Older blog entries for dmarti (starting at number 393)

Two million lawyers?

Creating jobs for the unemployed is a good thing, but hiring two million patent attorneys just to track software patents is not going to work. Timothy B. Lee and Christina Mulligan make the good point that software patents don't scale. A single program might infringe many of them, you can't automatically find which ones, and the US issues 40,000 new software patents every year. And it's not just software companies that have to worry. Anyone who hires a programmer, even to put a little JavaScript on a web page, is at risk.

To really find all the software patents you need to license, and license them, you'd need to spend more on lawyers than on the rest of your software development operation combined.

The one thing that's been bugging me about the Lee and Mulligan paper, Scaling the Patent System, is: Intellectual Ventures founder Nathan Myhrvold, who has been filing for and acquiring software patents at a tremendous rate, must know this. He's a mathematician and has been working with patent lawyers for a long time. He can't not understand the transaction costs of researching patents and negotiating licenses. Lee and Mulligan have done good research and written down some important insights on software patents for the rest of us, but none of it is going to be news to Myhrvold.

So if he's actually mathematically literate but doing this anyway, what's the real plan?

All that I can think of is that it has to be something like ASCAP for software patents. If you run a restaurant and have music, either live or recorded, you have to pay ASCAP, or the other performance rights organization, BMI, for a license. You don't have to track royalties to individual composers. ASCAP splits up its royalty stream, according to its own formula, and you're covered.

For software patents, you'd face something similar. You have five programmers? That'll be 20 grand a head, plus a 5% royalty on products and a 2.5% royalty on services. No fuss, no patent infringement lawsuits, and if you join now, we'll pay most of that back to you in generous royalties on your own patents.

There are already examples at a smaller scale. If you run Android or Samba, you can pay for a blanket licensing agreement from Microsoft, covering a large number of the company's patents. And of course you can pay the MPEG LA for a license to a pool of essential codec patents. Where this plan is different is in thinking big. All software, by anyone, under a easy-to-administer license. Easy as putting an ASCAP sticker on your door and hitting "play".

Sure, paid-up programmers would get an e-book subscription, a hat, and a messenger bag, but ultimately Myhrvold is on track to bring back, for computer programmers, the guilds or "corporations" of craftsmen that got such bad press in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. But let the current patent wars get a little louder and more ridiculous, and CIOs and CTOs will be thankful for the prospect of an orderly system.

The funny thing is that most programmers above a basic skill level will probably earn more this way—if the paid-up license became a requirement of coding for a living, you'd be competing against fewer marginal programmers and wannabes.

Syndicated 2012-04-18 14:42:19 from Don Marti

QoTD: John Lanchester

"But ‘socialism for the rich’ was supposed to be a joke. The truth is that it is now genuinely the way the global economy is working."—John Lanchester

Syndicated 2012-03-31 20:48:25 from Don Marti

Dude, we're winning

Dan Gillmor calls the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act "a bonanza to the kinds of people who see everyday Americans as sheep to be fleeced."

Apparently, crowdfunding is all well and good, but you have to watch out for shady characters who would take advantage of a crowdfunding system to peddle fraudulent "boiler room" investments to the long-suffering US middle class.

Gillmor cites a paper from law professor John C. Coffee, Jr., who writes, "every barroom in America could become a securities market, as some unregistered salesman, vaguely resembling Danny DeVito, could set up shop to market securities under the 'crowdfunding exemption.'"

And this sales guy is going to beat the socially connected, SEO-enabled network of real crowdfunders how, again?

The same way the encyclopedia salesmen beat the Wikipedia-Google Complex?

The same way that "high-touch interactions with potential customers" works so well for the software business?

If we get a better loophole for crowdfunding in the USA, it's likely to cause fewer opportunities for fraud, since the potential investors would already have sunk their money into bona fide companies—companies that they ran into while doing regular things on the dang ol'Internet, as customers, followers, employers of friends, whatever. Crowdfunding is more likely to displace the shady investment opportunities that people already have than to create more.

Fraud is an evil form of sales, and sales doesn't scale. When fraud tries to scale, it turns into spam, and the Internet has an immune system for that. (Hasn't everyone who would have sent money to bogus crowdfunders already sent their money to a 419 scammer, anyway?)

In conclusion, how about a nice hot cup of good old Internet optimism from JP Rangaswami? You're welcome, and enjoy your future crowdfunded investments just like you enjoy dealing with great small companies.

Syndicated 2012-03-25 19:46:38 from Don Marti

Too much buffering is bad, mmmkay?

Win the War on Buffering

POS display at Fry's: Looks like Linksys is down with the Bufferbloat project.

(Sorry about the crappy photo.)

Syndicated 2012-03-25 19:41:02 from Don Marti

Cato Institute: can anyone save the good parts?

Blog frenzy this weekend over the Ed Crane and the Cato Institute vs. the Kochtopus! story.

A little background: most of the libertarian-sounding noises inside the Beltway come from rent-seekers. Corporate-welfare-receiving companies pay for the think tanks, and you, the taxpayer, pay for the corporate welfare. (Hey, wait a minute. That means, in a way, Solveig Singleton works for me! We need to have a talk.)

One exception, at least a lot of the time, has been the relatively independent Cato Institute. They actually published "Archer Daniels Midland: A Case Study In Corporate Welfare." Nobody else in the think tank business wants to publish an article that will scratch a potential donor off the fundraising list, but Cato pulled it off.

But the end of an era is here. Cato co-founder Charles Koch, who along with his brother David is a prominent corporate welfare queen, is tightening up on the leash. Yawn. Looks like Cato is going to turn into yet another rent-seeking group.

With Cato either melting down or joining the noisy herd of fake libertarians with both front feet in the trough, what's a would-be reader of corporate welfare research to do? How about looking outside the think tank system entirely? After all, Kickstarter's funding for art projects is approaching the size of the NEA.

Your typical libertarian-sounding think tank is essentially a government program anyway. But it's an inefficient top-down channel for funneling corporate welfare dollars into content creation, and loses a lot to transaction costs. Let's think outside of the box here, and put the market to work.

Anybody want to write a think-tank-style report on a corporate welfare problem, but can't get it funded? Why not put it on Kickstarter?

Syndicated 2012-03-05 04:37:24 from Don Marti

Google gets DNT

Good news from the big G: Google commits to respecting "Do Not Track" in their advertisements.

SFX: the exploding head of Jeff Jarvis, head cheerleader for creepy database marketing everywhere. DNT is the "wholesale devaluing of advertising in a medium." People don't realize how much great online stuff owes its existence to hard-to-understand tracking practices.


There has to be something more going on here. If tracking is worth so much, why would the undisputed champion of online advertising just throw away so much potential revenue? Have the Googlers made themselves stupid?

I don't think so. Let's dig up the latest version of a classic chart. Compare the time people spend on different media to the percentage of advertising budgets spent there.

Internet and mobile advertising, which have the best potential for tracking, consistently pull in less ad revenue than their time share would justify.

If tracked ads are so much more valuable, then extra money should be chasing those highly-tracked Internet users. Thirty seconds of exposure to Jane Doe, expectant mom in ZIP code 90210, should be worth way more than 30 seconds in front of Joe Random Super Bowl Fan.

But they aren't. Manifest Density blog: "Is it really a coincidence that the advertising medium with the best instrumentation also appears to be the least effective?"

It's not a coincidence. It's basic economics. Advertising's main role is signaling. Most of why you spend money on advertising is to say "I spent money on advertising."

Tracking reduces the effectiveness of the signal. The recipient can't tell if you're really supporting a product with advertising, or just targeting him. In a DNT world, Google can get the best of both worlds: match ads to relevant content, but get the extra value of signaling to non-targeted users.

Background and links here: Ad targeting: better is worse?

Syndicated 2012-02-24 15:47:58 from Don Marti

Why is Science losing?

Is anyone else getting a little tired of scare-mongering about "anti-science" trends, when it comes from organizations that do non-Open Access scientific publishing? This is like designing a new jewelry line, giving it to Gollum to conceal in the bowels of Middle-Earth, and then complaining about your shelf placement.

Let's say you wanted to send the message of "I'm running a large scary organization, and I'm trying to do something evil to you in a sneaky way." How could you do that better than by publishing original information in proprietary journals, then releasing patronizing, dumbed-down information for voters and patients?

How is modern medical science getting so badly out-publicized, out-communicated, and out-SEOed by "quacks"? And to come up with another example, where is the "scientific consensus" over climate change? Buried in expensive journal archives, while the controversy version of the story thrives online.

Scientists: If you get handed the keys to the Library of Wisdom, then choose to lock the place up and hand over the keys to Elsevier et. al., don't complain about the occult bookstore across the street. And come to think of it, OA is necessary but not sufficient. Maybe what we need now is SEOA.

Syndicated 2012-02-20 20:06:05 from Don Marti

Ad bubble?

Doc Searls says there's an advertising bubble.

Maybe he has a point. One of the ways that you can tell a bubble is when the "bubbling" trend starts to break out into places is really doesn't belong. Ships rotting at the pier in San Francisco because the sailors thought they could do better mining gold. Online shopping for BOOKS FOR DOGS. Stuff like that.

This is the actual back cover of a restaurant bill from an actual restaurant.

restaurant bill holder with advertising

Inside: an ad. Who could have thought this was a good idea? You just enjoyed a meal and you're paying up, and they already want to sell an ad impression for something else?

(excuse the lousy photo. Lousy phone and no photo skills. Next time I'll just take Doc along.)

And synecdochic, on Dreamwidth, points out another one. "Solve Media's patent pending" TYPE-IN, a method to advertise via CAPTCHA."

Can you use your sense of things getting silly as a bubble detector?

Syndicated 2012-02-11 23:59:23 from Don Marti

Stop H.R. 3699

(Finally. I really need to move my "blog to Congress" script over to ikiwiki.)

Dear Representative Stark:

I am writing to ask you to oppose H.R. 3699, the Research Works Act.

If Rep. Darrell Issa came to you and said, "Let's give our grant recipients permission to steal taxpayer-funded equipment from the lab and resell it on the Internet," you would say he was nuts. But this is exactly what H.R. 3699 would do with those scientists' research results.

The Public Access Policy at the National Institutes of Health has been a success, and makes original papers available to health professionals, patients, and their families. Open access to research also encourages follow-up research in the public and private sectors.

H.R. 3699 would throw away these benefits for no gain. The foreign publishing companies that would benefit from this bill are not publishers in the usual sense. They do not provide the same editing and selection functions that a typical magazine does in-house. Our Federally funded researchers already do the work of reviewing and editing at no charge.

Please do what you can to stop H.R. 3699.


Donald B. Marti Jr.

Syndicated 2012-02-03 15:20:06 from Don Marti

SCALE Poker Quiz

SCALE this year had a quiz game for attendees, and here are my notes on how to play and some things we could do better next time. Lori Barfield, who was in charge of SCALE Game Night, brought it all together on a very tight schedule.

The object of the game for the players is to put together the best possible 5-card poker hand. Each card has an answer printed on it, and in order for that card to count as part of the player's hand, the player has to find the matching question. Card photo at Lisa's iXsystems marketing blog.

All of the questions are about information revealed at booths, talks, and other show events. It's important to get questions that are hard to look up online. The object of the game for the organizers is to get attendees to talk with each other, because they pretty much have to trade cards and information to win.

We gave out seven cards per player.

With a little more time we'll be able to make the game easier to run at the show. Things to improve next time:

  • Handouts for people who supplied questions, to give out at exhibitor or speaker registration at the show.

  • Entry forms for players turning in hands, to avoid having to write questions on the cards

  • Numbered questions on the question sheet, to make it easier to check completed hands.

  • Ask for questions earlier, to have extras to work with.

  • Give out two cards at registration, then have opportunities to get more cards later?

Some people thought the questions were too hard, but groups of attendees working together were able to figure everything out.

Syndicated 2012-01-27 15:31:17 from Don Marti

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