I seem to be finding a lot of interesting contract 'issues' recently. (here
Here is one about a software license that was not fully comprehended, a giant robot, some parked cars and a city in New Jersey.
Giant Robot Imprisons Parked Cars
The robot that parks cars at the Garden Street Garage in Hoboken, New Jersey, trapped hundreds of its wards last week for several days. But it wasn't the technology car owners had to curse, it was the terms of a software license.
The garage is owned by the city; the software, by Robotic Parking of Clearwater, Florida.
In the course of a contract dispute, the city of Hoboken had police escort the Robotic employees from the premises just a few days before the contract between both parties was set to expire. What the city didn't understand or perhaps concern itself with, is that they sent the company packing with its manuals and the intellectual property rights to the software that made the giant robotic parking structure work.
The Hoboken garage is one of a handful of fully automated parking structures that make more efficient use of space by eliminating ramps and driving lanes, lifting and sliding automobiles into slots and shuffling them as needed. If the robot shuts down, there is no practical way to manually remove parked vehicles.
In the days that followed, both sides dragged each other into court. Robotic accused Hoboken of violating its copyright. "This case is about them using software without a license," said Dennis Clarke, chief operating officer of Robotic Parking, in a telephone interview last week.
At the same time, Hoboken accused Robotic of setting booby traps in the code, causing the garage to malfunction. Then Robotic accused Hoboken of endangering its business by allowing a competitor into the garage.
In the meantime, many of the garage's customers simply couldn't get their cars out.
In cases of software like Microsoft Office or Quicken or Adobe Photoshop, there are enough paying customers to keep the price down to a reasonable level and to allow the person to keep using the software indefinitely. New operating systems and chipsets may come along and their software might not work on these, but if the user stays with the same vintage of hardware, they will be able to use their application for as long as they wish. The companies will even offer free patches and reduced prices for upgrading to newer versions.
For software like that from Robotic Parking (website here
), they may only sell a few hundred copies of this software each year and their software is very complex and has, absolutely has
, to be failsafe. Software of this sort with all the attendant testing will be expensive and considering that each and every installation will be different, this adds up to a very high cost of development. In cases like this, a License with a timer is the way to go. The company can be assured of continued revenues and the customer can be assured of an ongoing high level of support.
When I worked for Microsoft, my team was part of the development group for Windows Datacenter. This was a stripped-down release of Windows 2000 that was designed for large server farms and nothing else. You cannot buy this product, it comes bundled with the server farm and you then license it annually. You are given access to a crack team of support people and developers so you are assured of the best service that MSFT can provide.
When I worked for the Ocean Engineering company in Seattle, we used Computational Fluid Dynamics to work out designs for ship hulls and bridge piers. Same thing -- the market for that is only forty or fifty thousand 'seats' per year so they sell annual licenses and the software comes crashing to a halt on the 365.25th day.
I would love to have been at that City Council meeting where they discussed the fact that their robot garage wasn't going to work until they paid their bill... (Imagine a thick New Joisy accent: Hey Guido - yous'wanna get some of yo boys to work them over a bit?)
Here is a photo from Wired of the Hoboken facility: