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I’m a china and silverware kind of guy. Like Field Marshall Rommel. He loved the clink of sterling against porcelain. So he carried them everywhere, even over the Alps (Okay, it was his flunkies who did the lugging).

Then there’s plastic and paper. Rommel would have had nothing to do with those. And, to me, they spell trouble. There’s something about sitting down at my desk to a seared bluefish steak, pesto blackened polenta, and kale cobbler with whipped cream, all thrown haphazardly onto a textured pink cardboard plate that turns my stomach. Not the food. The cardboard. And when I dig in with the white plastic fork and shatter the middle tine, I heave a sigh.

Eating is supposed to be fun, elegant, inspiring. And back in the day, Limoges® and Reed & Barton® made sure of that. Add a tablecloth. A bottle of wine. In the 23rd floor conference room with the client and your colleagues around the table. What could be better?

Here’s the rub. Cardboard and paper are cheap (should I say “cost effective”?). So firms everywhere long ago ditched stylishness and switched to Dixie® and more Dixie®. Whole hog. That’s why the sound you hear in their lunch rooms is that familiar nasty rustle of polyethylene cutlery on cellulose fiber. And the occasional twang of a snapping plastic knife blade, followed by the swoosh of the freed shard of plastic flying toward the wall.

When you’re done wedging the lunch into your petite mouth, it’s time, of course, to discard the entire place setting along with the leftovers glopped onto them. Ugh.

It’s then when you discover that you’re stuck with the obligatory sorting and recycling charade. That farce may be eco-friendly, sustainable, green, and LEED certified.

But it’s not simple.

Back in the day, the detritus of law firm life was handled in round tinplate wastebaskets. They sat on the floor. In the corner of the conference room. Whatever was no longer wanted went into them. That could be the unfinished half of a ham sandwich, a brief on appeal, or dead flowers from the vase on the conference room credenza. No one cared much about sorting any of this mix. They would have snickered at the thought. Happily, everything that was tossed into the wastebasket was gone by the next morning, no questions asked.

Then some wiz bang do-good architect figured out that you could put the garbage into drawers in the credenza instead of storing pencils and staplers and paper clips in there. Those desktop tools had fallen into disuse with the demise of sheet paper, and something needed to be done with the freed-up space. In fact, there was so much empty room that when the garbage drawers were designed into the credenza, there were two or three of them at least. The drawers usually didn’t have labels, until discrete markers were taped onto the front of the credenza by the local recycling police. Before that, you were expected to figure out on your own which drawer was for “trash” and which was for “recycle.”

The distinction between “trash” and “recycle” may make perfect sense to you. But not to me. In my world, garbage is garbage no matter what you call it. And I could rarely guess which drawer was for the cold limp pale-green fried potato dregs and which drawer was to receive the crumbled damp paper cup. In my universe, paper cups are trash that gets recycled or recyclables that get trashed. Who cares. And leftover spuds are trash but they also get recycled if you compost them (as any self-respecting earth lover would do).

So I just put stuff in any drawer that seems handy at the moment.

All and all I’m fed up with this state of the world. Sadly, it doesn’t have to be this way. Believe me. Back in the day, afternoon tea on china was de rigueur in a big shot law firm. And a biscuit or crumpet, too. The garbage was removed silently by someone else without a comment. You felt civilized. And when you finished, you lit up a cigar. Terrific.

Just my two cents.


Written by thinker

November 23rd, 2015 at 9:36 pm

What’s the big idea?

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Abstract ideas are a red hot topic in the patent world these days. And the frenzy has provoked some folks to adopt the wrongheaded view that ideas are a new phenomenon.

Far from it.

Look back a few centuries. After a long fallow period during the dark ages when people mostly wandered around in circles ignoring those puzzling sensations in their crania, ideas started to multiply like rabbits.

These days, more and more people are getting ideas. They are a dime a dozen (the ideas, I mean). You cannot stop them. Frankly, if it were not for all the ideas people are having everywhere, on the subway, in the bathroom, you name it, the world would be in a bigger heap of hurt than it is. In the future, count on a gazillion more ideas spilling out of people’s little brains and onto their breakfast plates next to their yogurt and cinnamon rum lattes.

In the old days, say 2010, if you had a good idea (maybe pentagonal croissants filled with pesto sauce), you went up two flights to your local patent lawyer and got yourself a patent. Your Aunt Celia threw a couple of thousand into the venture. Within a few years the New York Times was featuring your goodies in the Food section. And you were using your patent to smack down any other dough slinger who hoped to challenge your position. This made sense. It’s how we built America, mid-century. Business, government, and the press working together. Using patents. For the common good.

As we all now know, thanks to the Supreme Court, the Congress, and the patent office, big patents on big ideas are dangerous antisocial immoral claptrap. Gasp. Thank goodness we are rid of them once and for all. The world is a safer place.

Yes. The tide has swung. Today, no self-respecting Congressperson or Supreme Court Justice dares to mouth a good word about a patent. And if she did, the dazzlingly thought-leading Wall Street Journal would skewer her alive.

This flap about ideas is tricky.

The universe of ideas once was a simple enough place to maneuver. An idea was an idea. Good, bad, big, or small. You had an important new idea, you got a patent. You have a brain-dead idea, you didn’t get a patent.

You can forget all that now. The ideas world has been Balkanized: There are abstract ideas over here and there are non-abstract ideas (I like to call them concrete ideas) over there. Abstract and concrete. There is nothing else, and nothing in between.

Concrete ideas are things like the Todd Road overpass across US 101 in Santa Rosa. That was concrete for sure. It came to life one day when Sandy Mix, an engineer in the Office of Concrete Ideas of the California Department of Transportation strode into her boss’s office and announced “We need a concrete overpass on Todd Road in Santa Rosa.” And her boss jumped up, pulled the cigar out of his mouth, and bellowed “Great idea.” Notice he said “idea” without making a fine point of whether it was an abstract idea or a concrete idea. The poor doofus didn’t know the difference. But to you and me (and everyone in Santa Rosa) hers was a concrete idea, plain as day.

Here’s the key to concrete ideas: you can patent them with no sweat. But they aren’t worth much. Because nobody cares. Sandy Mix getting a patent on the Todd Road overpass would be a non-event for Clarence Thomas, your Aunt Celia, and everyone in between. Except maybe a guy who wants to build another Todd Road overpass crossing US 101 in Santa Rosa. Yawn.

Because getting patents on concrete ideas is like shooting fish in a barrel, people are going after them with a vengeance. They’re dumbing down their square abstract ideas to make them fit the round concrete sewer hole. They’re making them “substantially more” so they don’t preempt. And they’re staying away from anything that smells like organizing human activity. (Gee, I thought patents were all about human activity.) These maneuvers keep the numbers up, the boss or the client happy, and the patent machinery running slicker’n a smelt.

Then there are the abstract ideas.

The important thing to know about abstract ideas is that you get your head handed to you and go home with your brains in your pockets if you are stupid enough to try to patent one of them.

So you need to be sure you know what abstract ideas are. And that’s a puzzle. Aren’t all ideas abstract ideas? If an idea weren’t abstract it wouldn’t be an idea, right? It would be a selfie stick or a ham sandwich or an Uber app running on your smart phone.

Here’s an abstract idea: Your new skateboard sharing app. You call it the GOOBER app. Just click the FETCH button and a guy on a peanut-shaped tandem skateboard wheels up in 3 minutes, swipes your credit card, and skates you into town for the big meeting with the GC of Apex Consumer Electronics. Or say you want to get to your boyfriend’s place pronto. You text him “I’m going to GOOBER right over. See you in ten. [suggestive smiley face].”

Of course, you don’t have a clue how to make the app, but your boyfriend does. And this idea is big. REALLY BIG.

So you GOOBER over to your patent lawyer’s bunker and are told to forget it. You can get a worthless patent on the GOOBER idea if the skateboards must have turn signals. Or you can develop a headache and a pain in the wallet failing to get what you really need: a big, broad, bold, in your face patent on your abstract idea. Neither works, because, without the patent, your Aunt Celia isn’t coming up with a plug nickel for your venture.

I have a big abstract idea of my own: Retake the high ground, de-Balkanize the world of ideas, popularize the mantra “A bold broad patent is a beautiful thing.” And push the patent bashers back to the only question that matters patent-wise: is the concept new stuff or is it the same old bunkum that people have known about for years.

Just my two cents.

Written by thinker

October 18th, 2015 at 3:50 pm