Feb 162013

The following is a post that I had originally written in 2004 when I was a law student for my old “Great Change” blog. Given that patent reform remains a salient, timely issue — ie, see President Obama’s comments from this past week — I thought it would be a good time to repost it.

Today I took my first trip to the Patent Office for a meeting. It’s in a newish building in Crystal City, Washington’s urban-planning answer to La Defense in Paris.

The meeting aside, I approached the building with a sense of reverence, in no small part because of this letter to the editor I found in the New York Times archives:

To the Editor of the New York Times:

To the majority of uninformed inventors and the hundreds of applicants for patents, the charges of an inventor that the ills of our patent system are concentrated in the United States Patent Office and its personnel should call for further investigation. Another avenue has been opened to undermine and shake the confidence of American business. Another governmental agency is charged with being corrupt and dishonest, favoring big business and destroying the initiative of the individual inventor.

With the exception of the few Presidential appointees, the entire staff of the Patent Office is under Civil Service. Promotions in the various grades of examiners are made as the result of rigid promotion examinations and length of service. The rulings of the examiners and even the Commissioner of Patents himself are subject to review of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. The personnel of the Patent Office is one of the highest in the field of scientific endeavor, and the honesty and integrity of the individual examiners has always been considered as being second to none. In all my experience, both inside and outside the Patent Office, not a single charge of irregularity imputed to an examiner or appointed Patent Office official has ever been sustained.

No system built up on court decisions and past rulings of former Commissioners by which a governmental agency or bureau is guided can be perfect. Time changes all things, even the Patent Office. There may be just cause of complaint that the system is too costly; that too long a time intervenes before a patent is granted, and that the interference procedure is so complicated that court rulings are often in conflict. This condition is not the fault of the Patent Office, because the examiners are governed by Congress and the courts. It is immaterial to the examiner whether one contestant or another is successful in a litigation in the Patent Office. As a matter of fact, it may be charged that the examiners are too lenient in the granting of patents, with the result that inventors are often misled as to their limited rights and subsequently become involved in litigation. The benefit of a doubt is invariably resolved in favor of the individual inventor, and the Patent Office attempts to encourage him to reduce his invention to practice.

For years the Patent Office has not had the requisite number of employes[sic] to conduct its work with dispatch. It is one of the very few self-supporting agencies of the Government, and yet many of its divisions are months behind in their work. The Patent Office building is a relic of Civil War days, and a part of the work is conducted in the old Land Office building. There are now over 70,000 pending applications — nearly 1,350 applications for each examiner. Congress and not the Patent Office is responsible to the inventor.

Aaron L. Applebaum, New York, December 19, 1927.

At the time he wrote this letter was a patent lawyer who had also worked in the Patent Office for many years. And so it seems I will not be the first IP attorney in the family: he was also my great-grandfather.

May 062012

It’s not that providing legal services to the poor isn’t a worthy policy goal. However that worthiness does not vindicate any old policy nominally intended to serve that end, particularly if said policy either (a) doesn’t actually help achieve it, or, worse, (b) actually undermines it.

Such is the case of the rule promulgated by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, head of the New York court system and, by extension, the New York Bar. Beginning in 2012 this rule will require prospective applicants to the bar to have performed 50 hours of pro bono work to be eligible for admission.

While the goal of providing legal services to the poor is laudable, this rule is anything but. Not only will it fail to truly serve the constituency it purports to benefit, but it will also result in the deprivation of legal services to even more people by ultimately raising the their costs even higher than they already are.

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 Posted by at 8:29 am
Jan 182012

Recently the Centers for Disease Control used the prospect of a zombie attack to encourage Americans to think more about disaster preparedness. It was an interesting learning tool, using a premise seemingly silly and farcical but, as anyone who’s ever watched a zombie horror movie knows, nonetheless potentially dangerous. The idea of the dead coming after the living has always been the stuff of nightmares.

It also might not be quite so hypothetical. No, I don’t mean that the dead will rise from their graves and walk the streets looking for a fresh living brain to dine on. But in very real terms, the dead have an awful lot of dominion over the brains of the living, and that is plenty nightmarish too.
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 Posted by at 1:20 pm
Apr 242011

I have now been molested by the TSA three times. That’s three more times than the government had any business touching me in ways appropriate only for a boyfriend or gynecologist, but apparently it was possible to raise the bar for inexcusability even further, as this latest occasion showed.

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 Posted by at 11:56 am
Apr 262010

In 2001 the World Intellectual Property Organization (aka “WIPO“) thought to declare the 26th of April as World Intellectual Property Day. Oh sure they claim it was ostensibly:

“to further promote the awareness of intellectual property protection, expand the influence of intellectual property protection across the world, urge countries to publicize and popularize intellectual property protection laws and regulations, enhance the public legal awareness of intellectual property rights, encourage invention-innovation activities in various countries and strengthen international exchange in the intellectual property field.”

But all that was really a cover for WIPO’s true intention to make the world celebrate one of the finest intellectual property lawyers ever to walk the Earth: me. Really, why else would they have chosen my birthday as the perfect occasion for their so-called “IP celebration”?

Of course, as long as WIPO continues to be coy about its true intentions, we might as well celebrate some intellectual property today. Thus a perfect host for this week’s Blawg Review was Jeremy Phillips at his IP-focused IPKat blog. Not all the posts he reviews this week are necessarily IP-related ones, but he did kindly include a link to my Blawg Review covering the 300th birthday of the Statute of Anne.

Clearly WIPO’s not the only one who recognizes my awesome IP skillz…

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Apr 052010

I was asked to write a Blawg Review celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Statute of Anne. It may instead be more appropriate to mourn its death.

Obviously the Statute of Anne, having been put in force 300 years ago, almost to this day, is no longer good law in any jurisdiction. In fact, almost immediately after it was enacted it began to be transformed. But it stands as a turning point in the history of English law-based systems by being the first true instance of copyright law as we’ve come to know it. Prior to the Statute of Anne, the privilege to publish was invested by the monarch in just a handful of companies who had an exclusive monopoly on all publication. Nothing could be printed that the Stationers’ Company and its select few brethren did not deign to print, and they were endowed with police powers to enforce their total control of the market for printed works.

Clearly such total power over the creation and dissemination of written works would cause a politically restless populace to bristle, and Parliament eventually acted to wrest the Royal Privilege to publish from this cabal and restore it to the population at large. It is thus bitterly ironic that today, almost exactly 300 years later, the English Parliament stands ready to do the exact opposite and restore total control over the creation and dissemination of work to a new generation of monopolists.

What makes it so ironic is, of course, what has long been forgotten: that the Statute of Anne was passed as “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning.” The intent of the copy right it created was always to stimulate the dissemination of knowledge. Now, three hundred years later, we have the ultimate disseminator of knowledge: the Internet, yet in England — as well as countless other countries — copyright law is evolving to stop the spread of information — the exact opposite effect.

But its project has not yet succeeded, and the Internet is so far still able to provide a wealth of information, a small portion of which this Blawg Review will highlight as I explore the premise, promise and problems of the Statute of Anne and its legacy.

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 Posted by at 3:37 am
Apr 042010

The following is an example of why we need a free and open Internet.

Hearing a Seal song the other day reminded me of my visit to Russia way back in 1992. It was part of a high school exchange, and my host student and I got along great. So well, in fact, that it was incomprehensible that our worlds had been so closed off from each other. Now that they were open it was so nice to be free to connect with someone so much like me.

One of the ways we connected was through music. As I wrote a few years ago:

Although [my friend’s] English was good enough that we were able to converse, she wasn’t able to pick up the lyrics to songs she liked. One of them was [Seal’s] “Kissed by a Rose.” She had a sense that it was deeply poetic and asked me to transcribe the lyrics for her. The exercise forced me to listen to it closely and I realized she was right.

So I shared with her that music. She, for her part, gave me Yuri Shevchuk, whose lyrics were much the same.
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Mar 222010

Cyberlawyer Kevin Thompson reprises his Blawg Review hosting duties this week in #256, an edition devoted to the science fiction novel (not so much the movie) Dune. He included my recent post, “Runaway Secrets,” whose contemplation of technology dovetailed nicely with his overall futuristic theme. (He also paid a very nice compliment to my Huey Lewis and the News-themed Blawg Review from last year.)

I have always thought it good form to acknowledge the hosts who have acknowledged me. Unfortunately, I have often failed to live up to that ideal. Checking my records I see I’ve missed recognizing some hosts and would therefore like to use this opportunity to make amends.

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 Posted by at 1:32 pm
Mar 212010

As I write this, “health care reform” is working its way through the halls of Capitol Hill. At this point it seems assured that it will survive the parliamentary posturing to become law.

I am both glad and horrified by the news. Glad that it’s at least something, including some very necessary restraints on the private health insurance business. But horrified that (a) it really ONLY amounts to some regulation of private health insurance, (b) those reforms, without a public option or any concerted overhaul of how health care is provided in the United States, are likely to make healthcare even more expensive for many (including myself), and (c) the political posturing, even from both sides of the aisle, was so dysfunctionally entrenched, and just as frequently paranoid and obtuse, as to prevent a better solution from emerging.

I will be quite candid: I am no fan of Nancy Pelosi. Yes, the political values she represents are my values as well. But I thought both she and Rahm Emanuel were both so politically aggressive and obnoxious as to prevent good policy from emerging. On the other hand, maybe the heavy-handed strategy was necessary to get at least *something* done. The pushback by so many conservatives, and even some Democrats, against the notion of a public solution to health care provision was frightening, bewildering, and counter-productive to any of their stated agendas, and that’s what I write about here.

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 Posted by at 8:30 pm
Feb 262010

Read Part I.

I saw on BoingBoing recently a harrowing blurb:

Phone texts in Nigeria urged mass murder
“War, war, war. Stand up and defend yourselves. Kill before they kill you. Slaughter before they slaughter you. Dump them in a pit before they dump you.” — One of many mass-text-messages sent last week in Nigeria, inciting people to murder. And they did: some 350 were killed in Christian/Muslim violence.

What was so particularly disturbing about this news was watching history repeat itself (albeit this time in Nigeria). In the 1994 Rwanda genocide cell phones weren’t widely available, but there was the radio, and xenophobic Hutus used this media to convince ordinary Hutus to do their murderous bidding.

So what is the antidote for this sort of thing? To clamp down on free speech so no one may ever seek to inflame violent ethnic tensions? Hardly.

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 Posted by at 8:06 pm