Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Being derived from medieval concepts about land, U.S. patent lacks an objective basis for awarding ownership rights in intellectual property. 

Land is excludable: you can keep someone from it with a fence. Land is rivalrous: no two people can stand in the same place at the same time.  According to the economic theory of public goods, knowledge is non-rivalous and non-excludable: sharing knowledge does not diminish its quantity; and you cannot prevent someone from knowing what they know. Thus, it is generally true that you cannot get a patent on a mathematical theorem.
See 35 U.S.C. §101: Subject Matter Eligibility• The four statutory categories of invention:– Process, Machine, Manufacture, or Composition of Matter and Improvements Thereof• The courts have interpreted the categories to exclude:– “Laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas”• These three terms are typically used by the courts to cover the basic tools of scientific and technological work, such as scientific principles, naturally occurring phenomena, mental processes, and mathematical algorithms.Evaluating Subject Matter Eligibility Under 35 USC § 101: August 2012 Update  Office of Patent Legal Administration United States Patent and Trademark Office here.
However, patents have been awarded for mathematical ideas. Of course a plethora of patents exists for computer software, even though a program is only an algorithm, a method of calculation.

US Patent 4133152 A was awarded to Roger Penrose for “Set of tiles for covering a surface.”  (Patent here.)
A set of tiles for covering a surface is composed of two types of tile. Each type is basically quadrilateral in shape and the respective shapes are such that if a multiplicity of tiles are juxtaposed in a matching configuration, which may be prescribed by matching markings or shapings, the pattern which they form is necessarily non-repetitive, giving a considerable esthetic appeal to the eye. The tiles of the invention may be used to form an instructive game or as a visually attractive floor or wall covering or the like.” – US Patent 4133152A

A Penrose tile is a “non-periodic tiling generated by an aperiodic set of prototiles. – Wikipedia.

The Penrose tiles are a pair of shapes that tile the plane only aperiodically (when the markings are constrained to match at borders). These two tiles, illustrated above, are called the "kite" and "dart," respectively. In strict Penrose tiling, the tiles must be placed in such a way that the colored markings agree; in particular, the two tiles may not be combined into a rhombus (Hurd). – from Wolfram here. 
Penrose Tiles and Trapdoor Ciphers … and the Return of Dr. Matrix 
by Martin Gardner. 
Washington DC: Mathematical Association of America, 1989. 
"Because the tiles lend themselves to commercial puzzles, [Roger] Penrose was reluctant to disclose them until he had applied for patents in the United Kingdom, United States, and Japan.  The patents are now in force." Penrose Tiles and Trapdoor Ciphers … and the Return of Dr. Matrix by Martin Gardner. Washington DC: Mathematical Association of America, 1989, Page 6.
So, mathematical ideas can be patented if you claim that the theorem is a puzzle (or has some other physical instantiation).  

Mathematician David A. Edwards asserts that no economic distinction can be made between a discovery and an invention. 
From an economic point of view, there is no rationale for distinguishing between discovery and invention, and we would advocate dropping entirely any subject matter restrictions whatsoever on what can be patented. One should be able to patent anything not previously known to man. In fact, a good economic case can be made2 for allowing the patenting of many things that are well known but are not being commercially produced.
 “If we're going to have a general patent system, then algorithms should be as patentable as lasers. For example, general relativity is used in GPS…  My colleague Carl Pomerance developed fast primality testing algorithms in the late 1970s but couldn't patent them. My colleague Victor Wickerhauser developed the fast wavelet transform in the early 1990s and was able to patent it as a software patent.  … If we want these things to be patentable, then Congress needs to change the law.”  (“Platonism Is the Law of the Land,” David A. Edwards
April 2013 Notices of the AMS Volume 60, Number 4 pp475- 478 here
Intersecting the discursive plane from another angle, mathematician Robert Palais points to the low esteem in which the USPTO holds mathematics. 
   an applicant to practice before USPTO must demonstrate, in accordance with the USPTO’s requirements, that he or she possesses scientific and technical proficiency sufficient to address issues that arise in patent law. Notably, however, mathematics is explicitly excluded as a subject for this purpose. …   I downloaded the “General Requirements Bulletin for Admission to the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office” to see for myself. It lists 32 subjects in which bachelor’s degrees exhibit adequate proof of the necessary scientific and technical training, as well as 2 1/2 pages of acceptable alternates. Then it states the “Typical Non-Acceptable Course Work: The following typify courses that are not accepted as demonstrating the necessary scientific and technical training:” and in the middle of this paragraph, there appears: “…machine operation (wiring, soldering, etc.), courses taken on a pass/fail basis, correspondence courses, …home or personal independent study courses, high school level courses, mathematics courses, one day conferences, …”  … Ironically, USPTO requires mathematics coursework for prospective examiners in the computer arts (employees) that it doesn’t recognize as qualifying for practitioners.
 This is not a debate regarding the appropriateness of patenting mathematics. There have been many such conversations elsewhere. But in these times that mathematics is becoming increasingly visible in valuable patents (e.g., Google’s Page Rank, a linear algebra algorithm, was licensed by Stanford for US$336 million) it seems that the USPTO should be encouraging, not discouraging, the mathematical fluency of the lawyers whose work it recognizes. —Bob Palais, Math Dept., Pathology Dept. University of Utah, Notices of the AMS, January 2010, page 9,  here. 
Euclid's Proof of the Pythagorean Theorem
Proposition 47 Book 1.
(Not Socrates's Demonstration,
which Plato and the USPTO say that you were born with.
Too bad you were not born with this one.)
Plato believed that mathematics exists within you to be discovered by introspection.  In the Dialog of Meno, Socrates draws out from a slave an application of the Pythagorean theorem to show the doubling of an isosceles right triangle.   The so-called “Socratic method” favored by many teachers assumes that this knowledge is inherent within you.  That is the epistemology of the US Patent and Trademark Office.  Mathematics need not be invented – or even discovered by external exploration – because we all have it in our heads.   That theory just does not add up.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shooting the Roadhouse Relics Gallery

Roadhouse Relics is the Austin, Texas, studio and gallery where neon artist Todd Sanders crafts his vintage-style designs using durable modern materials and specialized weathering techniques. --

It is not surprising that people stop to photograph the mural.
What may be notable is that so many do.

I had lunch on South Congress; and then walked over
to South 1st to catch a bus. In the time I waited ... 

...  I counted eight different photographers in 35 minutes.
Previously on NecessaryFacts
Around Austin
High Brew Cold Coffee
Austin at Night
BSides Austin 2013
SXSW 2013

Friday, July 11, 2014


US patent law changed for the worse with the Leahy-Smith "America Invents Act" (September 16, 2011) which became effective March 13, 2013. America went from "first to invent" to "first to file."  Bad as that will be, it is not the only problem with US intellectual property law, which never had a correct and consistent philosophical foundation.

Despite myths to the contrary,  Alexander Graham Bell did not race Elisha Gray to the Patent Office to win by an hour.  In 1876 (and until the AIA of 2011), the Patent and Trademark Office awarded the patent to the first to invent.  Also, back then a working model was not required. (That had been changed in 1870.)  A working prototype or demonstration model is helpful, but not necessary. Even before the AIA of 2011, the USPTO granted patents to software. The first was awarded on April 28, 1968, to Marty Goetz for a sorting algorithm.  (See the Computerworld story here.)

The essential difficulty is that mathematical ideas are not patentable. The law assumes that mathematics exists to be discovered: no one invents it.   An element of the original patent to Goetz was that software could be built in (burned in; programmed in) to a solid state integrated circuit ("chip"). So, it would be an essential contradiction to claim that the arrangements of gates on on integrated circuit is not patentable.

If you have an idea for a new kind of door latch, you can draw out the design and be awarded a patent. You can take that engineering drawing ("blueprint") to a machinist who will make one, even to your specifications for materials and colors.  The engineering drawing is acceptable as evidence of a new invention.  

Now consider these:

 "The Klein Bottle as an Eggbeater" by Richard L. W. Brown

Mathematics Magazine, Vol. 46, No. 5 (Nov., 1973), pp. 244-250 

Brown, ibid.

What those describe is a Klein Bottle, one of these:

Earrings and more for sale

at Klein Bottle Dot Com
Fallopian Klein Bottle
It is real, but it does call to
"And He Built a Crooked House"
by Robert Heinlein, about a tesseract, though.
The Klein Bottle was a mathematical idea, a demonstration in topology, which, by the assumptions of US Patent Law, existed for Euclid and Pythagoras, even existed from the Creation for anyone to discover, and no one to invent.  But clearly, no such thing existed until it was conceptualized, defined, described, and ultimately built.  So, should the Klein Bottle (and Moebius Strip) be patentable or not?

The physical Klein Bottle or Moebius Strip is not mathematically different from other descriptions as equations or maps. Consider the famous Pythagorean Theorem.  A drawing from a Euclidean geometry book is no more or less real than an algebraic statement from Cartesian geometry. The ancient Egyptians knew that if you make a triangle out of rope - 3 cubits 4 cubits 5 cubits - you will have a right angle, which will enable you to redraw your property lines after the Nile recedes.  Thus, a knotted rope 3-4-5 would be a "patentable device" when in fact, it is only a restatement of a mathematical theorem. 

Now, we protect that kind of invention (or discovery) through copyright.  The US joined most of the rest of the world in 1989 when one of President Reagan's final acts was signing the law joining the Berne Convention.  The author automatically owns the copyright. You do not need to file for  copyright in the United States.  (It is still recommended by the Copyright Office, of course.)  Perhaps even stronger is first publication.  Publication of an original idea in a peer-reviewed academic journal established your claim to precedence.  Today, when academic researchers are charged with fraud, perhaps the most common crime is to simply search and sort for articles in obscure journals, and put your name on one, and send it to another obscure journal, and claim the publication in your curriculum vitae. The serious crime is academic fraud, not copyright violation - though that does remain.

Analogous rights are attached to fashion trademarks.  You can steal Donna Karan's designs; do not attempt to copy the DKNY label.  (See Johanna Blakely's famous TED Talk on innovation and intellectual property in the fashion industry.)  

The reason for these knots - knots are also a serious problem set in topology - is that we have no objective basis for understanding and instantiating intellectual property.  Our ideas on property are rooted in medieval laws about land. Two people cannot stand in the same place at the same time.  Land cannot be replicated. Anything that is non-rival and non-exclusive is considered a "public good". A beautiful sunset - or even a murky one - is an example. That simply will not do.  Granting a government monopoly was the best idea from the Middle Ages. The city of Venice had the first intellectual property patent laws in 1474. Several of our American colonies began as "patents" from the Crown.  We never got beyond that.  

Make Your Own Paper Klein Bottle
I have been arguing these problems with an Objectivist comrade, patent attorney Dale Halling, on the Galt's Gulch Online discussion board of the Atlas Shrugged movie producers.  His claims here (actually posted by his wife): The Myth that Patents are Monopolies.  My reply here: Patents Redux Again

Halling asserts John Locke's theory that property is that with which you mix your labor.  My response is that breaking into my house requires work but does not grant title to my property.  On the contrary, digging a hole and filling it up is hard work which creates no property.  Halling claims that a mathematical algorithm is not objective, not repeatable, and has no material existence.  Software, he says, meets all of those criteria: software is real. However, the Klein Bottle and Moebius Strip prove that mathematical expressions are substantial. 

In fact, even more than Marty Goetz's sorting algorithm, the RSA Cryptosystem is a perfect example of a mathematical idea, instantiated as a computer program, which has very real value.  The mathematics of the totient function came from Leonard Euler.  Supposedly, it existed for Pythagoras, Euclid, and God.  But it took three geniuses from MIT to make it real. The problem is that Phil Zimmerman thought that everyone should have one.  So, he took the same mathematics from Euler and wrote it up as a new computer program and distributed his "PGP:Pretty Good Privacy" for free. (Read one of very many stories here.)

That hit another legal barrier: the US government considers cryptography to be a weapon of war; you are not allowed to export it without a license; but the Internet is global, as the communist gerontocracy of People's Republic of China is constantly reminded.  Once you put something online, it goes everywhere.

That is not the first time that mathematics was sequestered.  In the 18th century, Gaspard Monge's Descriptive Geometry was declared a military secret. Those examples clearly deny the USPTO's claim that mathematics exists for everyone to discover and no one to invent. 

U.S. patent law does not allow independent discovery.  For that, Newton and Leibniz, Bell and Gray, and Srinivasa Ramanujan simply do not exist.  Well, they do exist, but they have no right to their discoveries and inventions.  According to Halling (and Ayn Rand) that is objective justice.  I must demur.  But I do not know how to solve the problem.  Is it true that simply copying that which exists because someone else created it is the labor of a burglar? Is the problem the easy word "simply"? Is copying really hard enough that it qualifies as new labor?  Does anyone really slavishly copy with no input of originality?  

In his Constitution of Government for Galt's Gulch, (reviewed here on NecessaryFacts) jurist Wolf Devoon looks to equity and common law for justice. He expects that in any suit, either or both parties will make novel claims, otherwise the matter would not have come to court.  Perhaps like entrepreneurship, justice is ineffable: it must be learned, because it cannot be taught.  To best serve a commercial society, a truly bourgeois culture of production and trade, the best courts would be successful marketers of justice.  The suggestion is not original with me.

Errol Flynn as Robin Hood
action figure created by
I believe that we do need intellectual property recognized by law. If the moral case were not enough, the practical consequences are irrefutable.  The classic argument comes from The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else by Hernando De Soto. Bright ideas that benefit a home, farm, or village burn out for lack of capital to fuel them because the poor have no property rights. That is why they are poor. The consequences are manifold (another mathematical concept). The government's own electrical power utility cannot borrow capital to maintain or expand because the poor steal electricity. It is not the mere tapping of current, but the fact that the users have no legal addresses.  Here in America your home will be a good asset for your power company for the next 30 years no matter who lives there because your home address has legal reality. You have a right to the property; when you buy power, you lease that value. 

That said, I seek to avoid reversing cause and effect, the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. President Obama, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and others of the "you did not build that" gang claim that entrepreneurs use public roads and other public infrastructure which we the people provided.  Of course, those entrepreneurs also paid up front long before they went into business.

However, the salient point - as any Austrian economist will prove for you - is that each mile of pavement made us all poorer.  It is a testament to entrepreneurship not that they made good use of the highways, but that they succeeded at all despite the desertification of the economy by public works.  The "benefit" of public works are a "broken window" fallacy.

It may be a similar fallacy to claim that our IP laws brought prosperity.  They may only be to jurisprudence what public roads are to transportation.  It may be true that having patents and IP law are important to prosperity.  It may be more important that we have the right laws, not just something left over from the Middle Ages.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cell Repair and Tissue Sales

Back in the 1980s, the "cyberpunk" science fiction genre touted personal technologies in the early 21st century.  Here we are.   In the stories of William Gibson, in particular, but also Pat Cadigan, Lewis Shiner, John Shirley, and others, biotech takes the down-front stage position, even as computering of all kinds provides a rich array of characters (maybe even the chorus).  After I took the picture here - and I am sure that it meant cellular telephone repair - I saw a sign at a Walgreen that said " $$ Tissue Sale $$".  Soon… soon…

Previously on Necessary Facts

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Money and Massage at the Mall

Oren was personable, knowledgeable, and gracious.
"You can get anything at the mall," I said to Oren from Deep Sea Cosmetics, as he hugged my wife and me both good-bye. Like women everywhere, Laurel is religiously dedicated to her skin. Like merchants everywhere, Oren insisted that she buy more. "You must keep a secret," he said. "You cannot tell anyone that this is my special price for you."  Like the market scene in Casablanca he held up a calculator to show the price.  It displayed four digits and no decimals. "All of this is yours;  and I will add one of these..."  

Long ago, while lost in the stacks at the Michigan State University Library, I found a 19th century book from the great days of race science.  It showed a migration: from Brythinia in Turkey, to Beirut in the Levant, to Bruttium in Italy, to Britannia in the north.  I showed it to Laurel.  "That explains a lot about the Scots and Jews," she said back then.  She and Oren haggled like Presbyterians for an hour and half while he applied his cosmetics to remove her wrinkles, nourish her skin, and invigorate her collagen.  

I had my own experience earlier.  I found a booth that sells money from around the world: euros, yen, UK pounds, renminbi, and more.  They even exchange £1and £2 as well well as €1 and €2 coins. 
The best deal from Travelex: Worldwide Money is a $1250  "Cash Passport" Mastercard. You get the best exchange rate of the day on "leftover currency" with no exchange fees. I just wanted some renminbi; and she sold me the absolute minimum: 10 rnb for $1.87.  I took it as two 5s.  The clerk said that she does transactions in both directions: people from abroad shopping at the mall come to her for dollars, as often as Americans on their way out get currency.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

BrainJuice for Austin and the World

We met this nice young man at our neighborhood Whole Foods last Sunday.  I would rather have a dill pickle than a donut; and this is sweetened with stevia.  Still, we were impressed with the ingredients and the price. Here in town, you can get it at the usual places. You can buy it mail order by the case and get a discount on top of the discount. (Their website is here. ) The primary active ingredient is Alpha-GPC.  

"L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine (alpha-GPC, choline alfoscerate) is a natural choline compound found in the brain. It is also a parasympathomimetic acetylcholine precursor which may have potential for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.  Alpha-GPC is also used as a nootropic dietary supplement to enhance memory and cognition.  Alpha-GPC rapidly delivers choline to the brain across the blood–brain barrier and is a biosynthetic precursor of the acetylcholine neurotransmitter. It is a non-prescription drug in most countries due to its Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) status." --

Austin BioBash
Central Texas Bee Rescue 
Jaime's Salsa of Austin
High Brew Cold Coffee
Pi in the Sky Over Austin

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Furloughs for Freedom: Downsizing the Government

On Milton Friedman's theory of the negative income tax - direct payments with no questions asked would be cheaper than the welfare system - it would be better to furlough all (almost all) of the government employees and keep paying them not to work because what they do is destructive.  If they stop doing it, we all would be better off.

Of course we would have a huge debate about what is the absolute minimum necessary government. Conservatives and  libertarians know Ayn Rand's specification that a government holds a monopoly on the use of (retaliatory) force. Thus, the government must have police forces.  Rand actually was echoing Max Weber who said the same thing in his address, Politik als Beruf (Politics as a Profession), to the Free Students Union of Munich in 1920.  In that address, he acknowledged that he was quoting Trotsky at the Brest-Litovsk Conference.  So, it seems that everyone left, center, and right agrees that the government should keep the police.  What about the post office or the patent office?  Both of those are in the Constitution of 1789.

Reducing government looks a lot like this.
It might be that we should pare down the government in reverse chronological order.  But perhaps in the days of FedEx, UPS, and big pharma and GMOs we do not need the US Postal Service but do need need the Food and Drug Administration.  The FBI was founded in 1908, the Federal Marshals in 1789.  Which do we need more?  Let the debates go on.   The principle remains.

 The principle is that political power is economically inefficient, and causes market misallocations, and therefore poverty.

The government decides what to do based on power - votes won or control extended - not on market, i.e., profit.  Therefore, all government decisions are misallocations of resources.  Therefore, all government decisions result in poverty.  The less government you have, the more prosperity you have.  That is a general principle.

The specific losses caused by taxes, regulations, prosecutions, and enforcement of laws are easy to see and hard to compute because of their volume and magnitude.  

In the case of truly essential services, we might be willing to accept a dislocation of resources for clear social gain.  It is better to have economically inefficient police than to have chaos, or so we say. Of course, government is much more than mere policing.

Federal Executive Departments
Department of Agriculture (USDA)
Department of Commerce (DOC)
Department of Defense (DOD)
Department of Education (ED)
Department of Energy (DOE)
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Department of Justice (DOJ)
Department of Labor (DOL)
Department of State (DOS)
Department of the Interior (DOI)
Department of the Treasury
Department of Transportation (DOT)
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

Federal Independent Agencies and Corporations
Administrative Conference of the United States
Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
African Development Foundation
AMTRAK (National Railroad Passenger Corporation)
Broadcasting Board of Governors
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Commission on Civil Rights
Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
Corporation for National and Community Service
Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia
Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board
Director of National Intelligence
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
Export-Import Bank of the United States
Farm Credit Administration
Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Federal Election Commission (FEC)
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Federal Housing Finance Agency
Federal Labor Relations Authority
Federal Maritime Commission
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
Federal Reserve System
Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
General Services Administration (GSA)
Institute of Museum and Library Services
Inter-American Foundation
Merit Systems Protection Board
Millennium Challenge Corporation
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
National Capital Planning Commission
National Council on Disability
National Credit Union Administration (NCUA)
National Endowment for the Arts
National Endowment for the Humanities
National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
National Mediation Board
National Railroad Passenger Corporation (AMTRAK)
National Science Foundation (NSF)
National Transportation Safety Board
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission
Office of Compliance
Office of Government Ethics
Office of Personnel Management
Office of Special Counsel
Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive
Overseas Private Investment Corporation
Panama Canal Commission
Peace Corps
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
Postal Regulatory Commission
Railroad Retirement Board
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
Selective Service System
Small Business Administration (SBA)
Social Security Administration (SSA)
Tennessee Valley Authority
U.S. Trade and Development Agency
United States Agency for International Development
United States International Trade Commission
United States Postal Service (USPS)

67 Federal Boards, Commissions, and Advisory Committees
(Mostly volunteers from the communities: Citizens Stamp Committee, for instance. They do entail some operational costs, even if the work of management is freely given.)
Additional Advisory Committees cost about $350 Million per year

Quasi-Official Agencies
Legal Services Corporation
Smithsonian Institution
State Justice Institute
United States Institute of Peace


The Cure for a Failing Empire
Active Defense and Passive Aggression, Part 2
Stand Up and Be Counted
Etruscans and Americans
The American Political Tradition and Profiles in Courage