Anthony "Tigermain" Main from Moddin.net dropped me an email to highlight another intermediate stage in the evolution of the LED fan. His article
dates from 15th March, 2002, where he takes a clear-bladed fan from an Enermax PSU and gives it the multicoloured LED treatment.
It's a good all-round How To, and the end result isn't that far away from the Antec Trilight featured below.
By July, the trend for illuminated airflow had reached commerical proportions, and Akasa
was the first manufacturer to submit what we would commonly recognise as a modern LED Fan for review. At £9, it was judged "a very competent fan" if a little boring for the likes of Macro. Of course, this only encouraged him to mate it with his strobe circuitry for more interesting results
Antec joined the fray in September with their Trilight LED fan
, with its three coloured LEDs, it addressed the "boring" issue of the blue Akasa fan, instead trading it for some Vegas garishness. But in the context of the time, it was well received, and certainly of high quality construction.
Isn't it obvious?
What exactly does Antec gain by being the patent holder for LED fans? According to the US Patent and Trademark Office, the right conferred by the patent grant is, in the language of the statute and of the grant itself:
"the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling" the invention in the United States or "importing" the invention into the United States. What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing the invention.
Of course, any manufacturer being chased by Antec for patent infringements is able to counter-claim that the patent is invalid due to it being 'obvious'. In this instance, 'obvious' means that it is clearly apparent to anybody with a knowledge of the subject matter. The fact that the idea floated around the modding community seemingly months before Antec picked up on it might cast some doubt on their claim.
The light at the end of the tunnel?
It is clear that the LED fan has come far from its humble beginnings as a product of a bored modder and an afternoon's pottering in the workshop: each generation building on the previous; introducing a new element of flair or polish that distinguishes it from its forerunners.
Sandy's original LED fan may not have featured the fancy effects of Macro’s Strobe Fan, or the neatness of the commercial fans from Antec / Akasa et al, but there’s no doubt that the concept of the LED fan predates Antec’s Chinese patent application of April 2002 by a clear 6 months.
Irrespective of whether there is a distinct legal issue here or not, this whole issue has been something of a PR own-goal by Antec: there is already significant ill-feeling towards them amongst the community as a result of this news. Surely a more preferable (and indeed, more profitable) course of action for Antec would be to continue to innovate: why fight over yesterday's "it" product when you can influence tomorrow's must-haves?
Due to the Easter break, we were unable to reach anyone from Antec for comment, however, we hope to receive some clarification from them this week.
- Geoff Richards
Perhaps more concerning is the blatent 'rip-off' of ideas from the modding community. We at bit-tech have been used to seeing our ideas taken by Taiwanese companies and commercialised, then being sold to the modding community we have helped to create. We can deal with this. What seems to us to be a pretty heinous course of action is for Antec to take these ideas, put out not only by modders but by other companies prior to their patent application, and to attempt to grab the idea for their exclusive use.
I'm not saying that everything has to be Open Source and hippy-huggy, but to restrict innovation through patent law, especially for something that quite possibly isn't even your own original idea, just isn't cricket.
- Wil "Haz" Harris