back to article Creator of Linux virtual assistant blames 'patent troll' for project's death

Mycroft AI, creator of a Linux-based virtual assistant, announced on Friday it would not be able to fulfill rewards for its Mark II Kickstarter campaign. Furthermore, without immediate new investment, the company will be forced to cease development by the end of the month, said the company's CEO Michael Lewis [although the …

  1. heyrick Silver badge

    Somehow it seems wrong that a company can cause a round of expensive litigation and then just walk away after buggering everything up.

    1. Ace2 Silver badge

      Well, you could possibly file a countersuit for costs, depending on how much more you’re willing to spend on your own lawyers.

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Because it is wrong, but unfortunately, legal.

      And if you can't counter-sue, yer forked.

      And that is how the game is played. What's even worse, the company may even have been just a stalking horse. Innovation and small companies are shut down all the time like this.

      Just another reason why we can't have nice things.

      1. train_wreck

        Late stage capitalism needs to get forked.

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          I'd prefer a criminal offence of invidious litigation. Prosecution trials paid for by the public purse. To apply to any and every legal troll who pushes their luck in an evidently hopeless case.

          You'd only need to pay for it if the Director of Public Prosecutions felt the evidence against the troll was too weak to pursue themself.

          1. Frumious Bandersnatch

            I guess you mean s/invidious/vexatious/?

    3. TVU Silver badge

      Patent trolls are malevolent parasites and the US, EU, UK and other OECD jurisdictions ought to do very much more to restrict them, to defeat them and to close them down completely. Large corporations might have the ability to defeat them but small scale open source projects often do not have the resources to take them on. They also have another toxic effect in that they stifle innovation as in this case.

    4. mark l 2 Silver badge

      I have said it before, but the patent system is broken, and only benefits the multi million dollar corps that have lawyers on retainer to defend them, there should be a small fee to go to a tribunal where patent challenges are heard which the results of are binding, with no long appeals going to higher courts and dragging it out until the small fry has lost money.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Never do hardware development on Kickstarter

    Oh good lord, Kickstarter the company (which takes a nice cut with no risk) should face a class action lawsuit. They have solid data and know very well the riskiest projects involve hardware, with a very low success rate. Despite knowing this, they just wash their hands off it after taking their cut, while well meaning founders obliterate their personal and often family finances, ruin relationships (with cofounders and family) and just about die.

    Most founders work themselves unsustainably hard because they're the face of the project and are on the hook reputation wise, although some are not so well meaning and have that ability to walk away, many end up annihilating themselves. All while getting death threats from random backers (some of whom are seriously scary sounding) who believe one can launch a custom hardware project and deliver after raising the originally anticipated at-cost of the deliverables. Which don't cover any development, maintenance, sales, ongoing engineering, cost overruns, and in most cases they don't pay themselves. I raised almost 150k in the early Kickstarter years for a very complex project, didn't pay myself anything and worked myself and another guy into severe depression two years later. And I killed my 401k in the process. Of course, I should have known better, but Kickstarter most definitely knows better and has a decades record in taking money from naive but well meaning backers and founder.

    1. Twilight

      Re: Never do hardware development on Kickstarter

      If you think Kickstarter is bad, try Indiegogo. Indiegogo directly promoted a project that was later proven to be a scam (took backers for iirc about $2m) and washed their hands of it and said they had no responsibility. I really don't understand how it was legal that they directly promoted the campaign and were still able to walk away (with their fee in hand).

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Never do hardware development on Kickstarter

        If you think Kickstarter is bad, try Indiegogo.

        I'm happy to invest in Kickstarter projects that catch my eye. I won't touch Indiegogo with a bargepole.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Never do hardware development on Kickstarter

        Indiegogo, the home of Bleen has had involvement in obvious scams? Say it ain't so!

  3. Tron Bronze badge

    Another one bites the dust.

    -$100,000 on injection molds.

    Just put it in an off the shelf box.

    Difficult to do ventures without venture capital. Maybe crowd fund for non-commercial test systems (less patent grief) and use them to get a sack of VC from SoftBank.

    1. Master Luke

      Re: Another one bites the dust.

      You can't just put quality custom audio components, microphone and speaker in an off the shelf box and expect it to work well. Acoustics is difficult like that.

      1. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: Another one bites the dust.

        Indeed, and $100k doesn't necessarily go that far in injection moulding. In the scheme of millions on litigation... it's small fry. And given the number of people they employed, I imagine it would have been rather less than 6months of payroll.

        That being said, I've seen other kickstarters (and businesses) go bump through poor management of high-CapEx processes like injection moulding. I recall there was one heavily-hyped (is there any other kind?) boardgame kickstarter which collapsed spectacularly and shipped nothing. One of the "challenges" that the founder blamed was the cost of getting moulded prototypes which they then didn't end up using in the game. This led to two obvious questions:

        1. You don't need actual game pieces or tokens to play-test a game or establish the mechanics. Bits of paper and card with appropriate scribblings will do. Artwork and miniature design is basically the last thing you do once you've finalised the game design and know exactly what/how many miniatures/cards/counters/tokens/dice the box needs. You shouldn't be getting moulds made for items that "don't end up being used". In fact, you shouldn't even be having the CAD done, because those pieces don't exist beyond a set of paper notes which didn't survive testing.

        2. 3D printing exists. The idea that they paid for injection moulds for a short-run of pieces to play-test with... insane. The incompetence was deafening.

        I have a feeling there was some fraud on that particular one as well.

        Now I'm not saying that this applies here - the patent troll appears to be the bigger issue. But the moment you start commissioning hardware, life gets very expensive and there's plenty of startups and even well-intentioned kickstarters who have bit the dust for not managing that aspect of the business adequately.

        1. Elongated Muskrat

          Re: Another one bites the dust.

          It's also worth noting that there was another heavily-hyped kickstarter boardgame project, which, although it delivered, fairly predictably, a couple of years later than expected, partly due to the pandemic, and partly due to a high-stakes backer turning out to be a scammer, is sitting on the table next to me waiting for me to play it. That box is completely packed with game components, which are weighty and of high quality. As far as I am concerned, the project delivered, and well.

          As with all such things, there are plenty of scams and pipe-dreams out there, but there are also plenty of genuine projects that manage to deliver something. Just do a sanity-check that it's not promising to break the laws of physics first.

        2. Ian 55

          Re: Another one bites the dust.

          You can tell a boardgame that started life on KS - if it has a pile of unnecessary moulded miniatures but no decent gameplay, 98% of the time, it's a case of KS stretch goals gone mad.

  4. nintendoeats Silver badge

    While we're on the subject, where's my fxtec PRO1-X? I have gotten so many emails saying "oh yeah, they'll be shipping real soon y'all".

    1. staringatclouds

      Pro 1

      I waited nearly a year for my Pro 1, after 11 months it developed a charging fault & was returned for an in warranty repair, 9 months later my partner tracked down one of the directors on LinkedIn & basically we threatened them with legal action, a month after that I got a phone back, it wasn't the one I originally had though, someone had dropped this one & the screen had been replaced but there's still a chip in the keyboard, I'm buggered if I'm dealing with them again to get it fixed, the phone works so I'm going to use it until it falls apart

      1. nintendoeats Silver badge

        Re: Pro 1

        Color me unsurprised. I'm still faintly amazed that a device actually exists.

        Also frustrating, in between now and when I ordered the phone I got a Titan Pocket. I'm very happy with it, don't really need anything else. The only problem is no support for Lineage or Graphene. So now I'm waiting for a phone that will probably suck and I don't need.

  5. Plest Silver badge

    Shame but..

    Was there also an issue with actual demand for the product? Amazon have been taking a huge financial hit from their world famous voice assistant, as more people are beginnging ask why we should bother with them. The novelty of voice assistant systems is starting to wear off now, fewer people are intested and obviously Amazon's own "spyware" device in every home has been a big issue.

    I don't like to see any company go under, hard working people will lose their livelihoods but this seemed like a very risky market to try to get into in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shame but..

      I came to the comments section to say that while I certainly like seeing a Linux, privacy-focused alternative to the usual data hoovers, I have no interest in a digital assistant no matter who makes it. The only devices at my house with a network connection are computers, tablets, phones, and one TV; there will NOT be any IoT. (That TV is turned off at the power strip when not in use, too, and I've gone through the privacy settings very carefully.)

      (I'm not a luddite; not only do read El Reg regularly, but I've coded in a dozen languages and use Linux for my home machines.)

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Shame but..

        What's the world coming to when taking steps to defeat the built-in spyware in too many things needs to be defended with "I'm not a luddite"?

        No, you're not a luddite. Just sensible.

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Re: Shame but..

          Someone will be along to call you a "boomer" soon

          1. heyrick Silver badge

            Re: Shame but..

            I'm actually the cynical end of X, but if it makes them feel better to be both rude and wrong, I won't get in their way...

            1. Elongated Muskrat

              Re: Shame but..

              Yeah, we get to bait the Boomers AND the Millennials / Gen Z.

              There's something to be said for being a part of the "forgotten generation".

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Shame but..

            (I'm the non-luddite AC)

            Xennial, actually. My *parents* are early boomers.

      2. that one in the corner Silver badge

        Re: Shame but..

        > That TV is turned off at the power strip when not in use, too, and I've gone through the privacy settings very carefully

        I know it is old news here, but: privacy settings on a TV! So not looking forwards to the day when our current TV (so old it does analogue) goes phut.

        1. Marty McFly Silver badge

          Re: Shame but..

          I refuse to agree to the EULA on my Samsung TV. It only displays input HDMI1, is not network connected, and I use none of the so-called 'smart' features. Yet every time I power on, it wants on "OK" press on the remote to approve the EULA.

          I buy LG TV's now. They just work on HDMI1 without a EULA agreement.

          1. nintendoeats Silver badge

            Re: Shame but..

            Same. I bought a Vero 4k, just so I wouldn't need to connect this thing to the internet.

            Sony in my case; it actually runs with no internet perfectly happily. They even provide thumbstick firmware updates.

      3. Ididntbringacoat

        Re: Shame but..

        "There will NOT be any IoT. "

        Than you know of.

        "(That TV is turned off at the power strip when not in use, too, and I've gone through the privacy settings very carefully.)"

        Great idea. But, how do you know the "privacy settings" do any more than say "Yes SIR!" and keep on sniffing and telling anyway? For that matter, how do you know there is not sufficient battery or capacitor capacity (ahem) to allow them to transmit a "Holy Shit!, this one is on to us. tell the Mother Ship everything NOW!"?

        Eh? Paranoid, say you? Experienced, say I.

        1. Marty McFly Silver badge

          Re: Shame but..

          How would you know? Get a real managed network at home. Watch the DNS lookups and outbound traffic coming from your Roku, Apple TV, or smart TV. I think you will be shocked at how much traffic these devices generate when they are not in use. My DNS lookups dropped 50% when I unplugged my Roku, and another 10% when the Apple TV got trashed. I dropped around 200Kb/s outbound traffic each when I removed smart TVs that were only used for HDMI input.

          I don't have the networking skillz to do it justice. But that would be a good piece of technical investigative journalism - analyze the packets & traffic patterns these devices generate. See who they talk to, and where the servers are located at. A properly done mainstream article could blow this open when it is reported that popular <brand> devices talk 24x7 to servers located in <scary country>.

        2. Elongated Muskrat

          Re: Shame but..

          Well, it would need the Wi-Fi password for starters.

          When my current TV dies, I'm seriously considering just getting a large monitor with several HDMI inputs.

          1. Ididntbringacoat

            Re: Shame but..

            "Well, it would need the Wi-Fi password for starters."

            I got two words for you, perhaps you have heard of them? Back Door.

            1. Elongated Muskrat

              Re: Shame but..

              Do you really believe that consumer TVs are going to try to "back-door" your home Wi-Fi (which presumably would either mean brute-forcing the password, or having a built-in backdoor password in the router. Either of these things would destroy the share price of the company doing it overnight, from the reputation damage, if they were discovered (which would be trivial using any network traffic analysis tool). It would also likely be a criminal matter.

              1. Orv Silver badge

                Re: Shame but..

                It would also require higher-end hardware inside the TV, and these things are seriously built to a price. It's hard to imagine they'd make the money back in selling that sniffed data.

      4. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

        Re: Shame but..

        The truth is... most people really do not care. They may say they care about "data privacy", but then use Google the next minute. They say web security is important, but have passwords like "ManchesterUnited1" (cos nobody will guess that). They clear the cookies on their web browser once a year when some "influencer" influences them to clear their cookies.

        There are uses for digital assistants - people who have poor vision, for example. But as a general thing I see it having limited attraction.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shame but..

      I had a look at Mycroft a while back - as I recall it does all the parsing on the box, not handing anything off to $BIGCORP. If Amazon's spyware is indeed a big issue, then this sort of device is arguably the solution if you still want a hands-off interface.

      1. cadencep45

        Re: Shame but..

  6. Rombizio


    They dont need a hardware for that. Run it as an app on the phone to start and only move to hardware if it is successful.

    1. monty75

      Re: Idiots

      It’s been available to download for a raspberry pi for years. They’ve already produced one reasonably well received hardware device hence this one being the Mark II. I don’t think it’s fair to call them idiots, especially when they’ve already done what you claim they should do.

      1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: Idiots

        I happened to stumble across this Mark II product a month or so ago and it seemed to be a Raspberry Pi, perhaps 4B, a touch screen, nice case, and not sure what else. Seemed an entirely reasonable offering except for the staggeringly high cost.

        I hate patent trolls as much as the next man but am not convinced they can be blamed for its demise.

        Edit :

  7. TeeCee Gold badge

    ..."the bigger goal of open source artificial intelligence was more important to me,"

    So the interest in Yet Another Cheesy Smart Speaker comes from where exactly?

    HINT: If you think this sort of thing has anything to do with AI, you might first want to look into what AI actually means.

    HINT 2: I.E. Not what Amazon, Google, M$ et. al. would have you believe it means.

    1. xperroni

      Do please enlighten me. What does AI actually mean?

      1. Elongated Muskrat

        It's a sci-fi/fantasy word, like warp drives, blaster rifles, and sorcery.

      2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Artificial Intelligence is to Intelligence what Artificial Flavouring is to Flavouring or Artificial Grass is to Grass.

        It's not any sort of reputable substitute. It just tastes/looks a bit like it.

        Artificial Insemnation is a bit closer. It does at least achieve the stated aim, though perhaps not to everybody's satisfaction.

  8. meski-oz

    Almost feel that the Google or Alexa hardware would be a better starting point for hardware, and make the KS project software only.

    1. Tim Bates

      100% agree... The problem is the Google hardware is very locked down. I think someone managed to get one model to accept some injected commands at boot, but no one has been able to build custom firmware or store custom Configs or data into them yet afaik.

      My Google Home Mini is still mounted to my ceiling, but power has been off since the news that Google was storing way more recordings than they said (years ago now). I'd love to boot it back up and use it even if just as a speaker. But I'm very hesitant to use it with Google's software anymore.

  9. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    "The goal had been set at a mere $50,000"

    That should have rung some alarm bells from the get-go. Seems like a very naive estimate.

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