Wednesday, June 13, 2012

2012 Millennium Technology Prize

Linus Torvalds
The Technology Academy of Finland has awarded its 2012 Millennium Technology Prize to co-laureates Linus Torvalds of Oregon and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan. Many consider the Millennium Technology Prize to be on a par with the Nobel prize, but focusing on the development of new technology. Torvalds won a share of this year's prize in recognition of his development of the Linux kernel, the core of the open source software movement. Dr. Yamanaka was awarded the prize for his discoveries in stem cell development.

Quoting from the Finish Academy's announcement regarding Torvald's accomplishment:
One of the most important elements of the system, which he still writes code for from his Oregon home, as far as its creator is concerned, is that it should be open source software, publicly licensed for anyone to use. “I think open source is so important, it is basically taking the scientific approach of building on top of the openly published work of others, and applying it to software. And software is too important in the modern world not to be developed that way.”
Congratulations to both!
Shinya Yamanaka

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

An Example Of Bad Patent Quality

The ability of an economy to grow is related to the restraints on development. Particularly important, restraints come each day from the Patent Office in the form of newly issued patents.In 2011, for example, the U.S. Patent Office issued 247,713 patents of all types, representing an average of 678 new patents issued each day, or 28 new patents each hour of every day.

So long as the new patents are consistent with the requirements of the Patent Act -- that is, so long as the patents are good patents -- then the economic restraint that comes from each new patent is hopefully offset with the societal value inherent in the patented invention.

But certainly not all patents are good patents. Some are bad, and the bad patents restrain the economy without benefiting the greater good in a manner consistent with the requirements of the Patent Act. Are there really bad patents? You bet. Consider this one:
The above Patent No. 6368227 (issued on April 9, 2002) grants a monopoly to a "Method of Swinging on a Swing." The inventor, Steven Olson of St. Paul, Minnesota, claims to have invented a "a new and improved method of swinging." Reading carefully the patent claims confirms to everyone but the most naive that this invention has been practiced by all of us years -- indeed, decades -- ago in our backyards. So why did the Patent Office issue this patent in the first place? No idea, but the good news is that it only took about a year for the Patent Office to reexamine the patent and cancel all claims (reexamination certificate dated July 1, 2003).

Or, consider this patent:
Pat. No. 5443036 was issued August 22, 1995 for a "Method of Exercising a Cat" by having the cat chase a beam of light. Many cat owners have used a light for this purpose, and many cats understand what it means to chase a light beam. Perhaps these cats know more than the examiner who approved this patent.

That these bad patents should never have been issued is certain to most of us. That the quality control of the Patent Office allowed these patents to issue should be shocking and upsetting to all of us. Not only does it cost the taxpayers money for the Patent Office to issue obviously bad patents, but the economy is not helped  when bad patents restrain economic growth. Bad economy, bad Patent Office.

Toward An Online Bill Of Rights

Sen. Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Issa (R-Cal.) have been vocal advocates against last year's Congressional steamroller that attempted to enact the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Pro IP Act (PIPA). The proposed legislation sought to impose government supervision on the use and function of the Internet. Loud public criticism stopped the steamroller, but Wyden and Issa believe that it may only be a matter of time before renewed energy becomes focused on enhanced Internet regulation.

In order to help focus the contours of public discussion for a free Internet, Wyden and Issa propose the development of a Digital Citizen's Bill Of Rights. Their belief is that this statement will establish minimum doctrinal standards to prevent the regulation of the Internet to fall below a base set of rights. Here are their proposed basic rights for the Internet:
1. Freedom - digital citizens have a right to a free, uncensored internet
2. Openness - digital citizens have a right to an open, unobstructed internet
3. Equality - all digital citizens are created equal on the internet
4. Participation - digital citizens have a right to peaceably participate where and how they choose on the internet
5. Creativity - digital citizens have a right to create, grow and collaborate on the internet, and be held accountable for what they create
6. Sharing - digital citizens have a right to freely share their ideas, lawful discoveries and opinions on the internet
7. Accessibility - digital citizens have a right to access the internet equally, regardless of who they are or where they are
8. Association - digital citizens have a right to freely associate on the internet
9. Privacy - digital citizens have a right to privacy on the internet
10. Property - digital citizens have a right to benefit from what they create, and be secure in their intellectual property on the internet
In my view, while a free Internet is important, so to is the freedom from harmful and illegal conduct that occurs on the Internet. A parent whose child is abused by cyberbullies will feel the need to provide some level of protection for improper Internet use, particularly when the actor resides in a foreign state that provides little or difficult legal protections. The same holds true for Internet purveyors of counterfeit goods, and other similar wrongful conduct. The notion of a free Internet is appealing, but the practical problems associated with undeveloped or difficult legal jurisdictions around the world provide, it seems to me, a practical impediment to a completely free Internet. When a person in a foreign state that provides little legal support against wrongful Internet usage can create international harm with little practical recourse, then a completely free Internet will not work.