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Free Wi-Fi ups coffee shops’ popularity

October 10, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I wrote this story for my news writing (JMC 301) class. It was published in the Oct. 6 edition of The State Press. I have reposted it in full for the benefit of blind readers, who may find this copy easier to access

Photo caption:

surfing the web: ASU sophomore Michael Robinson takes advantage of the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks Monday night. He said he often comes after work to meet friends or study. (scott stuk | The State Press)

By: Darrell Shandrow

Published On: Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Many Tempe coffee shop customers said free wireless Internet access adds an important dimension to their experience, and shop owners are delighted by the increased business.

Margie Derwin, owner of Margie’s Coffee House just west of South Hardy Drive on West Broadway Road in Tempe, said she added free Wi-Fi shortly after her shop’s April grand opening and has never looked back.

The business generated by customers who use the free Internet connection is well worth the $80 monthly price tag, Derwin said.

“A lot of people come in here and ask if we have Wi-Fi,” said Derwin. “They’re either students wanting to study or businesspeople who need to work. They need to get to the Internet.”

Psychology senior Lauren Watson prefers shops that help her go online and study.

“I’m much more likely to frequent a coffee shop if it has wireless Internet available,” Watson said. “Most of the stuff I have to do is online, either through Blackboard or other sites where I need to look up information.”

Watson is not alone. According to a September 2008 survey released by standards-setting organization Wi-Fi Alliance, 52 percent of undergraduate college students said the availability of wireless Internet connectivity affects their coffee shop choice.

Amir Dabir, a tourist attending a conference in Phoenix, frequents coffee shops regularly. He said shops get more of his business when they offer free Wi-Fi.

“I like to drink coffee, answer e-mails and be able to enjoy myself online while I’m at the coffee shop,” Dabir said as he waited to meet a friend at Cupz Coffee on South College Avenue, just north of the Tempe campus.

Dabir said he appreciates a shop with a free, reliable wireless connection.

“If it doesn’t have free Wi-Fi, I wouldn’t sit around and do work,” he said. “I’d just basically get my coffee and leave.”

Hannah Baldwin, wildlife biology junior and a barista at Xtreme Bean on East Southern Avenue in Tempe, said students spend an average of two to three hours in the coffee shop when they go online.

“Just looking around, you can see pretty much half the people with their laptops,” she said.

Many of the students who go online at the store are also socializing or participating in study groups, Baldwin said.

“We have some students we see come in midday and they don’t leave until we close,” Baldwin said. “Everyone who comes in grabs a coffee and they sit down and it’s totally fine. It’s a good atmosphere.”

The ambience of a coffee shop is almost as important is whether it has Wi-Fi, Watson said.

“The atmosphere has a lot to do with it, of course,” she said. “I’m looking for one that’s friendly but individual, where it’s quiet enough so you can be on your own if you need to, or you can start a conversation with a stranger.”

Derwin said she aims to please with her shop’s fast, reliable Wi-Fi connections and calm, friendly atmosphere.

“I get a handful of serious students who come in here and want to find a place to study,” said Derwin. “I like the home-away-from-home feeling. I want people to feel like they’re at home. We’re just relaxing. There’s no stress. We’re just being friendly.”

Categories: Uncategorized

Lawsuit Leads to Reconsideration of Patent

October 9, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has re-examined a patent held by the maker of a screen reader for blind computer users in connection with an infringement lawsuit filed against a competing company. Reliable sources hailed the move as a significant victory for the defendant.

The Document Placemarker patent, held by Freedom Scientific, Inc., covers a specialized screen reading capability that allows a blind person to save their position on a Web page and return to the same place at a later time. The company’s Job Access With Speech (JAWS) screen reading software incorporates this feature.

In a July 15, 2008 complaint filed in the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, the self-proclaimed “world’s leading manufacturer of assistive technology products for those who are vision impaired” accused GW Micro, the maker of the competing Window-Eyes screen reader, of deliberate patent infringement, claiming their placemarker technology is the same as that described in the patent. According to court documents, Freedom Scientific is seeking an injunction requiring GW Micro to stop including the placemarker feature in their product, asks for significant unspecified financial compensation for the infringement and requests recovery of legal fees.

“I believe that this technology shouldn’t have been patented to begin with,” said Doug Geoffray, Vice President of Development with GW Micro, Inc. “It obviously was around way before what they’ve done. We have stated that our version, Window-Eyes 3.1 back in 1999, had previous position capability.”

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office agreed. In a re-examination of Freedom Scientific’s patent, at the request of GW Micro’s attorneys, the office rejected all claims to the invention.

“A person shall be entitled to a patent unless the invention was patented or described in a printed publication in this or a foreign country or in public use or on sale in this country, more than one year prior to the date of application for patent in the United States,” stated a published document describing the re-examination as the basis for the patent’s rejection on the grounds that the technology had already been invented.

The document also cited two existing patents and the availability of IBM’s Home Page Reader, a product employing place marker technology prior to the Freedom Scientific patent, in its reasoning behind the decision.

“We take that as a positive sign,” Geoffray said.

“It’s a victory,” said Dennis Karjala, Jack E. Brown Professor of Law, Faculty Fellow, Center for the Study of Law, Science, & Technology at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. “There’s no question that, if the re-examination decision is upheld, that’s the end of it. There is no patent.”

He said Freedom Scientific may still have some cards to play in this case.

“The patent owner in a re-examination proceeding may appeal,” Karjala said. “It goes to an appeals board within the Patent Office and then they can later seek judicial review. This thing could go on for awhile.”

According to the re-examination document, the Patent Office must receive a response from Freedom Scientific by Oct. 28 if it wishes to appeal the decision.

Karjala said the legal trend points to a probable GW Micro victory.

“Because the Supreme Court has been reviewing so many of their cases with an obvious eye to overturning them, the Patent Office is pretty sensitive now that they’re being accused of being too patent friendly,” said Karjala. “My guess is once you got a ruling by the examiner that the patent is invalid, I’d say the chances are pretty good it will be upheld by the board in the Patent Office. If it’s upheld by the board, the chances that a court would overturn it in this atmosphere are pretty slim.”

Freedom Scientific representatives declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.


  • The examiner cited Patent 6085161 describing the invention of a system for assigning and playing specific sounds when a Web page changes or the user encounters a specific Web page element such as a header or list. All of the claims in Freedom Scientific’s patent were rejected based on the positioning techniques described in this “sonification” system.
  • The examiner also cited Patent 7058887 describing a means of determining the position on a Web page according to user-defined settings, including the page’s domain. This IBM patent was referenced in the re-examination as clarification for the rejection of the sixth claim.
  • The examiner also referred to the IBM Home Page Reader Version 2.5 Manual.
  • Ex Parte Re-examination, Control Number 90/010,473, Central Re-examination Unit, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Visit the Patent Application Information Retrieval Web site and enter the specified control number to obtain this document. The Patent Office provides this document only in scanned image PDF, which is inaccessible to blind readers. An accessible copy of this document has been made available using Kurzweil K1000 Version 11.03 optical character recognition software.
  • An accessible copy of Freedom Scientific’s complaint was made available in the July 24, 2008 article about the lawsuit.

Seeking Blind People Tossed Out of Their Jobs by Discrimination, Inaccessible Technology

October 3, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Are you a blind person who has lost your job due to blatant discrimination or inaccessible technology? If so, we want to hear from you!

In a Sept. 30 press release, President Obama said he proclaims October National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Fair access to employment is a fundamental right of every American, including the 54 million people in this country living with disabilities,” Obama said in the press release. “A job can provide financial stability, help maximize our potential, and allow us to achieve our dreams.”

What does this really mean for blind people? Can we have “fair access” to employment while much of the technology used by the sighted remains out of the reach of the screen readers and other assistive technologies that enable us to effectively operate computers? What happens when technology in a workplace changes without a thought to the needs of employees with disabilities? How are we supposed to respond to the removal of “financial stability,” the wasted potential and shattered dreams of blind people who have lost their jobs due to the wreckless actions of thoughtless employers who respond to technology inaccessibility by tossing away the person as though they are yesterday’s newspaper or just so much trash whose usefulness has expired?

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act substantially increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and provided more than $500 million for vocational rehabilitation services, including job training, education, and placement,” said Obama. “If we are to build a world free from unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination, we must ensure that every American receives an education that prepares him or her for future success.”

Although blind people continue to face discrimination and negative stereotypes on a daily basis, many are also hired to fill positions in virtually all walks of life based on their qualifications. Through our own experiences in the world of business and employment, many of us are growing to believe the barrier of inaccessibility is a critical factor that holds us down. In an increasing number of cases, employers would love to hire or retain blind people as employees if only the software they must use in order to do their jobs could be accessed with a screen reader.

Let’s use National Disability Employment Awareness Month to make a strong case for greater accessibility. If you have lost your job because of inaccessible technology or were not hired because the software used in the workplace could not be made accessible, we would like to hear from you right away. Now is the opportunity for you to let your voice be heard around the world, not only on Blind Access Journal, but possibly in the mainstream media. Please e-mail and tell us your story.