July 19, 2007

A Fight’s A-Brewin’ [9:03 am]

High tech, biotech clashing on patent billpdf

Biotech and high technology, two key Massachusetts industries, are often seen as allies — innovation-driven businesses that depend on a highly educated workforce. But this week they’re on opposite sides of a fight playing out in Washington: How to overhaul the nation’s patent system.

[...] “There are very few issues I think where we disagree,” said Joyce Plotkin , president of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council , a local high-tech lobbying group. “The interesting thing about the problems on this, for some reason, is there doesn’t seem to be progress.”

[...] “Both biotech and high tech have come on the scene relatively recently, and patent law is in the process of adjusting,’ said Emery Simon , a lawyer for the Business Software Alliance , a high-tech trade group in Washington.

“Right now the patent law works pretty well for one set of inventors,” he said, referring to biotechnology and drug firms. “It works less well for our industry.”

The discord highlights the increasing complexity and importance of patent law. Created to ensure basic protections for inventors, the law has become both an insurance policy for innovative businesses and a weapon in ferocious corporate legal wars. In some industries, such as medical devices, nearly every major company is tied up in a web of patent-infringement suits with its competitors, all designed to block or delay competing products. In high tech, large firms complain of so-called patent trolls, small companies with a portfolio of unused patents that make infringement claims against successful products, winning millions of dollars in settlements.

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Google and Free Trade Policy [8:53 am]

Taking a page from the way that the US has exported its copyright policies around the world: Google’s Free Trade Agendapdf

For the past several months, Google has been quietly lobbying the U.S. government to include restrictions against Internet censorship as a stipulation in free trade agreements with other countries.

The California-based Internet giant says that barriers to the free flow of information over the Web restrict commerce and economic development, and should therefore be considered barriers to free trade as well.

[...] It’s a new approach to an area of international trade that is still largely undefined. If an Internet company operating in a foreign country is suddenly exposed to censorship, it has virtually no recourse. Google, it seems, wants to get the rules in writing up front.

There’s also a potentially tremendous financial concern. If left unattended to, Web censorship could end up costing Google and other Internet companies a bucket of cash if they have to comply with foreign governments’ whims over Internet content.

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The Free Culture Argument In A Different Context [8:48 am]

I know, Larry’s book talks about the use of the law and technology to empower incumbents to retain and consolidate their positions — here’s a slightly off-center context: The Worlds Top-Earning Modelspdf

But if opportunities for superstardom were waning in the modeling world, the ones who did make it could stay there longer than ever thanks to the advent of retouching. “It’s completely stopped the aging process,” says Elite agent Richard Habberley, who represents Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio (who, at 26, need not worry about that just yet).

Eighties ubermodel Christie Brinkley, at 52, reclaimed her Cover Girl contract and appears none the worse for 20 years having passed. Christy Turlington, 38, and Linda Evangelista, 42, are also bagging new contracts, and look in advertisements almost exactly as they did back in their supermodel glory.

For example: Here’s Our Winner! ‘Redbook’ Shatters Our ‘Faith’ In Well, Not Publishing, But Maybe God; also see Greg Apodaca’s demonstrations

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The Internet Regulators’ Favorite Targets In The News [8:17 am]

I am tasked with teaching the introductory technology and policy class this fall, so I’ve been doing a lot of interesting reading. Roger Pielke’s The Honest Broker is a look at the use and abuse of science (by both policymakers and scientists) in policy development, and this article is a perfect illustration of the latent agendas that people bring to a debate through the introduction of scientific results: Debate on Child Pornography’s Link to Molesting

The study, which has not yet been published, is stirring a vehement debate among psychologists, law enforcement officers and prison officials, who cannot agree on how the findings should be presented or interpreted.

The research, carried out by psychologists at the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is the first in-depth survey of such online offenders’ sexual behavior done by prison therapists who were actively performing treatment. Its findings have circulated privately among experts, who say they could have enormous implications for public safety and law enforcement.

[...] Adding to the controversy, the prison bureau in April ordered the paper withdrawn from a peer-reviewed academic journal where it had been accepted for publication, apparently concerned that the results might be misinterpreted. A spokeswoman for the bureau said the agency was reviewing a study of child pornography offenders but declined to comment further.

[...] “We believe it unwise to generalize from limited observations gained in treatment or in records review to the broader population of persons who engage in such behavior,” a bureau official wrote to the organizers of a recent law enforcement conference, in a letter dated May 2 and given to The Times by an expert who is hoping the study will be published.

Some prosecutors say they could use the study to argue for stiffer sentences. While some outside researchers agreed that the risk of over-generalizing the study’s results was real, almost all the experts interviewed also said that the study should still be made public.

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Looking Beyond Antitrust [8:02 am]

Although, it is a Congressional investigation, so who knows what will actually come of it. After all, what progress (heck, attention!) has Congress really made on this issue? Congress to Examine Google-DoubleClick Deal

Within days of the deal’s announcement in April, companies including Microsoft, AT&T and some in the advertising industry, began to complain that the merger of Google and DoubleClick would limit competition in the online advertising market. Privacy groups, meanwhile, voiced concerns about the deal’s impact on consumer privacy. In May, the Federal Trade Commission began an investigation into the proposed merger.

Now, a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to call a hearing to explore the antitrust and privacy issues raised not only by the Google deal but also by recent consolidation in the online advertising market, according to a person familiar with the planned hearing.

Bobby L. Rush, the Illinois Congressman who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee on consumer protection, said he had opened an investigation into the privacy and competition issues raised by the Google-DoubleClick deal and also planned to call a hearing.

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