WorldSys: Austrian Home Study Course, Week 27

READINGS: Various articles on patent law from Gene Callahan

1 Describe’s patent.

Amazon patented the idea of buying items on the internet with a single mouse click.

2 What did British Telecom announce as its patented innovation?

Hyperlinks (!)

3 Why does Callahan challenge Gleick’s statement that “[patent law] fueled industrial progress in the early United States”?

Because Gleick can’t possibly know that. He can’t go back in time, remove the legal apparatus of the patent office, and observe the effect of this maneuver on industrial progress. Admittedly this is a problem for historical, economic, and sociological hypotheses more generally, so I don’t know if Callahan has a particular reason for rejecting this line of thought in this case.

4 Why does Callahan say that patent law is not grounded in the common law?

He claims that they are a state intervention which came later and ultimately strip the rights of subsequent inventors.

If someone patents an invention a week before me and I independently invent it later, without use of the earlier inventor’s designs, I am open to legal punishments.

5 What is Gleick’s analysis of the specific case of the incentives facing Jeff Bezos?

Without a patent on 1-click ordering Bezos would’ve still invented it, seen it copied by other online distributors to the benefit of consumers, and would’ve prospered to the degree that he could continue to innovate.

6 Describe the typical attitude of Walter Mossberg concerning PC software.

That the software is far too buggy and computers should simply work at all times without issue.

7 Why does Callahan think the partnership for which he worked couldn’t possibly be accused of sacrificing the end user’s needs when it came to software quality?

Because the people who paid for and used the software were the same people — they therefore could not be mis-understanding their own interests.

8 Why was 61 percent accuracy the point at which debugging of Callahan’s program should stop?

Because, on the basis of some fairly simple accounting, that is the point at which the stock-trading program Callahan was working on would be profitable. At 61% good trades the program would be making money on average and any additional advance testing beyond that point would simply be costing the firm money.

9 Is it really true that home appliances besides computers never crash?

No, if they didn’t there wouldn’t be plumbers, dishwasher repairman, or warranties on refrigerators. And even if this were the case it would hardly be decisive — home appliances are much, much simpler than computers.

10 What alternatives do customers have to “buggy” Windows?

They have a choice between two Windows varieties, Windows 98 and Windows NT, as well as all manner of Unix distributions and the OSx family of operating systems.

11 Describe some of the proposed reforms of the software industry, and Callahan’s reaction.

A government mandate regulating how buggy software could be and implementing a licensing scheme for software engineers. The former would make developing new software too expensive for anyone except the likes of Microsoft, and the latter would drive up the costs of entering the software development field while ossifying the high salaries of anyone able to afford licensing.

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