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IoT, IP issues highlighted at Embedded Systems Conference

By Jeff Dorsch, contributing editor

There are fun and serious sessions going on at the Embedded Systems Conference in Santa Clara, California.

One fun session was Crypto Cloud Coffee, where the Southwest Research Institute presented on connecting a Keurig coffee maker to the Internet and remotely operating it with an iPad application.

On a more serious note, two intellectual-property attorneys presented a session on “Legal and Practical Concerns with Embedded Open Source Software Development.” They began their presentation with – what else? – a legal disclaimer.

“This presentation shall not be taken as legal advice and is only for educational purpose,” the disclaimer slide read.

Richard Leach of Brooks Kushman and Theodore McCullough of EMC teamed for the presentation. McCullough said he spends more than half of his time at work involved in open-source software issues. Leach said that open-source software calls for “reasonable due diligence,” adding, “People do go to court over open-source software.”

Leach defined how copyright and patent law is involved in software development. Licensing in the open-source software field can be very simple, such as the MIT License granted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or quite dense, like version 3 of the GNU General Public License, which runs to more than 5,000 words.

He recommended that companies using open-source software take three crucial steps: Have a license policy; educate your developers; and set up a compliance program.

Leach and McCullough also reviewed a few significant legal cases in software, such as the long-running battle between Google and Oracle over code.

Joe Loomis and Tam Do of the Southwest Research Institute presented on what Loomis called “the most secure IoT-enabled coffee maker on the Internet today.” They set out to connect this Keurig coffee maker “to prove that anything can be put on the Internet,” he added.

The researchers first employed an Arduino Yun single-board computer in their experiment before later changing to an Intel Edison module. They made use of the DreamFactory Web services platform and MongoDB.

In designing and securing the “Internet of Thing” coffee maker, there were several “lessons learned,” Loomis said. First, “IoT is an evolving space,” he noted. “Not many practical secure solutions exist.”

He recommended employing a modular design approach to IoT projects. Finally, Loomis said that application programming interfaces “are your friends and enemies.”

In a separate interview, Bob Zeidman of Zeidman Technologies and SAFE Corporation questioned whether open-source software can survive without substantial legal challenges. “There are going to be problems,” he predicted.

As the Heartbleed security flaw in OpenSSL showed, “you don’t know who’s writing the code,” Zeidman observed. Plus, U.S. courts are “making illogical decisions” in cases involving software, he added, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International case.

The Supreme Court justices are “not engineers,” Zeidman said. In that case, they upheld the legal concept of patenting software, yet ruled “abstract steps” embodied in software are not patentable. “This has thrown software patents into disarray,” he commented.

Zeidman was at the conference to give “A Crash Course in Verilog” and to promote his company’s SynthOS real-time operating system synthesis tool, which generates RTOS code in C language. Instead of buying an off-the-shelf RTOS and selecting a hardware platform, SynthOS users can get a custom RTOS with the tool, he said.

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