A Stroll through Patent History

And a look at how the other side of IP, disclosure to the public, doesn’t always seem to make economic sense — the unexplored question, of course, is whether the actions of these subjects led to a deceleration or acceleration in overall innovation and technological development (a very tough research question in this context, although an examination of trade secret protected domains might be a worthwhile parallel): A Stroll Through Patent History [pdf]

The conventional wisdom among economists has been that a robust patent system helped transform the United States into an economic powerhouse. And this may be true. But, Professor Moser concludes, what was good for America and Britain in the 19th century is not necessarily good for emerging, largely rural economies in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

“In economics, we are taught that patent laws are what create incentives for innovation,” she said. “But many of the best innovators in what was the high technology of the day came from some of the smallest countries in Europe, and these nations did not have patent laws.”

Professor Moser found, for example, that Swiss inventors tended to concentrate their efforts in watch making and specialized steel making for scientific and optical instruments. Their innovations were exceedingly difficult to reverse-engineer and thus were successfully guarded as trade secrets.

“There were competitions in England to reproduce some Swiss innovations in steel,” Professor Moser said. “But the English just couldn’t figure out how to do it. The Swiss would have been silly to patent these innovations.”

That is because the purpose of patents is twofold: to protect the inventor and to speed technological progress. Thus, patent laws require that an inventor, in a quid pro quo exchange for the limited monopoly that a patent provides, disclose his methods to others. “Countries without patent laws have much larger shares of their innovations where patenting would have been a bad idea,” Professor Moser said.

Downhill Battle WWW Site Launch

DownhillBattle.org launches their legal defense fund today:

Downhill Battle is very proud to announce the Peer-to-Peer Legal Defense Fund. The fund was created to support the families and individuals that have been sued by the record companies and to help fight the RIAA suits. The Defense Fund’s contribution system runs on a peer-to-peer model: rather than collecting contributions centrally and later distributing them, donors give directly to a family or individual that’s been sued. Our open source software tracks donations and rotates the name that appears in the contribution box so that the person with the lowest contributions so far is presented to potential donors. Over time, contributions are distributed evenly without the need for a middleman.

We hope you’ll join the fight against the RIAA lawsuits by making a contribution to one of the people who’s been sued:

See the flyers

ACLU Helps BC RIAA Target

NYTimes — A.C.L.U. Challenges Music Industry in Court [pdf]

Stepping up its involvement in the legal conflict over file sharing, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a motion to stop attempts by the music industry to get the name of a Boston College student who is accused of being a large-scale file trader.

[…] The civil liberties group argues that the constitutional rights of its client, referred to as Jane Doe, would be violated if her college, which is also her Internet service provider, were forced to reveal her name. The industry subpoena “seeks to strip Jane Doe of her fundamental right to anonymity,” according to the group’s court filings.

[…] “We’re not saying that they can’t ever get her identity,” said Christopher A. Hansen, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. “We’re only saying if the industry wants her identity, then they have to do it in a fair way.”

Donna Channels Charlie Nesson

Donna’s Copyfight post over the weekend raises a question that Charlie Nesson has posted to the Pho list: can artists just use standard net hacktivist tools to impede infringement of their copyrights without resorting to changes in the structure of the internet? Or have such methods already been outlawed by other efforts? Donna tracks the discussion here: Let the Music Pay III

Update: Derek points out the obvious problem — at what point are we really ready to give anyone the presumptive right to undertake a DoS? See Raise Your Hand If You Think DoS Attacks Are Good

Jenny Rises To OCLC’s Defense

Jenny Levine unhappily defends OCLC’s suit of The Library Hotel in Make Sure You Hear OCLC’s Side of the Story. Earlier coverage is here (A new trademark suit) and here (NYTimes on the Library Hotel/Dewey Lawsuit).

Although Jenny’s cites of the OCLC press release seem to make a good point, Infringing Actions points out (the Blogger link may not get you there) that a search at the PTO site of the trademarks “Dewey” or “Dewey Decimal Classification” show that the registration is for publications – "periodical publication; namely, an index relating to a system of classifying the field of human knowledge," for example. One registration, "promoting public awareness of a library classification system ," may be pertinent to the Library Hotel, but the others are not close.

Infringing Actions concludes:

But, the OCLC lawsuit does not claim that the Library Hotel has misappropriated the system itself; indeed, while refinements of the Dewey Decimal System are apparently ongoing, the basic system itself has been in existence for more than 100 years. The question appears to be whether, when viewed in the context of hotel services, the references to the DEWEY marks would cause a consumer to believe that the hotel services are somehow sponsored, approved, or sourced by the OCLC. This appears to be a question of fact that may very well preclude a quick resolution of the allegations.

[…] In the end, the Library Hotel may have decided that it made more sense to fight this publicly, enduring the free exposure that news of the lawsuit would bring, than it would have been to settle it quietly by taking a license.

Yes, it may be that the OCLC has to defend the trademark, but I think it’s easy to see that there might be very good reasons why the hotel’s management elected to let the dispute end up in a courtroom.

Incomplete NYTimes Article

The title is suggestive, but the posting is incomplete: Guarding Privacy vs. Enforcing Copyrights [pdf]. I’ll have to look at the dead tree version to see what’s missing.

The issues came into sharp focus recently in two data firestorms. In one, Internet denizens expressed outrage over the lawsuits the recording industry filed against 261 people accused of being large-scale swappers of pirated music. At the same time, equally fierce outrage met news that JetBlue Airways had handed over customer records to a military contractor for a test program to blend the data with personal financial information from another company to spot likely terrorists.

RFID in the NYTimes

How to Find That Needle Hopelessly Lost in the Haystack [pdf] is the NYTimes’ look at RFID in products and the privacy issues. Slashdot discussion: NYT on RFID

But as business’s interest in the technology grows, so do efforts by privacy advocates to place strict limits on its use.

“Very few people grasp the enormity of this,” said Katherine Albrecht, director of Citizens Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, a group that was founded in 1999 to protest the use of frequent shopper cards and credit cards to collect data on individual consumers’ purchasing habits.

Ms. Albrecht and other critics say that companies and government agencies will be able to monitor what people read or where they assemble from radio tags embedded in their books or woven into clothing. Unlike bar codes, which cannot be scanned unless a laser has a direct line of sight to them, the radio tags can be read through walls, and multiple tags can be read in an instant.

“R.F.I.D. certainly has value in the supply chain and in inventory management,” said Beth Given, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. But she added that “there are so many potential issues once it gets beyond the point of sale that consumer protections need to be written into law.”

The CD Price Cuts — Fallout

Today’s NYTimes suggests that Universal’s CD price cuts are going to be felt in unheralded, but unsurprising, places: CD Price Cuts Could Mean New Artists Will Suffer [pdf] The agonies of industry change, or something more sinister?

Initially delighted by the promise of lower CD prices, Mr. Groeger and other independent retailers quickly soured on the details of the plan, which he says will hurt independent music stores and developing artists. The plan squeezes stores’ profit margins on each CD and ends promotional subsidies to retailers to push new albums like Thursday’s.

“I care about that band a lot, and I care about developing artists more than anyone,” Mr. Groeger said Saturday in a telephone interview. “But I told him it is a two-way relationship. They are hurting me with these new policies. I don’t see why I should help them out.”

[…] In addition to ending various promotional subsidies, these critics say, Universal’s new pricing system further squeezes the profits of the hard-pressed independent music stores and specialized chains like Music- land or Tower — the places that typically give artists their start. Such stores have already been closing in droves, with hundreds more expected to shut down this year.

“Emerging artists are going to be shut out because of the fewer dollars flowing to independent retailers,” said Robert Haber, founder of CMJ Network, which tracks new performers and college radio playlists. “Things that are not good for independent retailers are not good for emerging artists.”

If the policy thwarts the development of new talent, it could boomerang to hurt the major labels as well. Building audiences for the new acts that might become next year’s blockbusters is a growing problem, label executives say. The swift consolidation of the commercial radio business and its use of more scientific market research is making it harder to get air time for unfamiliar artists. Meanwhile, mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart Stores and other chains like the electronics giant Best Buy, which seldom stock any unproven artists, increasingly dominate music sales. Mass merchandisers and chains together now make up more than 80 percent of the market.

[…] But Universal also faces a market dominated by the mass merchandisers, said Michael Nathanson, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein. “It is going to be ugly for the independent stores,” he said, “but the music companies are in a no-win position right now.”

Salon Reports The IEEE’s Not Doing Much Better on E-Votes

From Salon: Another case of electronic vote-tampering?

Advocates of the audit-trail requirement claim that the IEEE standards group has been hijacked by a “cabal” representing the voting equipment industry; this industry coalition has systematically attempted to “disenfranchise” its critics by abusing technicalities in the meeting bylaws, these activists charge.

“I think they do want to prevent stronger security methods from going into the standard,” says David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford who is one of the leading advocates of verifiable ballots in electronic systems. “I feel that we are being deliberately shut out of the process.”

Rebecca Mercuri, a computer scientist and a research fellow at Harvard who has long questioned the security in electronic voting systems, says that the entire standards process has been shrouded in secrecy. “It’s not just the fact that they have all these rules,” she says. “We could live with the rules. But when someone asks for a clarification of the rules, they change the rules to suit their purposes.”