I'm not a lawyer so I can't talk about whether it can be enforced in practice. But still, the fact that this open-source implementation doesn't reference the patent anywhere suggests that they didn't consider the legal implications properly.
- A patent isn't infringed unless an independent claim is infringed
- Claim #7 (the one with the equations) is a dependent claim (dependent on claim #1, which is independent)
The key questions seem to be:
- whether claim #1 is being infringed, and
- whether the patent is valid
They make money licensing IP to hardware manufacturers.
"Before WhatFreeWords existed, another group had released an open-source implementation of What3Words and published it on GitHub, and GitHub removed the repository after receiving a DMCA takedown notice from the What3Words company. It is likely that similar action would be taken against a WhatFreeWords repository on GitHub."
"We prefer to remain anonymous. The What3Words company has shown that they will attempt to cause problems for people distributing open-source implementations of the What3Words geocoding system, so it is easier if we are anonymous."
"WhatFreeWords is currently unavailable due to DMCA action from the What3Words company"
It's primary use is as a rent extraction device for its owners, if they can gain sufficient market share.
It is utterly useless without their app, uses a non-universal language (English vs math) and provides zero information about geography. The 3-word identification strings provide not the slightest clue whether two identified points are corners of the same building or literally on opposite sides of the planet (vs LatLong making it obvious that e.g., 42.36N 71.31W is relatively near 41.92N 71.48W).
It provides zero value to anyone trying to actually navigate, without using their app, and if you are going to navigate with an app, why not use any implementation of OpenStreetMap, or even the nearly ubiquitous Google or Apple maps? Hell, we're even better off with old paper postal maps than this scheme.
A slight about of temporary convenience for innumerate people is no good reason to implement a rent-extractive proprietary system.
In contrast, Google’s plus codes(https://plus.codes/) provide the same functionality but avoid the most of the pitfalls you mention.
If you wanted to encode the same data using words instead of alphanumeric characters (which is a debatable goal), then you could just combine it with WCodes (https://wcodes.org/)
Just check the topics: Free, Accessible Offline, Easy to Use, Non-Exclusive, Independent of Borders, Identifiable, Works in Unmapped Places, Variable Precision, Useful of Navigation (e.g.,nearby places have similar codes). . .
I don't think it is a particularly good idea, but insisting people use English isn't something they are doing.
Nice that they're making a nod to avoiding language hegemony
However, the numerals used in LatLong navigation are about as universal as a language gets, requiring no translation in written communications, and are among the first words learned in second languages. In contrast, the three random words can fall subject to all kinds of translation issues whenever crossing a language barrier.
Makes me realize that we'd need not only their app, but also their official translation table; makes it seem even more like a fractally bad idea.
I went out walking and wild camping for a few days recently, in areas of not much signal. I usually check in with family as I move about when I do these things, with location and updated plans, and I was surprised that my brother recommended it to me. He said it's becoming quite popular in search and rescue applications.
As it goes I did what I normally do an just pin my location on WhatsApp when I get a bit of signal, but in the right (wrong) circumstances I could see it being a good way to quickly convey location.
I can also see numerous issues with it.
But it made me think maybe there are applications, beyond navigation where it might be useful.
I'll keep an eye on this project anyway, I hope it survives.
deg * Math.PI / 360
ETA: This has been corrected. Thank you.
Based on their wordlist, they do seem to use American English (so they are probably not located in the UK) but the authors can still operate this project from anywhere in the world.
Mapping some bits of data to a short set of words or pictures isn't even new, neither is the hashing step to ensure that similar coordinates don't use the same name. Validating (session) keys by hashing the key to generate a fingerprint and turning that into words (or these days, emoji) was invented before W3W was conceived. The patent itself is quite flimsy, considering it's just applying some formulas to do something that was already being done on basically any data.
Moreover, an injunction is much more likely to be sought than damages, in which case extradition is unnecessary - all the patentees have to do is get an order from a judge forcing the hosts to take their code and site down.
There is a statute of limitations on patent damages but you don't lose your patent for failing to enforce.
I'm not familiar with UK or European patent law but I expect it's similar in this regard.
Apparently some emergency services recommend & use it.
Honestly I have never seen it in use. In most countries, if something is on a street, it has a street address, which is more convenient than W3W.
On the flip side, I have read stories of w3w success in giving an address to people where a normal street address is not possible, e.g. favelas https://www.reuters.com/article/us-innovation-what-3-words/w...
“I have fallen and broken my leg. I am under a rock at *thirty three point five nine six one three degrees north and one hundred and seventeen point seven nine six nine two degrees west. That’s thirty three point five nine six one three degrees north and one hundred and seventeen point seven nine six nine two degrees west.” Then wait for them to read it back to you. Then repeat that as many times as there are different people involved in the rescue.
Versus 3 word:
“I have fallen and broken my leg. I am under a rock at 3 word code: off-road — starfish — postmark.” Then wait for them to read it back to you. Then repeat that as many times as there are different people involved in the rescue.
Where I am rn, btw. (Though thankfully not my situation) And the number of decimal places more or less corresponds with the size of the 3 code and an appropriate level of precision, given the environment.
(from their FAQ):
The Go library is about 2.6 megabytes of source code, for similar reasons, and produces executables of at least about 5.7 megabytes.
If you can shrink any of this data or make any other improvements, then please contact us and we will be pleased to use your improvements."
It's a shame that he didn't have enough charisma and vision to become OSM's BDFL a la Python's Guido von Rossum. Having a single person could help transcend the current "continue status quo" and "lean OSM Foundation that does absolute minimum" paradigm which partially stem from from the fact that every change would meet with some opposition (which is hard to override if there's no clearly dominating power).