The invention of something "unique" is something of a grey area. For example, there has been heated debate recently about the true inventor of the telephone, a feat almost uniformly credited to the Scottish inventor Alexander Graham Bell. The crux of the argument is the fine line between the person who invented the concept versus the first person to patent the concept. If you are interested, you can read more about it here.
That issue aside, there is a great quote from that article which has an application more relevant to the modding community: "Nearly all inventions are developments of existing ideas, taking them just a bit further." - John Liffen, the Science Museum of London worker who uncovered documents suppressing the true identity of the telephone’s original father.
While you may think his statement to be obvious enough, I found it especially poignant this morning while reading about Antec’s patent battle over the rights to LED fans. It seems that Antec are upset that "copycat" manufacturers in Taiwan and China have borrowed their idea for case fans lit by LEDs and in manufacturing / distributing them, these companies are infringing Antec’s Intellectual Property.
If you haven't been following this story, it all kicked off last Thursday, when Overclocker Café posted this letter from Scott Richards, worldwide VP for Sales & Marketing at Antec. Sent to authorised Antec resellers, the letter which cites patent 6,679,771 for a "cooling fan with light-emitting device" as evidence that Antec alone had the rights to this product. The letter discouraged resellers from stocking non-Antec LED fans.
This claim is supported by this press release unearthed by [H]ardOCP which highlights patent applications in Taiwan and China dating April 2002. It also states that "Antec will take full legal action against these companies once the patents are granted". It would seem that Antec are coming good on that threat, as the US patent, filed April 1st, 2003, was granted on January 20th this year.
Browsing around the US Patent site, which should be thoroughly applauded for its 21st Century approach, you can view detailed drawings of the Antec design & circuitry, highlighting the unique aspects of their design.
However, what really triggered the red mist was the arrogance displayed by David Taue, Antec’s Marketing Content Manager, in a letter sent to a customer, which was reprinted on [H]ardOCP:
"Thank you for your message and your interest in Antec. We appreciate your kind words about our products. However, you simply have the facts wrong. Antec did indeed invent and was first to market with the LED fan.
Antec may well have been the first company to mass produce a commercial version of the LED fan, but I think their claim on inventing the idea is in some doubt.
To get to the bottom of this, bit-tech hunted around and what we uncovered makes some interesting reading:
The earliest instance of a fan mod featuring LEDs, to the best of our knowledge, dates from 20th August 2001: an article posted on Moddin.net written by a guest writer known as Sandy. His methods may have been crude - physically drilling & glueing LEDs to fan blades - compared to the modern solution, but there's no doubt that the results were effective.
Image Copyright Moddin.net
The idea then circulated around the community, but it wasn't until February of 2002 that the concept took its next evolutionary step. The boffins at veteran innovators PCMods had been beavering away, and produced what they called the "Lighted Fan"; we were granted a "world exclusive" first review, and though this first-generation product was expensive and had something of a DIY look to it, the results certainly spoke for themselves:
Of course, no matter how new & innovative a product is, the temptation of a true modder to pull it apart and mess with its guts was (and arguably still remains) irresistible: our very own Macroman opened up his own brand of WoopAss on the idea to create the Strobe Lighted Fan, again, with somewhat unique results.