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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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Ridiculous patent applications

I first saw this story when it appeared on Matt Yglesias Moneybox blog on May 22. It has since been taken down, but you can Google the subject ("Oklahoma State University tries to patent a steak") and see that similar stories have been picked up by a lot of echoes.

Originally Matt Yglesias was joining the rest of us who cite ridiculous examples of patents and copyrights. In this one, he found that Oklahoma State University had applied for a patent on a cut of steak, or more exactly, how it is butchered.

It is not clear whether the patent will be denied, but one can no longer be sure. As Matt asks, how would this not be like other business or software patents? Such stretches have not proved beyond the capacity of the Patent and Trademark office to overcome its renowned reluctance to seek fees and constituent support.

But the thought also occurred to me that the University is enjoying so much publicity that it should continue its application or appeal any adverse finding just for the public attention.

Doubts about a patent

JAY VADIVELOO, who is a mathematics professor and also works as an actuary for an insurance company, writes in the New York Times about how he got a patent and makes it sound easy link here

He describes his invention: "Generally when an insurer performs certain calculations, it includes data from all its policies. If it has a million policies, that means a lot of processing as various scenarios are considered. Sometimes, the work can take days. I believed I had a solution to this cumbersome and costly process: create subgroups from the database, sample policies from each, repeat the process several times, then combine the results. My technique provides results similar to those from studying all policies, and saves time and money."

He doesn't note this but his procedure allows him to calculate not only the probable result but also a level of confidence in that result i.e., that this result will occur with a predetermined desired level of probability. He goes on to recount the actual process of getting the patent, but fails to note that there is nothing particularly original about his statistical process; it is a perfectly ordinary statistical sampling, designed to achieve a certain level of accuracy at minimal cost, based on a tested assumption about the distribution of the sampled population.

I wonder how long it will be before someone challenges his patent as neither unique nor original.

The latest expansion of copyright?

What's copywritable? Go fish in court.

The courts continue to get to make copyright and patent law. The latest involves Oracle which is suing Google over Oracle's Application Programming Interface (API) as well as other lesser elements.

The heart of the difference is whether the Java API can be copyrighted or not. Google has been using it in the belief that it was not protected, particularly for Android, Google's operating system for cell phones and tablets. Oracle which acquired the software from Sun Microsystems two years ago, has much to gain if it wins rumored to be as much as a billion dollars.

Oracle's case is that its API is copyrighted along with the underlying software code. Google argues that it can't be copyrighted because the elements of an API are like words, in free and common use.

If it loses, Google would have to eliminate the API or pay Oracle's price (or find a substitute to run the small free apps that are already widely used in Android gadgets).

The case took an odd turn last week, when the judge instructed the jury hearing the suit to assume that the copyright does cover the API but that he would issue his final ruling later in the proceedings. I suspect the jurors will take this to mean the judge has already intervened and made their efforts irrelevant. But that possibility will provide Google a basis to appeal.

Then on Friday, the judge sent aspects of the case to the jury link here. The best current status of the suit is described there in detail. For all the twists and turns, go to Groklaw link here for a daily account in extenso of the arguments.

Then today, a European court ruled in another case that an API is not copyrightable link here. Good for it, blocking the steady expansion of the reach of copyright.

Possible hepatitus C cure stymied by deadlocked patent owners

The downside of drug patents is once again evident in this example.

As Andrew Pollack reports in the New York Times, "A combination of two pills proved extremely effective in treating hepatitis C in a small trial, raising hopes among researchers that the disease will be curable without an injected drug that has debilitating side effects." link here

The two companies "owning" the drugs, however, are refusing to enter serious negotiations. Instead, they seem to be guarding their current patent monopolies and the profits generated thereby, while offering the public pablum justifications for not getting on with a deal that seems obvious and hugely in the public interest.

The clinical results are admittedly preliminary, but the implied criticism of current law and practice once again is strong evidence that major modifications of intellectual property law is urgent even as the current political climate offers little likelihood that it will be changed.

Germany has become the jurisdiction of choice for patent suits

KEVIN J. O'BRIEN writes in the New York Times about companies fighting over patents link here. The plaintiffs have taken to court-shopping by suing in Germany rather than in other jurisdictions. Companies fearful of having their German operations closed down by its courts are moving their operations elsewhere in Europe (Germany might now want to consider changing its law and practice).

The story fails to make the most important point, that patents under the US Constitution are intended to foster innovation. They should be so treated elsewhere. Instead, current company practice in both the US and around the world is to ignore that goal. They treat patents as a thing owned like land and physical objects, (in practice in perpetuity by amending the law to extend their life). Patents then become an important way to increase profits.

Patents and copyrights are happy-land for lawyers who also dominate our politics and write the laws that favor their profession. Candidates need to be asked their views on the issue.

"Most Innovations in Most Fields Are Not Patented."

AEI held a session on patents and patent reform building off Launching the Innovation Renaissance. Alex Tabarrok was one of the speakers, taking for his title "Most Innovations in Most Fields Are Not Patented." You can listen to a YouTube of part of his talk and see some related YouTubes at the end. His title says it all link here and link here. The entire conference is to be posted here

For books, it isn't just a choice between Apple and Amazon

Steve Pearlstein writes in the Washington Post about competition in the book selling business link here. He boils the policy issue down to picking your monopolist, Apple or Amazon. That doesn't really frame the choices consumers face.

His frame is either control of the ebook market by Amazon which priced them at $9.99 or by Apple, which raised prices by 30-40 percent through setting a wholesale price and letting retailers set the retail price, incidentally restoring the market in printed books to profitability.

The issue is moot for the moment, since the government has weighed in on the side of low prices but various interests have now gone to court.

Pearlstein leaves out the whole issue of copyright, in the absence of which none of this could have occurred. It is the original monopoly, on the basis of which any other associated monopolies rest. While it is unlikely that Congress will change copyright any time soon, it is important for consumers to know that competitive pricing of books depends on substantially reducing the term of copyright to somewhere between 10 and 20 years.

Patent office cranks up for patent re-exams

Susan Decker writes in the Washington Post about changing tactics in fighting patent suits, particularly the patent trolls link here.

The crucial paragraph states, "Requesting a government evaluation of whether a patent was properly issued, known as reexamination, is cheaper than a lawsuit and has an easier standard for discrediting a patent than what is allowed before a judge or jury. With a success rate of about 90 percent, companies have almost doubled requests in the past five years, turning the patent office into a reliable forum to shoo away competitors' claims of patent infringement."

The patent office is ostensibly gearing up to handle the burdens of a greater workload so that re-exams will be done more rapidly and professionally. We will have to see how this plays out. Past experience suggests a high level of skepticism, but the game plan sounds good. For details, see the article.

NYTimes critiqued for running self-serving RIAA propaganda

Dean Baker writes in the blog of the The Center for Economic and Policy NYResearch link here responding to a New York Times opinion column written by Cary H. Sherman the "chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents music labels." link here

Baker has much the better in the argument, pointing out that the Times has printed industry propaganda on more than one occasion.

Here are two paragraphs from his piece: "The real issue here is that copyright is an archaic property form that it is no longer practical to enforce in the Internet Age. Serious policy people should be looking to develop alternative mechanisms for financing creative and artistic work. Unfortunately, the organizations that ostensibly represent creative workers are not very creative. It is impressive that the NYT allows a piece from the industry to appear with apparently no fact checking. Two days earlier it had a similar column complaining about the failure of SOPA. Given its dominance of the NYT's opinion pages, it is understandable that the RIAA would be upset about the growth of independent voices on the Internet."

Mike Masnick chimes in link here with much the same criticisms.

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Most Recent Comments

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges Finally got around to looking at the comments, sorry for delay... Replying to Stephan: I'm sorry

Let's See: Pallas, Pan, Patents, Persephone, Perses, Poseidon, Prometheus... Seems like a kinda bizarre proposal to me. We just need to abolish the patent system, not replace

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges I'm a bit confused by this--even if "hired to invent" went away, that would just change the default

Do we need a law? @ Alexander Baker: So basically, if I copy parts of 'Titus Andronicus' to a webpage without

Do we need a law? The issue is whether the crime is punished not who punishes it. If somebody robs our house we do

Do we need a law? 1. Plagiarism most certainly is illegal, it is called "copyright infringement". One very famous

Yet another proof of the inutility of copyright. The 9/11 Commission report cost $15,000,000 to produce, not counting the salaries of the authors.

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece P.S. The link to Amazon's WKRP product page:

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece Hopefully some very good news. Shout! Factory is releasing the entire series of WKRP in Cincinnati,

What's copywritable? Go fish in court. @ Anonymous: You misunderstood my intent. I was actually trying to point out a huge but basic

Rights Violations Aren't the Only Bads I hear that nonsense from pro-IP people all the

Intellectual Property Fosters Corporate Concentration Yeah, I see the discouragement of working on a patented device all the time. Great examples

Music without copyright Hundreds of businessmen are looking for premium quality article distribution services that can be

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Patent Lawyers Who Don't Toe the Line Should Be Punished! Moreover "the single most destructive force to innovation is patents". We'd like to unite with you

Bonfire of the Missalettes!

Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? So, if our patent system was "broken," TFP of durable goods should have dropped. Conversely, since

Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? I wondered about TFP, because I had heard that TFP was increasing. Apparently, it depends on who

Music without copyright I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. They are very convincing and will