhaps, encoding a phone number or contact info). THAT is what is going to make the application useful -- not any bells and whistles on top of it. The most interesting action will occur after the link is established to a web page of an advertiser, or a search engine, or information resuource.

In time, more complicated applications will prove useful. But at the beginning, as long as the scan itself has an intuitive simplicity, and transparency, that will be easily enough to get the consumer to use it IF the world gets well populated enough with the codes. No one's going to care about the scanning software once they're automatically linked to the relevant web page.

Anonymous said...

In short, at this early stage, the 2D bar code scanning application becomes useful pretty much in direct proportion to the number of codes populating the world.

Until the number of codes in circulation reaches critical mass, everything else about the application is mostly minor tweaks and other forms of noise.

And I don't see any way that that stage of critical mass could possibly be reached without buy-in from the major manufacturers of cell phones (who might be persuaded by other large companies, such as the carriers or a major search engine).