Innovation and Technology Weekly – No. 9, 2004

This is the online version of UNU-MERIT’s I&T Weekly which is sent out by email every Friday. If you wish to subscribe to this free service, please submit your email address in the box to the right.

Issue 9, 2004

This week's headlines:



EU passes tough new antipiracy law
March 09, 2004

The European Parliament passed controversial legislation Tuesday aimed at cracking down on copyright pirates.

Aimed largely at large-scale commercial counterfeiting operations, the bill had prompted a surge of last-minute protest from civil liberties groups worried that draconian provisions could be applied to ordinary net surfers, such as individual music swappers. The last-minute lobbying did have some impact. The legislative body said it added an amendment that focuses the proposed regulations on commercial pirates.

The new directive is aimed at bringing copyright and intellectual property enforcement laws into line across the EU. The bill includes stiff civil penalties, as well as stronger enforcement measures that would allow subpoenas of internet service providers' records. The legislation is expected to be approved by EU ministers within the next two weeks. The EU's member states then would have two years to adopt the provisions as national law.

Full story: CNET News Back to top


EU chips in for nanotech project
March 08, 2004

The European Commission has detailed plans to invest in a new research project that will explore breakthroughs in semiconductor materials, process and design. The commission said it will provide €24m in seed funding for the effort, called NanoCMOS, which will examine emerging discoveries in semiconductor materials, processes, device architectures and interconnections.

The study is aimed at finding ways to enhance semiconductor performance while reducing chips' overall density. This area of research has become known as nanotechnology.

The nanometre (nm) measurement, which is often used to describe a generation of chip manufacturing technology, also refers to the average distances between features inside a chip. The chip industry is currently moving from a 130nm manufacturing process to a 90nm one. Next year, participants in the European research will scrutinise the potential use of 45nm CMOS logic technology. The group will also begin studying 32nm and 22nm nodes, which are currently believed to represent the limit of existing semiconductor circuit technologies.

Full story: CNET News Back to top


Eolas browser patent rejected
March 05, 2004

The US Patent and Trademark Office has invalidated a claim to web browser technology central to a case against Microsoft, a move that could spare Microsoft from paying $521m in damages.

The patent agency's preliminary decision, if upheld, also means that Microsoft will not be required to make changes to its Internet Explorer web browser that would have crippled the program's ability to work with mini-programs that work over the internet, such as the QuickTime and Flash media players.

Last year, an Illinois jury delivered a $521m verdict against Microsoft for infringing on technology developed by a privately held firm, Eolas Technologies, and the University of California. Last month, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois upheld the verdict. But the judge also suspended an injunction that would have required Microsoft to make changes to its programs, pending the outcome of the patent office's review.

Full story: ZDNet / Reuters Back to top


Four big ISPs sue hundreds of US spammers
March 10, 2004

America Online, EarthLink, Microsoft, and Yahoo, the four largest internet service providers in the US, said Wednesday that they have filed six federal lawsuits in four states against hundreds of spammers. The four companies entered into an anti-spam alliance in April.

The spammers being sued are allegedly among the worst spammers on the internet. The suits filed in California, Virginia, Georgia, and Washington state, are the first industry lawsuits filed since the passage of the federal Can-Spam Act of 2003, which took effect January 1. The alliance expects more lawsuits will follow.

Until now, the Can-Spam Act has been seen as largely ineffective. A number of anti-spam companies have reported an increase in the amount of spam since the passage of the law.

Full story: Information Week Back to top


Rivals work on mobile internet registry
March 10, 2004

Nine top computer, telecoms and handset companies announced plans to jointly set up a new internet names registry company to issue domain names for wireless devices, in an attempt to boost mobile services. The new firm will establish an as-yet-unnamed domain to simplify mobile access to the internet. The new firm has to yet be approved by ICANN, which registers domain names for the internet.

The initiative brings together two unlikely bedfellows, top software company Microsoft and leading handset maker Nokia, rivals in the battle to make the software that runs mobile handsets. It also involves the world's biggest mobile telecoms operator Vodafone and its competitors Orange and Hutchison Whampoa's operator '3'. US computer makers Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard are also participating, as is South Korea's Samsung Electronics and the GSM Association.

Officials said that an application would be placed with ICANN before a March 15 deadline, with a decision expected three to six months after that, allowing the new services to be up and running early next year.

Full story: MSNBC / Reuters Back to top


Investment firm confirms Microsoft link to SCO
March 11, 2004

Investment company BayStar Capital has confirmed ties between two Linux foes, saying Thursday that a Microsoft referral led to $50m in BayStar funding for the SCO Group.

Word of the Microsoft matchmaking surfaced last week when a leaked memo about Microsoft's help in the BayStar investment was published on the internet. Open-source fans leaped on the memo as evidence that Microsoft is aiding SCO's attack on Linux. SCO argues that the Linux operating system infringes on its Unix intellectual property.

Microsoft on Thursday repeated the its assertions from last week that 'Microsoft has no direct or indirect financial relationship with BayStar'. SCO declined to comment.

Full story: CNET News Back to top


Quantum computing gets a step closer with 'flying qubits'
March 11, 2004

Scientists have witnessed an atom and a photon share the same information. This is an important milestone in the quest to create a 'quantum computer'. The research shows that an atom can act as a bit of 'computer memory', and that light can carry the atom's information from one place to another.

Researchers from the University of Michigan used a cadmium atom trapped in an electric field to 'store' information about the atom's magnetic state. By pumping energy into the atom with a laser, they forced it to spit out a packet of light. That photon carried an imprint of the atom's information with it, which could be read by a detector. These mobile bits of quantum information, known as 'flying qubits', have the potential to travel over many kilometres.

The researchers' next step is to run two of these experiments side by side and mix up the two photons that fly away from the atoms. They hope that this will remotely entangle the two cadmium atoms, providing another important component for a quantum computer.

Full story: Nature Back to top


Quantum codes debut in real world
March 09, 2004

Quantum cryptography has emerged from the laboratory and into the real world. Using properties of quantum physics, the technique encrypts data with keys that reveal if they have been intercepted or tampered with.

US company Magiq and Swiss firm ID Quantique have already sold hardware to several customers keen to protect data with quantum cryptography. Governments and armed forces are thought to be among the first users of the technology.

Once connected to a fibre-optic network the Magiq hardware allows companies to set up a virtual network they can use to send data encoded with quantum keys. Information about the key is encoded on to a single photon of light. Quantum physics guarantees that the properties of the photon will change if anyone intercepts it and tries to read the information off it.

Full story: BBC News Back to top


Virtual womb could help premature births
March 10, 2004

A computer model of a womb may soon help doctors pinpoint exactly when a baby will be born. The virtual uterus could aid the prediction and management of premature births.

Arun Holden at Leeds University is beginning to simulate real and abnormal uterus contractions on a computer, using knowledge of how the muscle cells function individually, how they physically fit together and how they communicate electrically with their neighbours.

Almost one in ten babies are born prematurely and the causes are often obscure. Muscular contractions that begin early can be slowed with drugs. But doctors are often unsure which medication will work best.

Holden hopes that the model will help determine what individual muscle cells are doing when a particular type of contraction occurs. Building on the knowledge of how drugs work on individual cells, the model will test the effects of drugs on the whole uterus, eliminating unnecessary and potentially dangerous drug trials on real people.

Full story: Nature Back to top


Researchers create tiny endoscope
March 09, 2004

Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia have found a way to make an endoscope that is a dozen times smaller than today's 10-millimetre versions. The technology should make it possible to image areas, usually inside the body, that are inaccessible today.

The researchers constructed a microscopic pattern of air channels within a single, 0.8 millimetre-thick plastic fibre to provide an array of pixels capable of carrying an image from one end of the fibre to the other. The photonic crystal fibre, which contains a square array of 112 air holes, is a plastic version of more common glass photonic crystal fibre. The device can provide an image by channelling light either through the polymer material between air holes or through the air holes.

The multichannel fibres could also be used as optical connectors between computer processors or from a computer processor to a memory module. This would boost data transfer rates by allowing multiple channels per fibre rather than just one. To make a practical endoscope the device needs to be fitted with a lens and engineered to provide illumination and image collection from the same fibre.

Full story: Technology Review / TRN Back to top


More than 100 per cent turnout? That's e-voting
March 10, 2004

Getting voters to the polls on a normal day is not easy. But with the advent of e-voting in Orange County, California last week, it looks like that is all changed. With the new electronic terminals, turnout was far higher than expected - more than 100 per cent in some districts.

Compared to the local average of about 37 per cent, it is an impressive figure - but it will not be bringing a smile to the faces of the Orange County officials. According to the LA Times, it is human error, not technology, that is responsible. The e-voting system uses codes to assign a voter to a particular precinct. Some election workers had been mistakenly assigning voters to the wrong precinct - resulting in the higher than expected number of ballots in 21 voting precincts.

Some precincts also experienced an unnaturally low turnout - possibly because their votes had been counted in other districts. It is unlikely that the votes will be recast or recounted following the polling foul-up. Apparently the winners' margins are wide enough to factor in the erroneous voting and still come up with the same results.

Full story: Silicon.com Back to top


UNU-MERIT