Friday Four

Friday, April 06, 2012

1. Last year, Samsung used a clip from 2001: A Space Odyssey as part of its defense against a patent infringement suit by Apple over sales of its own line of tablets. This week, I heard about what is probably one of the most amusing patent rejections by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO): An annotated picture of the ridiculous swimsuit worn by Sacha Baron Cohen in Borat appears as part of an official rejection of a patent application for a male undergarment.

I had wanted to call this "Patents and the Movies II", and tell you to enjoy a sequel that is, for once, better than the original. But the USPTO made the rejection back in 2008. We're just now hearing about it because an intellectual property blogger recently ran across the rejection during a patent search and thought it a memorable way to make the point that patents can be rejected based on any published disclosure of an invention: "When you apply for a patent, the examiner can use any information available to the public to reject your application -- not just patents. In this case, the examiner had an easy time finding a picture of Borat."

2. Tech writer Alexis Madrigal discusses several interesting examples of capitalism vs. monopolies and includes a graph. Madrigal's graph shows the hegemony of the Microsoft Windows operating system being threatened by competition from unexpected sources -- Android and iOS devices. That's probably his most debatable example. His others are more compelling, and include two of Adobe's products, the PDF document format (which isn't being used much in emerging markets) and the Flash video format (whose status as a default is now being challenged by HTML5, thanks to Steve Jobs's refusal to support Flash on iOS devices).

3. I enjoyed reading this value-directed approach to getting things done and plan to use it the next time I review my goals and priorities. Its version of "learn how to say no" directly pertains to why:

Another mistake people make is prioritizing other peoples most important tasks. Make sure you ask yourself who's task it is on your list -- is it really important to YOU or has someone close to you made you feel like it should be important -- when in reality it's not. Never feel like what's important to others should also by default be important to you! [ad link dropped]
There is a nice five-point summary at the end.

4. I think the idea of making tornado warnings scarier is a lost cause, but the rest of this article notes advances in technology that have made such warnings much more useful over the past couple of decades.
The biggest technological breakthrough came in the 1990s, as Doppler radar made it possible to detect not only the contours of a storm, but also wind directions and velocities inside the storm. Those data allow meteorologists to see how a storm system is rotating, making it easier to predict tornadoes before they actually form or touch down. These days, the average lead time for a tornado warning is about 12 minutes. The twister that killed 160 people in Joplin, Mo., last year came with 20 minutes' advance notice.
This lead time, though slight, compares favorably to what we had before Doppler radar for reasons noted in the article that jibe with what my Dad -- who as a policeman on patrol sometimes had to verify funnel clouds -- once told me as a kid. The recent severe tornado outbreak in the Dallas area incredibly caused no fatalities thanks in part to improved technology.

-- CAV


4-9-12: Corrected spelling of "Jobs's".


mtnrunner2 said...

The Borat banana hammock was excruciatingly funny. Funnier still is someone applying for a patent for it, as a "scrotum support device". Egads. This is a much better solution.

I'd never heard of the disclosure principle (BTW I'm referring here to advance disclosure of the idea).

Having grown up in Indiana with its share of tornadoes, I'm at a loss as to how to make the idea of your house being destroyed scarier. We never took it for granted.

Gus Van Horn said...

(1) I probably shouldn't have used the term "disclosure", as it really refers to an inventor's explanation of what he considers his invention. The swimsuit, conceived by someone else, basically tells the patent examiner that the inventor's idea (or at least elements of it crucial to patentability) were "out there" already, and that the patent applicant was not the first to have the idea.

(2) Regarding your remarks on tornadoes: Exactly! Mississippi is, too, especially tornado prone. The idea of a scarier tornado warning is absurd to me.