Shaking the mailbag

When I suggested killing the US Patent and Trademark Office altogether, on the theory that far from promoting innovation it's now inhibiting it, I created quite a stir. Let me propose a compromise. How about having patents expire sooner?

ManagementSpeak: You don't want to know.

Translation: I don't want to tell you.

-- IS Survivalist David Beamer, on the other hand, did want you to know.

The ole mailbag has been pretty full recently, so let's dive right in.

When I suggested killing the US Patent and Trademark Office altogether, on the theory that far from promoting innovation it's now inhibiting it, I created quite a stir. Let me propose a compromise. How about having patents expire sooner? After all, everyone knows business cycles are shorter than they were when the PTO was founded.

But if you doubt it's seriously broken, consider two factoids:

According to an article in the

Minneapolis Star Tribune, celebrity yoga masters have trademarked most of the holy words of the discipline.

The Register reports that last year the PTO granted a patent to one Lawrence Lockwood that in theory covers all forms of electronic commerce, plus all ATMs.

It appears Lockwood has licensed his patent to Pangea Intellectual Properties, which might politely be described as a lawsuit factory. Rather than pursuing companies big enough to crush it in court, Pangea is badgering smaller companies, figuring they'd rather pay than waste time and money fighting. Maybe they should patent the technique.

Several readers complained about my bringing Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the column, because discussions of public policy don't belong here. Fair enough, except for two concerns: first, when the subject is leadership, as it frequently is, the best examples come from either newspapers or history books. I'll do my best, though, to emphasise the relevant leadership techniques, not the political positions. The other concern? FDR died six decades ago. I figured that made it history.

And finally, my critique of emotional intelligence also disturbed some correspondents. Many told me my characterisation -- that it promotes social graces over hard skills -- misrepresented the book; more misunderstood my point. For the former, I promise another read. To the latter: Yes. EQ, the author's execrable term for the emotional parallel to IQ, is important, as I've said many times. For managers, EQ is a required skill, in fact -- part of the job. The book, though, says managers should consider EQ to be as important as core skills among the staff who do useful work.

Before you decide, imagine you're running a startup company that's going to create a piece of software for sale. Which would you hire: a social misfit who's also a "code god"? Or a really nice, well-met soul who can't find his own backside with both hands and a map?

Lewis is a contributing editor at InfoWorld. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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