01 November 2010

Only Two More Days Until No More Campaign Ads

... which I suppose merits some celebration. But that won't change the fact that it's Monday.

  • Congratulations to the nominees for and winners of the World Fantasy Awards. Looking at the list of nominated book-length works, there is exactly zero chance of a positive sales effect... which is primarily the publishers' fault.
  • The NYT has discovered shocking, shocking news that I've known about for a quarter of a century: Debt collectors often have no documentation for what they're collecting. In that particular instance, a debt collector tried to repossess a car from one of my NCOs, but got stopped at the gate and asked my permission. A little paper research (all of twenty minutes) at my end demonstrated pretty conclusively that [name of Detroit Big Three finance company deleted, particularly since it has changed three times in the interim] hadn't bothered to record the out-of-cycle payment made before that NCO went on a three-month deployment to [classified], but for which his wife had the cancelled check. And the NYT is just now discovering what anyone who has held a command position has known for decades...

    Or, if they wanted something a little bit more authoritative, the NYT could have turned to, say, the Hon. Terence T. Evans of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit:

    Mr. Rubin reviews and approves the general form used on letters sent by Rubin & Associates. He does not, however, personally prepare, sign, or review any of the letters sent to targets, including Avila. This is understandable, for Rubin would probably be in the hospital with a severe case of writer's cramp if he did because some 270,000 such letters go out each year. That, by the way, comes out to 1,062 per working day, 133 per working hour.

    The letters from attorney Rubin are actually the product of a nonattorney "legal assistant collector" who directs the computer to generate a letter on Rubin's attorney letterhead. Legal assistant collectors are provided with a training manual developed by Rubin to help them determine when an attorney debt collection letter is warranted. According to Rubin, the collectors use their "skill, judgment, and training" to determine when a letter should be sent.

    Avila v. Van Ru Credit Corp., 84 F.3d 222, 225 (7th Cir. 1996).

  • Weird, trendy, unsupportable-by-documentation valuation isn't just for collection agencies, though; it's also the foundation of valuing entertainment-industry concerns. Of course, this isn't exactly news; taking a look at the financial press in the 1950s with the rise of Certain Television Networks would have found remarkably similar stories, albeit not remarkably similar headlines.
  • Another esoteric legal dispute at the boundary between patent law and ethics is slowly coming to the front burner: patenting of naturally occurring genes. This particular dispute is an echo of copyright law, and in fact is controlled by a twenty-year-old copyright law decision. In Feist, the Supreme Court held that copyright requires "originality," and explicitly rejected the "sweat of the brow" basis for copyrights; that is, no matter how much effort one put into sorting all of the records in a telephone book into accurate alphabetical order, that sorted directory could not be copyrighted because alphabetical ordering is not "original." In Myriad (the current patent dispute), the same reasoning holds, but for the patent concept of "novelty" instead of the copyright concept of "original."

    Perhaps a sport analogy might help. There's an old aphorism that "speed kills," particularly for wide receivers in American football and wingers in real football. Time after time, though, reality proves that it's what one does with speed that kills — not the speed itself. One must know how to get to the ball at the right time, then what to do afterward, to actually use that speed. Just ask defenders whom they'd have more trouble defending: Cliff Branch or Dallas Clark in American football; John Barnes or Stanley Matthews in real football. With intellectual property, it's very much the same thing, but for "speed" insert "prior knowledge." All the prior knowledge in the world does not create originality or the novel inventive step (it just prevents you from reinventing the wheel if you already know about wheels, so to speak). Knowing about naturally occurring genes is just that prior knowledge; it's what one might do with that knowledge that might constitute a novel discovery justifying patent protection.