Nobody likes “patent trolls,” even if they’re not quite sure what they are.
It’s a term without clear definition and yet it’s being used to push Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court right now to curb abusive litigation without damaging a centuries-old system designed to promote advances in science and industry.
On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether a company named Alice Corp can own an “invention” for escrow accounts. While the idea of escrow has been around for centuries, Alice Corp has a patent that describes the concept of using a computer to implement it.
Reading the merits briefs of Alice Corp., CLS Bank and many amici induces the strange feeling that there are multiple, parallel universes operating, and it is hard to know which one you are in. Are you in a universe in which Alice’s claims are for a software invention or a business method?
In relation to the VentureBeat article that was recently published, I am sharing a letter that I wrote to the BPPE department and the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Please feel free to copy this letter and send it on to the DCA.
To: Mrs. Denise Brown, Director of DCA
c/o: Reichel Everhart, Deputy Director of DCA
From: David Selinger, CEO, RichRelevance
CC: Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom; Hackbright Academy; General Assembly
I had the great honor of meeting with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom recently on the topics of technology, education and government. He left me optimistic that someone in the wonderful State of California understands the intent of government to support and protect its citizens, and the need to be progressive in a world where technology is wildly outpacing government.
The BPPE has taken aggressive measures today to remind me that the world of a backwards-looking, backwards-thinking California Government is not a thing of the past.
I could not be less pleased with the recent decision of the BPPE to extend its influence and power beyond that granted by it in its charter. This is the core problem of “bad government” – a counterproductive action taken when not required, definitely not valuable and potentially not even legal. General Assembly and Hackbright Academy (among other similar institutions being extorted) do not claim external accreditation. In fact, their very power and essence is the opposite of that which BPPE is designed to oversee and regulate: it is in the creation of value associated not with the outdated labels of accreditation, but with the merit of skills which are freestanding and which can be created, taught, measured and verified on a basis fully independent of the interjection of the state. Additionally, unlike a traditional vocational trade, there is no physical safety issue (beyond perhaps carpal tunnel syndrome) casting a shadow of “workplace safety risk management.”
It is clear that these organizations do not need, nor do the citizens of the State of California in any way benefit from the oversight of the BPPE—this is overhead, wasted tax dollars and regulation simply for the purpose of regulation and adding to the California State deficit. The economy of the future, the one which the State of California is frequently credited with designing and engineering, will be based on the true meritocratic measure of value. Where the value in a trade such as software development cannot be contained in a certification, accreditation or label; but will instead be self-evident in the capability to express creativity, create value, or engineer an experience—and to do so in an interview, on-the-job and in practice. I, like many of my contemporary CEOs and executives, care much more about the capacity of an individual than the capability of their parents to afford “higher education.”
I am honored to be the employer of a proud Hackbright graduate, Lydia. She is proud of her skills and has used her experience at Hackbright to accelerate her learning at RichRelevance, to make RichRelevance a better company and to improve the quality of our services to our customers. I did not hire her because of Hackbright per se. I hired her because upon leaving Hackbright, she could clearly demonstrate to myself and all of her co-workers that she knew her stuff, and her stuff was what we needed. I could personally care less if she had developed these capabilities from a book, an online course, or by dreaming between games of checkers at the park. It happens that Hackbright was the path through which she got here, and God bless them for being just that path.
In the meeting, the topic arose with the Lt. Governor on how we can might change things in the State of California for the better. I am a frustrated, disempowered citizen. The conversation was off-the-record so I won’t quote him, but I left the meeting with a strong sense and motivation to follow my moral compass, to take advantage of my role as a CEO/entrepreneur and to do what is right, because it is right, not because it is convenient. To sometimes choose the path of civil disobedience because it can be the path to truth.
What the BPPE is doing is wrong. It is wrong, distracting, counterproductive and unnecessarily expensive. I, as a taxpayer in the State of California, am making a stand and hereby demanding accountability from my government.
Mrs. Brown, please stop this madness immediately.
Write a formal apology, back down, and move forward successfully. No one will remember this happened in 48 hours thanks to Twitter and Justin Bieber. I promise. Do the right thing here.
We have people searching for work, people who can’t feed themselves or their families and foster children who desperately need our attention and love. The State of California needs leaders who are willing to forego the expansion of the power of their particular kingdom in order to attain the greater good of a powerful, economically viable State of California.
July 15, 2013 was a sad day indeed for all of us involved in recommender systems. John T. Riedl, one of the seminal pioneers of the field, passed away after a prolonged illness. John was an innovator not only in the academic study of Computer Science, but also in its industrial application, and in his concern for its social consequences.
John was a distinguished academic whose work was at the forefront of many early foundations of recommender systems, particularly those based on the now ubiquitous collaborative filtering approach. He founded and led the GroupLens Research team at the University of Minnesota, which not only built key data sets for recommendation research, but also pioneered the notion of interaction and feedback, and set standards in those areas that even today light the way for all of us.
But merely to say that John was a great academic would be to miss the greater meaning of his life’s work. In 1996, he branched out from the academy and founded Net Perceptions, an innovative company whose goal was to bring the insights of GroupLens from the lab into the world at large. The impact was nothing less than the pervasive use of recommendations technology across the web, especially in e-commerce. The common understanding that Amazon was the earliest pioneer in this area is only a partial picture. Amazon worked closely with Net Perceptions, and many of the techniques one sees on their site to this day are based on John’s insights. Although Net Perceptions didn’t make it through the bursting of the dot com bubble John’s work lives on through its influence.
After working at RichRelevance for five years, Albert Sunwoo left in 2012 looking for something new and different. Though he loved the culture and work ethic, he was curious to see what else was out there. Stops at two other organizations during this hiatus proved to him that what we have here is not easily found and that the grass is not always greener. Watch his story…