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Archive for April, 2007

Get the Supreme Court to do it for you, by establishing more rigorous standards for obviousness:

The justices today unanimously overturned a decades-old test used by the lower court that handles patent appeals, saying the lower court went too far to shield patents from legal attack. […]

The decision extends a Supreme Court trend that has put new limits on patent rights. In today’s case, the justices heeded arguments from large computer companies and automakers that the lower court test, which centered on the requirement that an invention be “non-obvious,” had given too much power to developers of trivial technological improvements.

In a second ruling today, the court gave software makers new protections from patent lawsuits on exports, ruling that Microsoft Corp. doesn’t owe damages to AT&T Inc. for copies of the Windows operating system installed on computers overseas.

Via Slashdot. For those who aren’t up to speed on patent idiocy, the Supreme Court has had to start addressing the giant patent mess created by lower cour rulings in the 70s and 80s that legitimised (among other things) software patents and business method patents.

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Update to my previous post about the declining bee population: it appears that the real culprit is a parasitic fungus, and not cell phones:

A fungus that caused widespread loss of bee colonies in Europe and Asia may be playing a crucial role in the mysterious phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder that is wiping out bees across the United States, UC San Francisco researchers said Wednesday.

Since the quality of science reporting in the Independent seems to be something of a fiasco, I promise not to rely it anymore to relay interesting stories.

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Hat tip to Steven Landsburg (via Eugene Volokh): Michael Kremer suggests letting the government buy up the patent and put it in the public domain, with an auction system to determine what the fair market value of the patent would be.

Quoth the blog post:

When you design a better mousetrap, we grant you a patent. The next day, the government purchases the patent for a fair market price and puts it in the public domain. The inventor gets his reward, and the rest of us get to buy goods at competitive prices. We pay through the tax system only what the inventor would have extracted from us anyway, and we get the additional benefits of competition: more mousetraps are built, and more inventors can start piggybacking on the idea.

The sticking point is determining that “fair market price”. But Kremer has solved that problem: First we grant the patent. Then we auction the patent to the highest bidder. As soon as the auction ends, the man from the government arrives and flips a coin. If the coin comes up heads, the auction winner completes his purchase; if it comes up tails, the government buys the patent for the amount of the winning bid. Bidders have every incentive to bid judiciously because the coin sometimes comes up heads. But this way, half of all patents end up in the public domain, which is halfway toward solving the problem.

Thus solving the problem once and for all. (I’m not sure if the post is only intended to provoke discussion. Be sure to read the comments if you click through.)

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Last night CBC News interviewed an anthropology professor on the Virginia Tech shooting who had an interesting take on the incident. He suggested that in long periods of war, violent crime tends to increase as people become more and more desensitised to violence. Therefore, this shooting may presage an increase in the rate of violent crime in the United States after a lengthy decline throughout the 90s and the first part of this decade. I’m intrigued and will be looking to see if this prediction begins to fulfill itself as the Iraq war drags on (of course, one incident like this tells us nothing statistically), and wondering if the same applies here in Canada as the mission in Afghanistan drones on.

If this idea is true, then it lends a new dimension to the argument over whether or not to remove troops from Iraq by a set date. If the war drags on for years then, even if it can be claimed that Iraq is under control and not the terrorist hub that it is now, the safety that Americans will enjoy from having transformed Iraq into a functioning democracy may be cancelled out by the increase in violent crime on home turf. Consider: the homicide rate in the U.S. has declined by about 50% since the early 90s; a decline on the order of 10 000 homicides per year (these numbers are purely from memory, but the order of magnitude should be correct). The number of lives lost to terrorism is much smaller, even factoring in 9/11 and overseas attacks on Americans. It strikes me that if this is seen as purely a matter of minimizing human casualties, then if the professor’s idea is valid the U.S. should pull out of Iraq at once. Of course, there’s more to it than minimizing human casualties – to my mind the most important aspect would be whether or not leaving Iraq now leaves the U.S. more vulnerable to terrorism, and how that could lead to the further erosion of civil liberties, as well as the impact that leaving would have on the rest of the Middle East.

So should the Americans pull out of Iraq to possibly prevent a sharp increase in violent crime in the U.S. itself? Just a thought.

I wonder if the recent increase in violence in the U.K. can also be attributed to the British involvement in the war.

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Interesting question, and the answer may be cell phones.

[Scientists] are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees’ navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

Interesting answer even though the article is half informative and half alarmist claptrap.

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Bits and pieces:

  • Paul Ohm on Eugene Volokh has a couple of nice posts discussing the price of digital music and the analog hole (the analog hole costs exactly 23.9828 cents) here and here.
  • MiniBooNE saves the standard model of particle physics: it finds no neutrino oscillations where LSND did, which means there is no reason to believe any new physics (such as sterile neutrinos) is required by LSND.
  • Quote of the day: ‘Emo – punk music on estrogen.’ From Urban Dictionary.

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Today’s clever little QOTD comes from the Kibitzers’ Cafe at chessgames.com.

‘The bad news is – there is no key to the Universe. The good news is – it has never been locked.’

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