The space between the signal and the action

In the game-theoretic world, the gunner never shoots: the other side looks at the options down the game tree, realizes that one action will lead to his or her getting shot, and doesn’t take that action. In Game Theory textbooks, cases never go to court: both sides calculate the risk-adjusted expected payoff from trial, and if it is positive for one hyperrational side, then it is negative for the other hyperrational side, and a settlement can be calculated based on that. In both cases, knowledge that an event could occur largely has the same effect as the event itself.

But there was an eight-year glitch in the game-theoretic matrix, which has given us an interesting chance to see what happens between when a signal of a legal position is sent and when the position actually hits.

Here in 2014, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling regarding the patentability of software, Alice Corp v CLS Bank. The first draft of the ruling was published in 2006.

The question in the 2006 case of Labcorp v Metabolite was whether a patent of this form was valid:

1. draw the patient’s blood,
2. measure the level of a chemical in the blood, and
3. correlate that level to the risk of a disorder.

Steps 1 and 2 are by themselves not patentable, because they are physical processes but are entirely not-novel. Step 3 may be a novel correlation, but it is an abstract scientific discovery, and one may not patent abstract ideas or research results. So is the combination of the physical-but-quotidian steps 1+2 with the abstract-but-novel step 3 a physical and novel invention?

The Court’s decision (PDF) was one sentence long: Continue reading

the constitutional mandate to promote progress

The cliffhanger from last time was about the difference in worldview between the specialist courts/judges who hear only patent cases and the generalist courts/judges. We can trace the root of the conflict back to the Constitution, which allows for patents in a manner different from other governmental powers.

The Constitution grants Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”.

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gao titles re-written

Recent GAO report titles with my interpretation of what they could have called the reports.

HHS: Patient’s Health Information Remains Unprotected

HHS Has Issued Health Privacy and Security Regulations but Needs to Improve Guidance and Oversight, GAO-12-605, Jun 22, 2012

It Takes Less Time to Get A Security Clearance Now

Personnel Security Clearances: Continuing Leadership and Attention Can Enhance Momentum Gained from Reform Effort, GAO-12-815T, Jun 21, 2012


krugman on privatization

Paul Krugman writes on the ills of privatization today in NYT (click this sentence to go to the story.)

I sometimes get frustrated with Krugman’s approach to his NYT column because he seems (at times) to depend more readily on his visceral inclinations than marshaling forth objective evidence that supports his argument. The fact is that most of the contentions he makes can be justified in such terms, and he has a Nobel in Economics for providing insights through objective analysis derived from the scientific method and a deep appreciation for historical context. That’s why columns like this are so frustrating. Krugman’s larger point about the problems of privatization is spot on, but the dependence on ideological frames automatically inhibits the ability to have a genuine debate about the economic and moral consequences of privatizing public goods.

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