Pirate Radio Blamed for Keyless Entry Jamming

A hidden pirate radio antenna is the reason dozens of drivers in Hollywood, FL, couldn’t unlock or start their cars using keyless entry systems when parked near the local police station.

For months, drivers of certain model cars found their keyless remotes useless, only to have the problem disappear when the cars were towed to their dealerships for repairs.  Some suspected electromagnetic interference from some sort of equipment at the police station, but local cops eventually fingered another culprit: a pirate FM radio transmitter hidden on the roof of a nearby bank building.

Once police removed the equipment — which was broadcasting Caribbean music — the problems stopped.

What makes this case interesting is that the pirate station was reportedly broadcasting at 104.7 MHz — well below the 315 MHz used by keyless devices for North American-made cars (European and Japanese cars use 433.92 MHz).  If FM signals at 104.7 MHz normally jammed keyless entry, there would be chaos in parking garages all over the 107 U.S. cities with FCC licenses to broadcast full power at that frequency.

Most likely, the primitive pirate station blamed for the interference lacked filtering gear, and its 104.7 signal generated harmonic frequencies that interfered with the 315 MHz devices.  If the outlaw broadcaster had spent a few extra bucks, his Caribbean beats might still be on the air, bothering no one but Hollywood residents trying to tune into the “hot adult contemporary” stylings of “Mix 104.7” WSGL in Naples, FL.

While this is the first reported case of pirate radio jamming keyless entry systems, the low-power devices are prone to interference from stronger signals broadcast on their frequency, which is within a range licensed primarily for use by the military and the federal government:

In a summary of radio spectrum use from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the frequencies in the range from 225 MHz to 328.6 MHz “are heavily used worldwide for critical military air traffic control and tactical training communications.” Specific functions include “air-ground-air communications for combat weapons training carried out at and in the vicinity of all major air bases and military training areas worldwide.”

Google Maps Returns to iPhone — Instantly Dominates App Store

Within hours of its launch, the Google Maps app for the newest iPhone plotted a path straight to the top of Apple’s App Store.

Apple replaced Google’s map function with its own Map App in the iPhone 5 that launched in September, but the software was wasn’t ready for prime time, leading to so many bizarre results that it spawned its own meme — Apple Maps Fail — and even potentially deadly errors.

While Cupertino scrambled to fix its maps, and hackers tried to make earlier versions of Google Maps work with iOS 6, Google was working on new mapping software with even more features.  In addition to “street view” functions inside over 100,000 buildings, live traffic updates and turn-by-turn directions, the new Google Maps also supports a range of gesture controls.  You can manipulate maps and call up additional information with two-finger taps and swipes, and even twist maps to orient them the way you’re facing.

UPDATE: JailBreakNation posted a video showing a simple way to get the iPhone voice assistant, Siri, to give directions based on Google Maps data rather than Apple’s flawed Map App:  simply add the phrase “via transit” at the end of your request for directions.

Tech Giants Turn to Courts for De Facto Patent Reform

With patent trolls emerging as an increasing threat to American innovation, tech firms including Google, Facebook, Dell and Zynga are now asking the federal courts to dismiss claims based on overly broad patents.

Eight tech firms recently signed on to a friend of the court brief asking the U.S. State Court of Appeals for the Federal circuit to deny the patent claims of Alice Corp., an electronic marketplace seeking a broad patent on closing financial transactions via a computer.  They join other online firms like  LinkedIn, eHarmony and Travelocity, which have filed similar briefs in the case, as well as the  Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Though the briefs specifically attack the patent claims of Alice Corp., the Google-Facebook filing addresses the broader problem of vague software patents:

Many computer-related patent claims just describe an abstract idea at a high level of generality and say to perform it on a computer or over the Internet. Such barebones claims grant exclusive rights over the abstract idea itself, with no limit on how the idea is implemented. Granting patent protection for such claims would impair, not promote, innovation by conferring exclusive rights on those who have not meaningfully innovated, and thereby penalizing those that do later innovate by blocking or taxing their applications of the abstract idea.

Technology patent trolls exploit such overly broad patent claims essentially to extort money from tech companies, which typically settle rather than face the costs fighting even dubious claims in court.  The pile-on against Alice Corp. is the first concerted effort by the tech sector to short-circuit the patent-troll business model.

A better solution would be a legislative fix that discourages spurious claims, such as the bipartisan patent reform bill proposed by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).  Their bill, entitled the ‘‘Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes Act of 2012’’ would force plaintiffs to pay the legal fees of companies that fight patent claims deemed spurious by the courts.