More on patent trolls

March 20th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Peter Cresswell responds to my earlier blog on patent trolls:

He says:

Thomas Edison was a “patent troll.”

So was Nikola Tesla.

So was almost every great inventor in the last 200 years*.

So is any inventor who licenses their invention rather than produce it themselves.  Unlike the ignoramuses who attack them, these people aren’t trolls. They’re benefactors:

Not every person who patents something they don’t produce is a patent troll. But patent trolls don’t actually come up with inventive ideas. Their inventive idea is to just file a patent over anything they can think of, even if it is not a true invention. Once they get the patent, they’ll find victims who will pay them a fee rather than go to court to get the patent over-turned.

PC quotes a Judge:

Judge Michel,  former head of the CAFC, the US court that hears all patent appeals, points out that the number of patent suits filed each year has remained constant at less than three thousand.  Only about 100 of these suits ever go to trial.  In a technology based economy with over 300 million people and 1 million active patents this is trivial.

Of course they don’t go to trial. If you want to try and fight a patent claim you need US$1 to US$2.5 million generally. What small business can afford that?

The proposed law change mooted in the US doesn’t ban patent trolls. It just changes the economic incentives so that the trolls have to post a bond to cover the defendant’s costs in case they lose. So you can’t just set up a $500 shell company and threaten patent lawsuits. The problem for the defendent is that even if they win, they will never recover the cost of defending the lawsuit. So of course they settle.

How to fix school payroll problems

February 8th, 2013 at 7:31 am by David Farrar

Peter Creswell blogs at Not PC:

Yet again another Novopay pay round has been labelled a shocker, as “the Ministry of Education fielded hundreds of calls from school staff either not paid or underpaid by Novopay yesterday.”

As you might have noticed, a ministerial inquiry is about to be established to inquire why the centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all system failed. 

Perhaps the first question to be asked is ‘why is such a system is even necessary?’

Schools have their own pay administrators, who currently spend around half their time making up calculating pay and the other half trying to remedy stuff-ups by Novopay. Why on earth not have them simply pay the staff from the school’s bank account, without any need at all for a centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all payroll system?

Why not?

Because perhaps the second point to contemplate is that the problem with Novopay is not specifically a software problem at all.  I suggest instead it’s exactly what you’re expect of a centrally-planned, centrally-governed, one-size-fits-all system.

I agree. Rather than have all teachers employed by the Ministry of Education and paid by them, I’d have each school responsible for employing their own staff and paying them. If a school wished to used a centralised system such as Novopay they can, or they could use another SAAS system, or local software as they see fit.

It would also mean each school would have flexibility over how much they pay their teachers, within their overall funding.  They could pay a great teacher twice as much as a poor teacher.

Chris Hipkins blogs against performance pay at Red Alert:

There are some excellent teachers working really hard in schools where the students are struggling. They get incredible results, and often the students in their classes learn a lot more in a year than a child at a school with better test scores, yet because the kids are still behind some of their peers at the end of the year, these schools are labelled as ‘failures’. Why would a great teacher work their guts out at a struggling school when they could get more ‘performance’ pay by working in a school that wasn’t struggling?

This is not an argument against performance pay. This is an argument against measuring performance on the basis of test scores, rather than student improvement. It is a red herring. No one who argues for performance pay says it should simply go to the teachers whose students get the highest grades.

As Kelvin points out, there is a lot more to teaching than making sure kids hit an arbitrary and narrowly focused set of standards. The fundamental problem with ‘performance’ pay for teachers is that a narrow range of student achievement statistics alone aren’t a reliable measure of how good a teacher is. Can we do a better job of rewarding great teachers? Undoubtedly. Should we provide more incentives for teachers to undertake professional development and continually strive to be better teachers. For sure. Will ‘performance pay’ based on student achievement help achieve these things? No.

Again, no one I know is arguing for performance pay based purely on student achievement. The problem is Chris thinks performance pay has to be like the current pay system – based on one centralised collective scheme with defined criteria for extra pay to be based on.

I’d make each Board and Principal decide how to allocate “performance pay” in their schools. The school community knows who the great and not so great teachers are. I knew it when I was a pupil. Almost everyone knows it. Some teachers have a marvelous gift for connecting with pupils and some teachers just can’t do it no matter how hard they try.

Performance pay will never work as a centralised system based on what marks your students get. It can work as a flexible system where principals can reward the teachers they know make a huge different to their students and whose loss to the school would be a disaster. This is a subjective local decision, not a rigid central decision.

PC on Ron Paul

January 10th, 2012 at 3:12 pm by David Farrar

Peter Cresswell blogs:

Ron Paul is not a libertarian. He

  • rejects the Jeffersonian principle of a “wall of separation” between religion and government;
  • is anti-immigration (“to the right of most Republicans” says Vodka Pundit Steve Green);
  • is anti-abortion (Paul describes “the rights of unborn people” [sic] as “the greatest moral issue of our time,” and “abortion on demand” as “the ultimate State tyranny”);
  • “plays footsie” with racists and kooks;
  • is a hypocritical supporter of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district;
  • is opposed to free-trade agreements (like NAFTA); and
  • is appallingly “blame-America-first” on  foreign policy.

I don’t count his writings of 20 years ago too much against him, or even his foreign policy. I even understand his earmark rationale. And even libertarians disagree on abortion. The lack of commitment to religion and state being separate, the opposition to immigration and opposition to free trade agreements (he says note pure enough, but perfect is the enemy of good) is what I regard as the biggest marks against him.

PC says:

In short, then, and to repeat, he is not a libertarian: he is a “states-rights” religious conservative, with all the intellectual confusion that implies …

That he can masquerade as a friend to freedom at all demonstrates how far the intellectual battle for freedom still needs to travel.

Because the harsh fact about Ron Paul is that on the few occasions he takes off the tinfoil hat and talks Austrian he’s damn good. But when he’s wearing the tinfoil headwear, as he does the rest of the time, he’s rotten.

He is damn good on most economic issues. He is not a viable candidate for President in 2012 though, at the age of 77. I think it is good he flies the flag on many issues.

I was chatting to someone today about how it would be fun if the Republicans had no one get a majority and it was a brokered convention!

Campbell vs Ring

March 1st, 2011 at 12:11 pm by David Farrar

Brian Edwards blogged:

John, Your mindless, bullying, tirade against ‘moon man’ Ken Ring on tonight’s Campbell Live was perhaps the worst piece of egotistical, self-important, out of control, closed-minded, biased, unprofessional  non-interviewing I have seen in more than 40 years of New Zealand television.

I have no brief for Mr Ring or his theories, but after watching your treatment of him tonight, I have considerably more respect for him as the reasonable exponent of an admittedly controversial point of view than I have for you as an interviewer.

What mattered to you in this exchange was not what he had to say, but what you had to say. And since he thought the process was meant to involve his being critically questioned on statements he had made and being given reasonable opportunity to reply, he had every right to complain when you preferred to deny him that opportunity by shouting him down. It was, quite simply, appalling.

This has led to a huge debate with 113 comments to date on Brian and Judy’s blog. Opinion is divided between those who say that as Ring is a charlatan, Campbell did good (Russell Brown noticeably in this camp) and those who say he didn’t let Ring even explain himself.

I like the take of Not PC:

If it’s true that Campbell bullied Ring, the greatest damage done by the bullying is …. that it didn’t give Ring a chance to bury himself in his own words. That’s surely the point of good interviewing. To let your audience see for themselves when a flake is being interviewed.

And in bullying rather than burying his interviewee, Campbell would have allowed Ring to gain his viewers’ sympathy instead of their contempt. Surely not at all what he intended.

Not PC also has some great links and graphs from scientists showing how Mr Ring has predicted earthquakes, well pretty much for every second day.

I didn’t see the interview, but what do people who saw it think?


June 30th, 2010 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Not PC makes a great point in this post:

There’s been a lot of talk about Cadbury’s slide down the rankings of NZ’s most-trusted brands, from being judged the most trusted company in the country lat year down to a meagre 36th out of 133rd this year …

But you might be wondering, why on earth would companies care what people say about them?  Especially when so many of the left’s luminaries insist that companies, especially multinational companies in headlong pursuit of profits, are essentially an irresponsible law unto themselves?The answer is as simple as the nose on your face, really.  It’s because a seller’s reputation is the key to their long-term profits.

If companies have their own long-term interests at heart then, as all good companies should, then maintaining their reputation with their customers is essential. This is why good companies spend so much time and energy protecting their brand, and lesser companies do not. It’s because in the final analysis it’s not multinational corporations who decide the long-term direction of production, it’s consumers. …

The consumer is king, and she is a hard task-master—and it is the very profit system that those leftist luminaries denounce that is the key to ensuring a company’s responsibility. Because if long-term profits are important to a company, then keeping their customers happy must be paramount.

Some people see profits as providing bad incentives to corporations. Like PC, I believe they provide good incentives.

Crampton on Copyright

April 20th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Peter Cresswell discusses copyright and says copying without permission of the owner is theft:

Make no mis­take, copy­ing with­out the per­mis­sion of the owner is theft–-no mat­ter how many sappy sugar-coated dit­ties you hear to the contrary.

I don’t think theft is the best word for it, but I agree it is illegal. PC notes however:

The way ACTA proposes protecting intellectual property–by going through people’s bags, laptops and MP3 players at airports; by holding ISPs responsible for what their customers do; etc.–-is hardly in accordance with the principle of property rights they purport to be upholding.

He says this violates the very principles they want to protect.

What I found most interesting is this comment by Eric Crampton on the post:

Strength of copyright protection has never been an absolute: it’s varied in duration and scope over the years. There’s a Laffer curve that operates in copyright as well: zero protection and fewer things will be produced, but too strong of protection and nothing is produced either.

Eric is right. Copyright is not an absolute right. It is a manufactured right that is about a balance of rights. Eric explains:

Let’s take the extreme case over on the right tail of the distribution. Every musician using a chord must pay a royalty to whomever invented that chord, then must pay another royalty to whomever came up with the chord sequence they’re using. Think much music gets produced under that regime? Nope. It’s too costly to produce anything new.

Another example is the right of a newspaper to quote something. If a politician writes on their Facebook page “I think the top tax rate should be 90%” they own the copyright to that statement. Would anyone want a society where it is illegal for a newspaper to report that statement, as they do not have permission of the owner?

Take it to blogs. Suppose copyright didn’t just protect the expression of an idea, but also the idea itself. Would you ever post anything, given fear of being sued by someone who’d previously come up with some idea you’d thought was original to you? Would Landes and Posner sue me for basically restating their argument in the first paragraph?

Spot on.

If you grant those two cases, then the optimal degree of copyright isn’t infinite. The optimal degree isn’t zero either. I’m reasonably convinced that we’ve pushed too far to the right on this curve: the costs of copyright in impeding new creation, at current legal levels of protection, exceeds the benefit of higher returns for those things that are created. And, I’d argue this is mostly due to Disney who earns more off its back catalogue than out of new production. The period of protection is too long, harm is done by excessive protection on orphaned works, and insufficient scope is given to fair use.

Copyright is for a specific term. If it was not, then every school in the western world would probably have to pay royalties to the great great great great great great great great grand nephew of William Shakespeare.

Eric makes a fair point that copyright protection is for too long a period. In the UK protection is for 50 years after making a sound recording, while in the US it is 120 years after creation.

Personally, I’d sooner see copyright abolished in favour of a solution through private contract where folks use creative commons to designate the strength of protection they’d like applied to their own works, but where also we’d deem the extant corpus of common culture (Grimm fairy tales, etc) only being available for commercial use if the folks making the film, book or whatever applied a duration of protection no greater than 20 years or so, helping to rejuvenate the commons from which they drew.

I am a big fan of Creative Commons which makes it easy for creators of works, to set their own terms and conditions of use.