Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monkey Eat, Monkey Drink

In an article published in Science on April 26, 2013, primatologists Erica van de Waal (no relation to eminent primatologist Frans de Waal), Christele Borgeaud, and Andrew Whiten presented experimental evidence that wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) may shift their individual culinary preferences of conform to those of their existing or adoptive troop. As the abstract of the article, entitled "Potent Social Learning and Conformity Shape a Wild Primate’s Foraging Decisions" explains,
wild vervet monkeys will abandon personal foraging preferences in favor of group norms new to them. Groups first learned to avoid the bitter-tasting alternative of two foods. Presentations of these options untreated months later revealed that all new infants naïve to the foods adopted maternal preferences. Males who migrated between groups where the alternative food was eaten switched to the new local norm. Such powerful effects of social learning represent a more potent force than hitherto recognized in shaping group differences among wild animals.
 More than a century ago, Charles Darwin made his own observation about simian dietary habits.  He observed that a
monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.
Combining this information, perhaps biologists now know enough to craft appropriate pairings of food and drink for primates.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mankiw Makes Music At Harvard

Professor Greg Mankiw, author of the leading textbook Principles of Economics, chairman of the Harvard University Department of Economics, and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors from 2003-2005 for President George W. Bush, also happens to be one of the foremost interpreters of Ludwig von Beethoven.  At Harvard's annual Arts First celebration, on April 27, 2013, Maestro Mankiw conducted the River Charles Ensemble in the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony.  This free outdoor concert was a genuinely positive externality.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friending Data

Wolphram|Alpha describes its search engine as "a fundamentally new way to get knowledge and answers — not by searching the web, but by doing dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods."  In an article entitled "Data Science of the Facebook World," founder and CEO Stephen Wolfram has analyzed a number of fascinating patterns in data Wolfram|Alpha collects about Facebook users and usage.  Insights include the time when one's number of friends peaks (around age 18) and a fascinating bimodal distribution of friends for Facebook users 46 years of age and older (one peak centered on a user's own age, and a second peak for friends about 25 years younger).  Facebook is the largest experiment in network science ever conducted.  It mixes big data with big fun.  Data privacy issues aside, watching patterns in Facebook data evolve over time warrants a big "Like."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Better Goodlatte Than Never

On April 24, 2013, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, announced that his committee "will conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. copyright law over the coming months."  He cited changes in digital technology as a prime motivator for this overhaul.  As he stated in his press release,
There is little doubt that our copyright system faces new challenges today. The Internet has enabled copyright owners to make available their works to consumers around the world, but has also enabled others to do so without any compensation for copyright owners. Efforts to digitize our history so that all have access to it face questions about copyright ownership by those who are hard, if not impossible, to locate. There are concerns about statutory license and damage mechanisms. Federal judges are forced to make decisions using laws that are difficult to apply today. Even the Copyright Office itself faces challenges in meeting the growing needs of its customers – the American public. 
So it is my belief that a wide review of our nation’s copyright laws and related enforcement mechanisms is timely. I am announcing today that the House Judiciary Committee will hold a comprehensive series of hearings on U.S. copyright law in the months ahead. The goal of these hearings will be to determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age. I welcome all interested parties to submit their views and concerns to the Committee.

With passage of the America Invents Act, the United States' patent were comprehensively reformed in 2012.  Now, perhaps, it is copyright's turn.  Though three years too late to serve as a commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Statute of Anne, few doubt that U.S. copyright law could be modernized and improved.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Return Of The Native

The New York Times reports today (April 24, 2013) on the resurrection of the Lahontan cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki henshawi), a giant among its piscine relatives.  Considered almost extinct throughout its range only a (human) generation ago, vigorous efforts to restore its population in endorheic Pyramid Lake appear to be succeeding wildly.  Careful monitoring of how the Lahontan cutthroat trout reestablishes itself in its former range, and how populations of other organisms react, could hold valuable lessons for successful deextinction efforts.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Websites As Food Labels

Under the United States Food, Drug, and Cosmetic ("FD & C") Act, companies that sell food commercially must label that food to include accurate information important to consumers, such as nutritional content.  With the increasing migration of information from the physical world onto the internet, issues have arisen about whether or not websites constitute food labels.  Section 321(m) of the FD & C Act defines "labeling" as
all labels and other written, printed, or graphic matter (1) upon any article or any of its containers or wrappers, or (2) accompanying such article.
Even though the Named Products' labels ask consumers to visit the website, they do not state that the website will inform consumers of the details of the Named Products' nutritional facts, and none of the language Plaintiffs cite is drawn closely enough to the Named Products themselves to merit the website's being found to constitute "labeling."
This aspect of food law will certainly continue to evolve.  In the meantime, this decision may encourage food companies to push the boundaries of how they describe (and market) their goods on the web.  Caveat emptor essorque!

Friday, April 19, 2013

After The Boston Massacre

The terrible and tragic events in and around Boston this past week portend change for the United States and the world.  Some changes will be obvious, others subtle, some immediate, and, still others, gradual.  Before the Boston Massacre, the U.S. had achieved a level of comfort in public places remarkable in light of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  This silence before the storm may come to be viewed as akin to the military shadow boxing the Allies and Axis powers engaged in prior to World War Two, an eerie period of calm that Winston Churchill termed the Twilight War.  As has long been true throughout less fortunate parts of the world, public places in the U.S. have now proven vulnerable.  Civil rights, immigration policy, weapons ownership, and foreign relations will all be affected by this realization.  The cowardly terrorists who carried out the Boston Massacre and its ensuing atrocities have achieved nothing more than infamy, ignominy, and loathing.  Meanwhile, as the Romans observed two millenia ago, "Mutantur omnia nos et mutamur in illis."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Synthetic Conservation Biology

Connections between the largely orthogonal fields of conservation biology and synthetic biology are the subject of a thoughtful framing paper produced for a recent meeting between these two fields' experts.  Two prominent conservation organizations, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the The Nature Conservancy, were sponsors of, and participants in, the event.  The paper, entitled "How will synthetic biology and conservation shape the future of nature?," outlines the broad contours of how powerful new synthetic biological techniques could affect natural organisms, ecosystems in which they live, and efforts to prevent their extinction. Although not directly considered in the paper, synthetic biology could be highly relevant to efforts surrounding deextinction.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Lonelier Coelacanth

The journal Nature reported on April 17, 2013, that the complete genome sequence of the African coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) indicates that terrestrial tetrapods - including Homo sapiens - share a more recent common ancestor with lungfish than either do with the coelacanth.  As poet Francine M. Storey wrote of the coelacanth, the "last inhabitant of the devonian sea":
if he approaches
unseen
unheard
ask him
how did you survive?
Perhaps this poor "living fossil" was comforted by the thought of having close relatives on land.  As of today, he may feel more phylogenetically alone.

Monday, April 15, 2013

More Myriad

Kansas Public Radio's superb health reporter, Bryan Thompson, has produced an extended radio commentary on the AMP v. Myriad Genetics case in which oral arguments will be heard this morning (April 15, 2013) by the United States Supreme Court.  Bryan is one of the finest health reporters in the country, and, each week, he reports on a pressing issue facing medicine and healthcare.  I had the honor of being interviewed by Bryan for his commentary on AMP v. Myriad Genetics.  The commentary can be listed to here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

PatCon 3

In 2011, the first annual Patent Conference was held at the University of Kansas School of Law.  PatCon is the only annual conference on patent law.  The third annual Patent Conference takes place on April 12 and 13, 2013, and is hosted this year by Prof. David Schwartz and the Chicago-Kent College of Law. Here is some background information on the Patent Conference:
The Patent Conference is a cooperative effort among the University of Kansas School of Law, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, University of San Diego School of Law, and Boston College Law School to hold an annual conference where patent scholars in law, economics, management science, and other disciplines can share their research. 
In 2010, the founders of PatCon—law professors David Olson, David Schwartz, Ted Sichelman and Andrew W. Torrance—realized that the growth and importance of research in the area of patents required an exclusive forum that would enable participants to share their research with other experts and explore links across the legal and business side of patents. 
PatCon 2, hosted by Boston College Law School in May 2012, had more than 40 participants from across the country.
After growing rapidly during the Patent Conference's first two years in existence, attendance exceeded 200, setting a new high-water mark.  Marquee events included an opening address by Judge Richard Linn of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (an unofficial supreme court of patent law), a star panel composed of Prof. Mark Lemley, James Malackowski, and Prof. David Abram, and a terrific debate between Judge Richard Posner and Prof. Richard Epstein. The rest of the conference consists of the latest scholarly research on patent law, with presentations from about 50 leading patent scholars.  Here are the PatCon schedules for April 12 and April 13, 2013.

Patents, Innovation, And Freedom To Use Ideas

On Thursday, April 11, 2013, Loyola University Chicago Law Journal held their annual symposium, entitled "Patents, Innovation & Freedom to Use Ideas."  Here is the symposium brochure.  I was honored to be invited to present research on design patent law my talented co-author, design patent law expert William J. Seymour, and I have recently done. Here is the official description of the symposium:
Under the Constitution, the justification for a patent system—if there is one—is to advance the public welfare by promoting the progress of science. The Constitution authorizes a possible means to accomplish this goal by providing Congress the power to grant limited exclusive rights to those who sufficiently advance the public welfare through innovation. Our Conference will provide a forum for nationally recognized scholars and judges to discuss the trade-off between two interests of the public: the interest in development of new ideas and the interest in freedom to use ideas. The patent system is intended to serve the former, but imposes a cost on the latter. More specifically, the Conference will explore whether the added innovation achieved by the patent system justifies its cost to society, whether it operates within the Constitution’s requirements, and whether improvements can be made or if instead a different system, or no system at all, might be a better option.
My presentation was based on our paper, (R)evolution in Design Patentable Subject Matter: the Shifting Meaning of "Article of Manufacture, which highlights how unsettled the "article of manufacture" requirement of design patent law remains, especially with respect to computer-generated imagery, such as app icons on an smartphone or tablet.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Steaking Claims

How can one avoid infringing a patent? Becoming vegetarian might help. A patent application claiming both a new steak - the "Vegas Strip Steak" - and methods of preparing it was published on April 4, 2013, by the World Intellectual Property Organization. Here are the first two claims of patent application WO2013048839:
1. A method of preparing a cut of meat, wherein is provided at least a portion of a Subscapularis muscle having some amount of lean tissue, fat tissue, and connective tissue, wherein said at least a portion of said Subscapularis muscle has a cranial side, a caudal side, a ventral end, a dorsal end, a medial surface and a lateral surface, comprising the steps of:
trimming from said cranial side, said caudal side, said ventral end, said dorsal end said medial surface and said lateral surface at least a portion of said lean tissue, said fat tissue, and said connective tissue, thereby preparing said cut of meat. 
2. A meat product produced by the method of Claim 1.
Whether or not this claims similar to those in this patent application will eventually issue in a patent is unclear. If such a patent does issue, expect opponents of patent silliness to have a cow.  However, a meatier issue is how the product of the patent tastes.  Will the Vegas Strip Steak be heavy or (neon) light tasting?  Will diners fond of more established cuts, such as filet mignon, porterhouse, Kansas City, and sirloin gamble on this innovation?  Will suppliers of existing steaks have a beef with this new variety?  The Vegas Strip Steak is obviously in for a serious grilling.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)

On April 8, 2013, Isaac Chotiner of the generally liberal The New Republic published an insightful obituary of Dame Margaret Thatcher, which assesses her life and legacy.  Perhaps the most interesting observation in his article is the following:
Argentina's junta...was one of the worst in the world. The embarrassment and disgrace of the Falklands loss led to the junta's fall and the eventual turn toward democracy in Argentina.
Might Argentina owe its democracy to Thatcher's victory over it in the Falklands War? As John W. Gardner once wrote, "History never looks like history when you are living through it."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Redesigning Design Patent Law

Stanford Law School hosted the Design Patents in the Modern World conference on April 5 and 6, 2013.  Inspired by the modern explosion of design patents in the United States and elsewhere, including the recent worldwide blockbuster design litigations between Apple, Samsung, Google, and other titans of the smartphone and tablet wars.  Here is how Stanford describes the conference:
The conference is co-sponsored by the Stanford Program in Law, Science, & Technology, Samsung Electronics, Nike, and Google. 
Stanford Law School will host a major conference on design patents April 5-6, 2013. Long neglected in practice and academic scholarship,design patents have exploded in importance as a result both of recent changes in the law and high-profile cases like Apple v. Samsung.  Drawing on the experience of lawyers, in-house counsel and academics, our conference will explore both practical and policy ramifications of these developments.  Along with the public conference on April 5, we will host a one-day academic symposium with papers on design patents from the leading scholars in the world on these issues.
A special issue of the Stanford Technology Law Review will publish the articles presented at the conference.  Given the dearth of scholarly literature concerning the subject, this volume could become a founding document for modern design patent law.  Lex patentis propositi in Palo Alto anno recondita MMXIII.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Wisent Prince

Richard Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, a German prince, is reintroducing wisent, or European bison (Bison bonasus) into the German wild.  These bovine cousins of the American bison (Bison bison) once roamed the woodlands of Europe, but became extinct in the wild largely due to overhunting and loss of habitat.  Although not an example of "deextinction" per se, the wisent may have much to teach about how once-and-future megamammals readapt to the wild.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Patent To India

It is no joke that, on April 1, 2013, in Novartis v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India denied Novartis an Indian patent claiming its drug Gleevec.  The opinion is fascinating from many angles, including a lengthy consideration of the economic and policy implications of patented and generic drugs.  However, one of the most striking aspects of the decision is the appreciation the court openly shows to the attorneys involved:
196...It was...acknowledged that the illuminating addresses of the counsel were the result of the hard work and painstaking research by the respective teams of young advocates working for each senior advocate.   The presence of those bright young ladies and gentlemen in the court room added vibrancy to the proceedings and was a source of constant delight to us.
Sentiments like these tend to be as alien to U.S. courts as rain to a desert.  One wonders if India would be open to new American members of the bar.  Practice there seems positively civilized.