I was quite surprised to see that Microsoft had come up with the idea of a “family-aware clock” with a hand for each member of the family that points at their location. See, I remember reading about that clock before – there’s one in the Weasley’s house, remember?

The Weasley's clock Microsoft's clock

It had nine golden hands, and each of them was engraved with one of the Weasley family’s names. There were no numerals around the face, but descriptions of where each family member might be. “Home,” “school,” and “work” were there, but there was also “travelling,” “lost,” “hospital,” “prison,” and, in the position where the number twelve would be on a normal clock, “mortal peril.” (The Goblet of Fire, Chapter ten)

I wonder whether publishing an idea in a book gives J. K. Rowling legal rights to the idea? Though clearly the Weasley’s clock uses magic rather than location data from mobile phones to plot the wherabouts of the family. This is the kind of ambient device I’d be happy to own. Imagine how calm you’d feel when your child had been gone a little too long but you could see at a glance that she wasn’t in mortal peril?

I read about the clock at Textually.org, where there was a link to a Harry-Potter-ignorant article. A search quickly found plenty of Harry Potter fans surprised at Microsoft’s not mentioning the rather obvious source of their idea. Seeing how the Microsoft version has even copied the design of the movie clock, I’m going to assume the journalist misrepresented this rather than that Microsoft would actually claim to have come up with the idea independently.

5 thoughts on “family-awareness clock

  1. secret admirer

    Microsoft? Isn’t that the company that wrote Harry Potter?

  2. David

    I think unfortunately merely speculating about a technolgy doesn’t give one the rights to it. Otherwise Arthur Clarke would have invented geosynchronus satellites among other things.

    Still, if that is where they got it some kind of salutation would seem in order.

  3. tormodh

    I suspect there are lots of cases where ‘the scientists’ have been reading some fiction and thought; “Ooooh, that’s neat. How can I make it work in the real world?”

    All ideas need to be just that; ideas. Someone creative needs to get an Idea, and someone – possibly the same person needs to sit down and find out how to make it. Preferably before anyone manages to tell him that it is impossible. 🙂

  4. Eirik

    This is a question of patent rights versus copyright, I would think. The copyright to the sentences quoted in your posting is automatically granted to the author, whereas Rowling would have to apply for a patent for the exclusive rights to the concept of a family-aware clock. In my opinion there is nothing unfortunate about this: imagine a world in which everyone who utters something in public has the exclusive right to any idea contained int their utterances. As for Arthur C. Clarke, he never claimed in seriousness to have invented the geosynchronous satellite, nor did he say that he was the first to get the idea. What he does say, though, is that he was one of the first (if not _the_ first) to point out in public (in “Wireless World” magazine, 1945) that a simple fact of physics could turn out to be very useful if spaceships were ever invented (they did not exist at the time).

    Maybe Microsoft should give Rowling some sort of credit, but this presupposes that she actually was the first one to come up with this idea. I haven’t seen any proof that she did, so in this case I am willing to give MS the benefit of the doubt… 🙂

  5. Stephen

    “In 1982 the examination of Paul Usherís Patent Application for a Dog Doorbell cited as ëprior artí the publication of the same invention on the front page of the Beano ñ Dennis the Menace had built one for Gnasher!”


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