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100-dollar laptop: UN secretary general's office shouldn't be used for exploiting the poor
Nazmul Huda

MY eyes were stuck to the news that the UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan, while launching a 100 dollar Laptop, on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, Tunisia, said "the invention is an impressive technical achievement. The project promises to provide flexible technology that can be used in any place, even in the desert without energy supply".
It is also reported that the UN is backing the project even with financial support thinking that it could help to promote education in the third world. A professor and his team mates of MIT (USA) have claimed the credit for the project and the invention (!).
At the very outset, let me state certain hard facts, which I believe will largely explain the title of this write-up. Long 31 years ago, in 1975, invented the Free-play Radio technology and demonstrated a working model in a jam-packed press conference on July 23, 1975 in Dhaka. The news came out in almost all the news papers in the country in addition to an editorial on the newspaper the following day.
Raymond Lee Organisation, Inc.(USA) wanted to take initiatives for patenting the invention and marketing the product (Receipt No.71001, dated 13 February 76) when I contacted them from the then West Germany. On the request of Bangladesh Science Museum, a working model was presented to them in 1978. The invention, although apparently a simple (addition of storage facility to a hand generator) one, was never conceived and publicly demonstrated by anyone on this earth before July 23, 1975. It opened the gate for free playing and playing low-powered electrical gadgets and equipments in remote and yet vast electricity-less areas of the world. Thus, the technology is especially handy for mass communication, mass literacy, emergency weather forecasting or as a life-saving communications tool following a natural disaster (be it in the coastal areas of the Bay of Bengal or New Orleans city), mass-scale low-powered emergency medical equipments etc. However, to reduce the price of a product with free-play facility and bring its price closer to the product without that facility, mass-scale production was a necessity, for which the desire to do so by the wealthy and powerful people who rule and control the world economy was also essential. But it appears that the world leaders were not keen to give the green signal unless and until the very free-play technology could be hijacked, first by the British and then by the Americans.
In 1989, 1 sent a brief on my inventions and research works (including the free-play radio) to ITDG (UK) in the hope of mutual cooperation. In reply, they informed me that they would be establishing an office in Dhaka soon and re-contact me after that. But they never contacted me again, although they opened their office in Dhaka all right. One fine morning, on August 28, 1996 to be precise, through a British High Commission press release in a local daily, a company named Bay-Gen proclaimed itself to be the inventor (!) of the Free-play radio, which was reported to be developed under British technical and financial assistance under the ODA programme. Immediately after the British press release, a wave of protests flooded the news papers and periodicals in terms of editorials, post-editorials, features, letters etc. in the country. Bangladesh Patent office gave me recognition as the inventor of the Free-play radio and congratulated me for the invention and wished all success. The Bangladesh government and I contacted the British High Commission, Bay-Gen company and the British Patent office, but no to-the-point replies were received. Understandably so, since the UK Patent office awarded a patent to a British named Trevor Bayliss in the 90's on a technology which was in display in the Bangladesh Science Museum since 1978 and which was publicly demonstrated even before, i.e. in 1975, which is not only unethical but also highly illegal.
The illegal invention of Bay-Gen received BBC product design award 1996 also. When the matter was raised to the BBC, they replied "development of the Bay-Gen is not a BBC matter". A question was asked on the conscience of the BBC "Had it been the other way round i.e. a British invention in 1975, could you still have given a BBC product design award to a Bangladeshi company in 1996 and a reply to the British inventor ". .... not a BBC matter"? But no reply was received.
According to a report titled "Launch set to go like clockwork published in a foreign news paper, Bay-Gen received a multi-million pound cash boost from the GEC(USA) and planned to produce devices like free-play radio (originally planned for use in African bush for fighting aids, with the blessing of the President Nelson Mandela, which would go on sale throughout the world for about 50 pounds), mobile-phone charger, torch light, even TV sets etc. in its plan to launch a billion-pound business. During the recent war with Iraq, the BBC talked about (and showed the product) using 5000 free-play radios by the allied forces.
The 100-dollar laptop authorities must have acquired the hand-cranking free-play technology's manufacturing right from the illegal patent holder as already mentioned above. A hand-cranking mobile-charger is recently flooding the local market @ USD 2, and appears to be a Chinese or Taiwanese product although no manufacturer's name is printed, without caring for any patent rights. The president of a Japanese company appears to be right. He came to Dhaka towards the end of December '04 to discuss with me the modalities of acquiring the manufacturing rights of my new invention of free-electricity (2002) and commented on my new invention "the Americans will not care for your patent on such technologies, some Japanese companies may care but not every company will and the Chinese wouldn't take more than seven days to reach your home with a manufactured product if they get a prototype". He further added "some people told me that you did not elaborate in certain places in your patent paper"'. I replied "75 per cent answer of your question have just been replied by you yourself. Besides, there is hardly any time left to complete the patent formalities for the invention. I am not sitting idle, I am trying to develop a better process, and also to make a prototype with that". At that time, I also discussed with him about my hand-cranking mobile charger technology which he appreciated and now I can see the manufactured product in the market.
My new invention of free-electricity has already been registered with World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) with a filing No. PCT/IB03/03366 dated August 04, 2003. The 44-page story with diagrams and a very favourable search report from the American Patent Office (USPTO) acting as the International Searching Authority (ISA), has also been published by the WIPO in the form of a booklet and is also in the display of WIPO website since 04 March 2004, under publication No. WO 2004/019476 dated March 04, 2004 (revised on April 22, 2004 for correction and again on July 22, 2004 to accommodate the ISA report). Actually, the ISA report dated April 21, 2004 from the USPTO was delayed by about five months. When the legal section of WIPO was contacted, they replied "there may be special circumstances where time is needed to resolve matters arising in connection with important workload in certain technical areas etc. As to your particular case, I would suggest that you contact the USPTO directly. You may also inquire about any refunds in such a case." Accordingly, I contacted the USPTO, but I did not get a proper reply.
On July 04, 2004, the patent paper of my new invention was sent to many notable eastern/western universities of the world for their evaluation and comments. Although the "Innovation" magazine of Singapore National University opined it to be a "too high level research work", the MIT (USA) refused to give any comment on it. People started saying that the MIT was busy in building a mobile laptop using Bangladeshi technology and therefore it refused to talk at that time. Energy Technology Innovation Project of Harvard University (another university of USA) replied "we (the project of Harvard) do not do any original research either of science or of technology'. Most of the Universities of the Western world replied "this is not our project, we do not want to be involved". My answer to all the universities was "I certainly honour your decision if it is honest and non-racial. But the way my free-play technology was hijacked, how can I be sure"? I did not get any further reply.
A journal of the Physics faculty of a notable university of Canada was almost ready to publish the paper. But they asked me for my postal address on the plea of "addressing me properly". As soon as they found out that I am from the Third World, they did not correspond with me any more. A New York born President of the Conserve Energy Engg. Inc. wrote to me while reading my paper "I am impressed with the parts that I have read. The dangers in bringing forth a low cost or free energy source, dangers that you must be aware of by now, the "powers to be" or most certainly in the USA, Corporate America and also the worldwide Oil Mafia, will do just about anything to protect their interests". Not a single university, however, could point out any fault in my paper and I strongly believe that my pressure motion equivalence theory is correct and there is no scientific basis behind Newton's third law of motion.
Although I received a local patent on my new invention of Free-electricity (and a very favourable search report from the International Searching Authority), I could not manage patents in other countries for want of sky-high financial requirements. Since I am a member of the International Federation of Inventors' Association (IFIA), Switzerland, and the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers (IEEE), USA, and an invited scientist of many inventors' associations like East-West Euro Intellect, World Association of Inventors, SIMED etc., I had requested the inventors' associations to try to make an arrangement to evaluate a WIPO published patent paper with a favourable search report, after the leading universities of the world had expressed reluctance to do so. An inventor cannot plead his case himself in the national phase of an international patent application. An attorney or at least an address of correspondence in that particular country is required, which is highly expensive and really impossible for an inventor of a third world country. As it is, the basic fees for pursuing a patent is exorbitantly high too.
Coming back to the comments of the UN Secretary General on the 100 dollar Laptop, it is worth mentioning that there was again a wave of protests in the leading local dailies against the hijacking of the Bangladeshi technology of Free-play Radio by the 100 dollar project authorities. On the question of 100 dollar Laptop's technical achievement as opined by the UN Secretary General, I became tired and was unable to find any such thing. The Linux operating system, the flash memory instead of hard disks/CD-Rom drives, the LCD displays (the dual-mode display as claimed by the project was not operational in the WSIS prototype. The prototypes were shown with conventional transmission TFT LCD displays) etc. are pretty old technologies. Cheap components have been used in the 100 dollar Laptop. But one who knows about the definition of "invention", should understand that merely using cheap things to reduce the price does not constitute an invention. Use of "parasitic power" of typing, although not a totally new idea, could, however, be considered an achievement if it could be economically and reliably utilised. But I am afraid, this seems not to be the case so far. Using of low-cost, low-power and high resolution eInk displays will be a good idea, but the project's undisclosed technology appears to be not a novel one either and understandably the project has no plans to patent their display innovations(!). As far I understand, the project authorities are not confident enough to bring such display innovations(!) in the market before the hardy Chinese (without any UN backing or multi-million pound cash boost from GEC, USA).
At the UN conference in Tunisia, several African officials, most notably Marthe Dansokho of Cameroon and Mohammed Diop of Mali were suspicious of the motives of the project, and claimed that the project was using an overly American mindset that presented solutions not applicable to specifically African problems. Dansokho said the project demonstrated misplaced priorities. Diop specifically attacked the project as an attempt to exploit a new market under the guise of "non-profitability". He further added "It is a very clever marketing tool. Under the guise of non-profitability hundreds of millions of these laptops will be flogged off to our governments. That's the only way of achieving the necessary economies of scale to get the price low. They've finally found a way of selling to a huge number of poor people. Even at a hundred dollars, as the well-dressed Africans were pointing out last night, these things are absolutely not a bargain for an African child. Schooling for a year would make more sense. Better food would be nice. If it ever does make sense for Africa's children all to have laptops, this will surely not be until the price of them goes down to something nearer to ten dollars than a hundred. My guess is they will all have mobiles long before. And we don't need to give this one away. If somebody puts in the research to design the thing and really, really optimises for cost, I'm sure there's a Chinese factory somewhere you can build it for". Mr. Bill Gates in his criticism said "The world's poorest two billion people desperately need healthcare, not laptops".
Unfortunately, my "free-play" technology has been hijacked and incorporated in the 100-Dollar Laptop to reach a vast population of electricity-less poor people (without incorporating free-play technology this wouldn't have been possible). Even a profit margin of barely USD 25 in the cleverly designed marketing plan of "one laptop per child (OLPC)" suggests a profit of only(!) USD 50 billion, from the world's poorest two billion people. What a Nobel-prize winning marketing plan indeed!
The western world preaches for open-market economy, but this OLPC marketing plan, with a minimum market lot of 1.0 million, will be executed through the corrupt governments -- the beneficiaries of so-called western assistance programmes through World Bank, IMF etc. while the common people have to shoulder all the loans with cleverly designed effective heavy interests, so-called donors, absolutely loyal to their masters the NGOs, and other similar arrangements under the umbrella of UN.
One Mr. Lee opined "The UN is backing the project because it can help promote education in the third world". But the question is, what is the per capita income of the vast targeted people? I am afraid, the figure may not be very much away from USD 100, if the income of the western so-called assistance-nourished so-called elite groups are not taken into account. Therefore, after being forced to buy a 100 dollar Laptop, he wouldn't have anything to eat, anything to live on or anything to wear but it is a must for the poor, although optional for the western people. However, the OLPC project will be first launched in countries like Nigeria, Egypt, India, China, Brazil, Argentina and Thailand. Between five million and 15 million units are expected to be provided to these countries.
Actually, even the computers failed to calculate the wealth gathered by the powerful and leading arms producing countries of the world each year. They invest the surplus wealth in a highly profitable business of so-called assistance programs (in terms of interest, supporting even the misdeeds of the so-called donors, listening to harmful dictations, serving as an assured market and accepting all kinds of garbage tools and so-called experts etc.) by channelling the money through the world Bank, IMF, loyal NGOs and similar tools. They create and spread conflict and corruption and demoralise the people in other countries in order to sell their arms and to arrest their progress with an ultimate view to keeping a vast assured market and less powerful nations to rule.
In the WSIS, Mr. Kofi Annan also said "This is not just a matter of giving laptop to each child, as if bestowing on them some magical charm. The magic lies within -- within each child, within each scientist, scholar or just plain citizen in the making. This initiative is meant to bring it forth into the light of day". But the question is: why should anyone be a scientist in a third world country? To give scope to the western world for hijacking their inventions or to helplessly tolerate USPTO delaying the search report by 5 months (on grounds of special circumstances when time is needed to resolve matters arising in connection with important workload in certain technical areas etc.) without giving compensations or to become a puppet to the whims of the rich people where "intellectual property" has been very cleverly and effectively been shaped as "rich people's property" or to get no answers either from the governments or from patent offices on the question of alleged hijacking of inventions or to discover racism in leading western universities when they were reluctant/failed to evaluate a scientific paper or simply to be a victim of the West /oil Mafia in trying to do good to mankind?
If the UN sincerely believes in the welfare of the third world, why shouldn't it try at least a few following things:
1. Close all the arms manufacturing plants in the world.
2. Make "intellectual property" as an "intellectual property" in reality and not "rich people's property" effectively : (a) Make arrangements so that an individual scientist of the Third World can get a patent for the whole world with a maximum expenditure of USD 100. He should be allowed to plead his case himself and perform all the necessary formalities from his own residence through correspondence with his own equivalent currency.
(b) Fully assist in fighting the "hijacking of inventions" cases, including my one in the International Court of Justice.
(c) Make arrangements to evaluate a WIPO published patent paper with a favourable search report.
3. Monitor the ill-motivated so-called assistance programmes through IMF, World Bank, loyal to their masters the NGOs and similar tools of the West.
4. Do not be a party to the huge profit-making programmes of the West by exploiting the poor in disguise of humanity, child care, education and God knows what not.
5. Do not allow the West to escape competition from hardy nations under the umbrella of the UN by marketing any product forcibly (invisible) in huge numbers through corrupt governments, so-called donors, loyal NGOs and similar agencies.
The writer takes immense interest in science and innovation. Views expressed and positions taken in this article are entirely his own