Saturday, August 19, 2017


Today's patents grant an exclusive right to the patent owner to make, use, or sell an invention. This is a measure intended to promote innovation but has also been documented to stifle innovation. And the fees involved in obtaining a patent are prohibitively expensive for many individuals.

We're so worried about other people "stealing" our ideas and we're so worried about not being able to profit from our ideas that we lose sight of the greater good. Innovation is good. The more people use our invention, assuming it is a good one, the better the world will be. The more people improve on our invention, the better the world will be. 

What would our world be like if we found another way to promote innovation and reward inventors, that doesn't also stifle other innovation? I imagine it would be very awesome. 

Here is an outline of a completely different way to approach patents:

Disclosure. An inventor submits a detailed description of the invention to the government, much like a patent application today. It needs to be useful and non-obvious, and it needs to be comprised of one or more claims. Many of the existing rules about what makes a valid patent would probably still apply here. The first inventor to submit an invention that is novel receives the patent. It's not possible to know when someone really invented it but it is possible to know when the patent office received the submission. There would be a fee for disclosure to cover the government's processing costs. Inventors would still need to search for prior art before they submit to avoid paying the fee on an patent application that would not be granted. 

Declaration. This is where the similarity to the current patent system ends. Instead of being granted exclusive rights to use the invention, the inventor receives a right to get credit for use of the invention. Anyone who makes, uses, or sells a product that involves one or more patents must declare to the government the product and the reference the patents involved. This declaration would cost a little bit of money, just a small fee for the government to cover the cost of processing it.

Reporting. Every quarter, every organization that makes, uses, or sells products or services that involve patented inventions must declare their volume to the government. For example of "make", if a manufacturer is paid to build a million gadgets that involve patents A and B over a six month period, the manufacturer would first declare that it will be building gadgets involving patents A and B, and then at the end of each quarter (or beginning of the following quarter) it would declare how many of those gadgets it produced in that quarter. For example of "use", if a hospital uses a medical device on some patients, it would first declare that it will be using that medical device and then it would report at the end of each quarter how many times that device was used. The government would already know which patents are involved in that device because the manufacturer would have already declared it and the company selling the device to the hospital would have already declared it. The government should have rules defining what it means to use an invention, for different categories of inventions. It could be once per patient per day, or an amount of time, or some other metric that fits the category. The point is to track the use of the invention in the most natural way possible. for example of "sell", if a company is going to sell a gadget, it first declares the gadget to the government, and then reports each quarter how many of that gadget it sold and the total revenue it collected for that amount. The government doesn't need a per item price, and also the price may vary. The government just needs the total for that quarter. 

Credit. The government will use the reports to assign points to each invention. Every invention referenced in a product gets the same number of points assigned. This is not a zero-sum game - if a product involves 5 inventions, then 1 point is assigned to each invention for each use of that product, or gift of that product, or each dollar of sales volume for that product.  Inventions accrue more points when they are used in more products and when they are used in products that earn greater amounts of revenue. The credit is divided among all the inventors listed in the patent disclosure, either evenly among them or according to a proportion stated in the disclosure. A proportion would be stated if there is one or more primary inventors and other contributing inventors who acknowledge they had a smaller part in it than the primary inventor(s). If someone notices that a product wrongfully references a patent, meaning that patent isn't actually involved in the product, they may file a complaint with the government and if it is found that the invention does not cover the product, all points assigned from that product would be revoked, any money paid for that would become immediately due from the inventor to refund the government, and the person or company who declared the product with the wrongful reference would pay the fee for the investigation. If the claim of wrongfully referencing a patent turns out to be wrongful itself, the person or company filing the claim would pay the fee to cover the government's processing effort.

Reward. When an inventor accrues enough points, the government would pay the inventor for points accrued up to that point. When an inventor accrues enough points again, the government would pay
for the points earned since the last report. This would continue to happen until the inventor reaches a lifetime maximum amount of monetary compensation by the government for inventions.  The government will continue to track the points for each inventor, will will not send any more money to inventors who have reached their lifetime maximum. After reaching the lifetime maximum, inventors still earn public recognition and awards such as ribbons or medals from the government for reaching ever higher levels of points. 

Funding. The government collects taxes on sale of products and services, and also on business revenues which are also related to the sale or use of products. The more products and services are sold, for more revenue, the more money the government collects. This, in turn, funds the rewards for the inventors. People and companies who buy or use those products are therefore partially or completely funding the monetary rewards for the inventors.

Expiration. A patent may expire after a few years. When a patent expires, the government will stop awarding money to the inventor, but the government will continue to assign points to the invention according to business reports in order to publicly recognize the inventor.

Non-disclosure. Theoretically, a company could compensate an inventor for not submitting the invention to the government and therefore not receiving the awards and recognition for inventing it. This might be done in an attempt to keep the product secret for some time. However, this does not make much sense because as soon as someone else sees the product, they could (unethically) submit the patent to the government claiming they invented it. Inventors signing non-disclosure agreements would want to ensure they receive adequate compensation from the company, because they may lose their right to be compensated by the government for the effort when someone else submits the idea first.

Competition. A good idea would quickly be adopted by multiple competitors in the same space. They can still compete on price, quality, and other features. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Employment Laws

There are federal employment laws and every state has its own employment laws. Wherever one is doing business within the United States, there are a lot of employment laws to know about and follow. Large businesses can afford the overhead of a conglomeration of departments to keep track of all the laws and to comply with them. Small businesses are unlikely to even know about some of the laws until some unfortunate incident brings a complaint or investigation, and then penalties follow.

Now, a couple of facts to contemplate: First, the government grants business licenses in various industries as a way to monitor those business activities and, of course, collect additional revenue. Second, there are companies that specialize in accounting and employment laws, filing forms on behalf of businesses, and helping businesses stay in compliance with the law.

Assuming that most employment laws are actually "good" in that they require businesses to follow procedures for the benefit of employees, we should make it easy for businesses to be in compliance with such laws. Here is how government could be a lot more useful:

First, require every business to obtain a business license, regardless of industry. We don't need special cases for this or that. Every business must have a license to operate, which involves registering the business activity with the government. The government office receiving such registrations must make them available to all other branches of government. The revenue service can then know where to collect taxes, and various industry-specific departments like energy and food can follow up with businesses that are in their area of interest. Businesses must not be required to register separately with every government department -- there must be only one registration that is shared.

Second, the government can use the business license to help businesses learn about the laws and follow them. One of the questions in the license application must be about the nature of the activity, so that relevant government departments can find the business license and follow up with the business. One of the items in the license application must be to note the contact information of the company that will be tracking employment laws and compliance on behalf of the business. The business could write its own company name and contact information for its personnel officer there, or the business could hire another company, and these exist today, to do this work. Either way, the business owner, at the time of applying for the business license, through the course of completing the license application, learns that there are employment laws that must be followed and has an opportunity to hire someone and write their information, or to contemplate doing it "in house". The item on the form must be annotated with a reference where the business owner can see a summary of the "start up laws" like registering new employees, getting a tax identification number, obtaining insurance, and so on.  That information should help the business owner decide to do it "in house" or to hire an external company, and if doing it "in house" it should help with getting started.

Third, the government can require "HR" businesses to obtain an employment compliance license, which must involve demonstrating knowledge of all applicable laws for the jurisdictions in which they offer services, and also their internal controls that would be used to ensure that businesses stay in compliance. Any business offering "HR" services or doing "HR" itself would need to apply for and obtain the employment compliance license. This step will help ensure that whoever the business designates as its employment compliance representative in the business license form will be competent to perform that work.

The combination of these three steps means that the education to business owners can be very simple:

Every business must obtain a business license.  The process of applying for the license and obtaining the license will then inform the business about other legal requirements. One of these is employment compliance, and by choosing a licensed employment compliance representative, whether in house or outsourced, the business can be built on a solid foundation of following the employment laws and taking good care of its employees.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Liberty Day

So the government has 10 official holidays: new year's day, Martin Luther King Jr birthday, Washington birthday, memorial day, independence day, labor day, Columbus day, Veterans day, Thanksgiving day, and Christmas day.

The three days named after people commemorate the discovery of North America by Columbus, the leadership of Washington in securing independence from the English, and leadership of the civil rights movement by Martin Luther King Jr.

Labor day celebrates all workers. Veterans day celebrates all military veterans. Memorial day isn't a celebration but is a day to remember soldiers who died in the civil war, in the first world war, and all later conflicts.

Independence day celebrates independence from the English but ignores American Indians, who in that period were losing their lands to the colonists. More on this below.

Thanksgiving day celebrates a number of different things, depending on who you ask, but is both generic -- because cultures around the world have a celebration after the harvest -- and sad because like independence day, this specific celebration originated in a time when the American Indians were starting to lose their lands to the colonists. Also, even though the American Indians also had their own celebrations, thanksgiving day is distinctly colonial.

Christmas day is a religious holiday only for Christians, even though it's not purely Christian in nature. No official federal holidays for other religions.

New year's day is the most secular "holiday".

The government should officially drop Christmas as a federal holiday because it's religious in nature, even if that religious nature isn't entirely Christian. I'm not saying that people should stop celebrating Christmas, just that the government shouldn't give it any more weight than holidays of other religions. The fact is that a vast majority of Americans do claim to be Christian so if they all celebrate Christmas at the same time, businesses and offices will continue to be closed, but let that be a decision by each organization and not a federal standard.

Let us have four standard vacation weeks during the year: the week surrounding January first, the week surrounding April first, the week surrounding July first, and the week surrounding October first. If anyone wants to rearrange their vacations they should negotiate with their manager, but the standard should be four weeks in a year, equally spaced around the calendar, to ensure people have the time to spend with their families without being penalized for it. So winter vacation would be December 28 thru January 4th, and if someone wants to take extra days earlier to celebrate Christmas or just "round off" to an entire week, they should negotiate that with their manager.

Let's drop all official holidays based on individuals and get back to the meaning of things.

Instead of Washington's birthday, the federal government should officially change its name to President's day (which many people already call it) and move it to April 30th to celebrate when Washington took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States. Even though the inauguration day has since moved to January, as a commemorative holiday the first inauguration is better, and won't be confused with Washington or Lincoln's birthdays.

Instead of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday, the federal government should officially change its name to Civil Rights Day, maybe move it to December 1st to commemorate Rosa Parks' brave civil disobedience, or maybe move it to May 17th to commemorate the decision of Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation is inherently unequal. It's hard to pick a single point in time, because a long stream of events led to the improvement of civil rights. I just think it shouldn't be any one person's birthday. December 1st is probably a good choice because it's associated as the starting point of the modern civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr.

Instead of Columbus day... actually, we can just drop it we don't need to replace it with anything (but I propose we should - read on). Columbus was a Spanish imperialist, his birthday just seems very irrelevant today. Some people celebrate a Native American day or some other substitution on the same day to make a statement, and that's not necessary either if we just drop this holiday.

Let's create a new federal celebration for liberty, and let's use it every year to remind ourselves what this country is about, because sometimes people forget that liberty is an important goal of our constitution. Past generations forgot about liberty when they continued to hold slaves after the declaration of independence, when they continued to fight American Indians after the signing of the declaration of independence, when they forced Japanese Americans into internment camps, when they authorized secret government programs to develop the most massive covert collection (spying) program on this plane on our own citizens, and many other incidents.  It's that declaration - remember  "all men are created equal ... with certain unalienable rights ... life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"???  That was on July 4th and we are celebrating independence from the English but we've forgotten so many times the reasons we needed independence. If we celebrate a Liberty Day, and make it a tradition to talk about the meaning of liberty and the limits on pursuit of happiness (the boundaries being harm to other people individually or collectively, whether direct or indirect), and recounting past mistakes and making a commitment to do our best not to let that happen in the future, then maybe we'll have a chance at keeping our liberty a little longer.

I propose to celebrate Liberty Day on October 1st of each year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Doctrine of Honorable Intent

When one person accuses another person of causing indirect harm, and the harm is evident, it is  straightforward to demand that the accused stop the activity that is harming others indirectly or modify the activity such that it no longer harms others. When the harm is not evident, there needs to be a process to determine if the indirect harm actually occurred, occurs, or will occur. All this is in the context of activities that are not already regulated -- clearly if there is already a law governing the activity and the accused did not comply with the law the government would investigate and there are already resources to deal with that. In cases where the activity is not regulated, the accuser may not have the resources or the access to fully investigate, and it would be unjust to burden the accused with providing the resources, whether or not the accused actually has the resources.

In such cases, the doctrine of honorable intent is to assume that both the accuser and the accused have honorable intent, to establish a procedure for mediating the conflict, and to impose tough penalties if either accuser or accused is discovered to have dishonorable intent.

For the accuser, honorable intent means that the accuser truly believes that harm occurred, occurs, or will occur as a result of the actions of the accused, and that the accuser is not attempting to harm the accused via the accusation itself.

For the accused, honorable intent means that the accused did not know that the harm occurred, occurs, or will occur as a result of the actions of the accused, and is willing to stop or modify the activity in order to prevent further harm.

The mediation would start with an exploration of the harm that occurred, occurs, or will occur as a result of the activity. This is the time to raise concerns, share evidence, and generate theories about how the activity indirectly resulted or may result in harm. It is not the time for the accused to attempt to disprove anything. The exploration ends when the mediator understands the activity and the harm and how they are or may be related. If the mediator needs additional information to understand, the mediator will request government resources to fully investigate.  The request is prioritized by the mediator according to the scope and impact of the harm that occurred, occurs, or will occur.

The mediation continues with an exploration of what would have to stop or change in order to prevent further harm. The accuser, the accused, and interested other parties may provide ideas. There may be multiple ideas presented, and the focus is on preventing further harm and not compensating for any past harm. Some ideas may imply a cost to the accused, and the mediator must weigh this against the harm. Honorable intent means the accuser and accused will discuss the minimum possible change that would be required to stop or prevent the harm.

If at any point the accuser or the accused is discovered to have dishonorable intent, the mediation will stop and the matter will be forwarded to a judge for punishing the dishonorable party for attempting to use the legal procedure itself to harm the other party. Dishonorable intent is demonstrated by hiding evidence, lying or falsifying or omitting available information, interfering with the other party during the procedure, attempting to influence the mediator or any investigator, clerk, or expert assigned to the case, or other actions that may be deemed dishonorable. Such dishonorable conduct must be punished severely to ensure the integrity of legal procedures.

The mediation concludes with an agreement between the accuser and the accused on a plan to stop or prevent the harm. If an agreement cannot be reached, and the mediator has not yet requested a full investigation, the full investigation must be requested at this time. If an agreement is not reached and the mediator believes the harm is evident the mediator must forward the case with the mediator's comments to a judge. The judge will determine if any existing laws may apply to resolve the case. If the judge believes the harm is evident and there are no existing laws to resolve the case, the judge may order the accused to stop or modify the activity in a way that would prevent the harm, and impose penalties for not complying with the order. The judge would also forward the case to the legislature to consider writing a new law that would govern the same or similar situations in the future.

If at any point during the process either the accused or accuser believes that the other party or the mediator or the judge is acting with dishonorable intent, the case may be forwarded to a higher court to investigate the dishonorable conduct only and, if it is evident, to punish the dishonorable party and return the case to the lower court.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Eternalism vs Presentism

If eternalism is the idea that the past and the future coexist, and that we are just experiencing a safari - an observation adventure - through a world that is pre-determined, then it means our free will is just an illusion, but time travel would be possible because as "simply" movement along the time dimension.

If presentism is the idea that only the present exists, and that the past and the future are just concepts that we can use to relate to states that have changed and states that we expect to happen, then it means time travel is impossible and that time itself can only be a measure of the difference between states of the present, so that in an absolutely static world with no movement at all it would be impossible to measure time, and in other cases it would be possible for time to be measured differently at different places.

Since no one has been able to demonstrate travel either forward or backward in time, and since a concept of the present is required in order to form concepts of past and future, I believe the idea of presentism has to be assumed to be a better estimation of reality than eternalism; I live in the present and if anyone want to convince me otherwise, the burden of proof is on them!

Sunday, November 9, 2014


I think it's cruel to spay or neuter an animal for any reason other than its own health. Preventing an animal from having offspring does prevent cruelty from happening to its offspring but it's not preventing cruelty to the animal itself. I believe that if a survey were done of humans asking if they believe that they would be thankful for being neutered without their consent because it prevents them from having children who will experience cruelty, the results would be overwhelmingly negative (but maybe not entirely negative).


2014 Cattle inventory (as of July 1, 2014):  95 million, 3% down from July 2012.
Economic impact:  $44 billion in farm gate receipts (USDA NASS)
Number of beef cow operations: 729,000
Number of cattle & calf operations: 915,000
29.0 million beef cows (down 1%)
33.9 million head calf crop (2013)
The average cow herd size: 40 head
2014 U.S. total beef exports: 5.6 billion pounds
Top export markets:  Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea and Hong Kong

More than 50 percent of the total value of U.S. sales of cattle and calves comes from the top 5 states:
  1. Texas
  2. Nebraska
  3. Kansas
  4. California
  5. Oklahoma
Average producer age:  58.3, up 1.2 years since 2007 (USDA 2012 Ag Census)
U.S. beef production (commercial carcass weight) was 25.8 billion pounds.
The total U.S. beef consumed was 25.5 billion pounds.
Average annual U.S. retail Choice beef price in 2013 was $5.29/lb.
U.S. commercial slaughter total was 31.9 million head


U.S. pet-ownership estimates from the APPA for 2012

83.3 million—Number of owned dogs
47 percent—Percentage of households that own at least one dog
70 percent—Percentage of owners with one dog
20 percent—Percentage of owners with two dogs
10 percent—Percentage of owners with three or more dogs
1.47—Average number of owned dogs per household
20 percent—Percentage of owned dogs who were adopted from animal shelters
$231—Average annual amount spent by dog owners on routine veterinary visits
83 percent—Percentage of owned dogs who are spayed or neutered
Even—Proportion of male to female owned dogs

95.6 million—Number of owned cats
46 percent—Percentage of owners with one cat
31 percent—Percentage of owners with two cats
24 percent—Percentage of owners with three or more cats
2.11—Average number of owned cats per household
26 percent—Percentage of owned cats who were adopted from an animal shelter
$193—Average annual amount spent by cat owners on routine veterinary visits
91 percent—Percentage of owned cats who are spayed or neutered
73 percent vs. 62 percent—The difference in number of owned female cats and owned male cats, respectively

Monday, December 30, 2013

Functions of government

In a news story about unemployment benefits, Dean Heller, R-Nevada, was quoted: "providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government"

Dean Heller is wrong. Providing for people in need is the function of charities, not the government. 

The government does have a useful role to play in coordinating efforts to help people in need, especially during a crisis such as natural disaster or violence. Paying people to do nothing is something our government has a long history of doing but is not something that should be a function of any government.

Among the most important functions of government are:

Protecting each citizen's right to life, liberty, justice, property, and equal opportunity. 

Organizing the national defense - which supports protecting citizen rights.

Engaging other nations with diplomacy to protect citizens traveling abroad and to resolve disputes with other nations peacefully.

Coordinating public efforts such as building infrastructure for transportation, communications, water and electricity distribution, education, recycling, and waste disposal; and controlling the use or preservation of natural resources.