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Posts published in “Stapilus”

Patent pending

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Did it come as something of a shock to the executives at Micron Technology when one of the leading research universities in the world, Harvard, decided to file suit against it?

The question is a little generic, since the suit filed on June 24 apparently came after Harvard had sent letters and other communications. But the more non-specific answer – which Micron hasn’t given; it has not said much about the case – may tell something about the larger issue of patents and their sometimes sweeping impact.

The case arose after Micron and another company, GlobalFoundries (which also is in Harvard’s legal sights) began using a new technology which allows for placing extremely thin metal films on other substances, which can expand the reach of computing possibilities. We don’t yet know whether Micron or GF would argue they independently came up with the process, or whether they would contend it is different from others. But Harvard said that it is the same as one developed by a team led by one of its professors, Roy G. Gordon, in the late 1990s and early in the next decade.

On becoming aware Micron was using what it thought was the same approach, Harvard said it “reached out to each of the companies outside of the context of litigation and invited them to engage in good faith licensing discussions. The companies have refused to engage and have, so far, continued their infringement without licensing rights to use the patented technology.”

Patent law, or the use of it, has been changing in the last few decades, and concerns about it have been growing as well. The popular conception of patents probably relates to the classic entrepreneurial inventor in the home basement who’s come up with a brilliant new mousetrap, and wants to make sure someone else doesn’t steal his great idea. Or, at least, that he can benefit from it. The idea is to encourage invention, and also to encourage the use of the invention to benefit society. Many patents are now held by large organizations, developed by people who work for them.

Harvard’s statement on the new lawsuit said it “recognizes that the public’s interest may be best served in some circumstances by the application of legal protection to the innovations of Harvard inventors so that these technologies may be developed into useful products.” If reading that makes you feel like you’ve looped around the curves of a pretzel, you may not be alone.

Also this: “The Gordon laboratory’s research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, a federal law, enables universities to hold patents on federally funded research and to participate in technology transfer activities that help ensure inventions become useful products that benefit society. Harvard invests significant resources into research infrastructure and activities, technology development, and the cost of filing and maintaining patents.”

A question may be coming to mind, which Harvard also usefully posed in its statement: “If Harvard intends groundbreaking technologies to make an impact in the world, why file suit against companies that are making use of the technology?” The answer was that unlicensed use of the technology “can devalue the contributions and efforts of researchers who have often devoted their careers to solving important technological challenges.”

In a purely financial way, maybe. But that seems to be the limits of what much of patent law is about these days. The forthcoming legal replies from Micron will be worth watching.

A Northwestern veep?

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Take none of what follows as a prediction, but I will say this: The Northwest is home to the single most logical vice presidential pick in the country, in either party.

I eliminate the Donald Trump-Republican side here, because I have no idea who the most logical vice presidential nominee there might be. (For a host of reasons, not Senator Mike Crapo, who made a list of prospects by columnist Ann Coulter.)

On the Hillary Clinton-Democratic side, the calculus is easier, and by combining assets and liabilities Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley rises toward the top. He is not among the most-mentioned names, but all of those better-knowns come with problems attached. The choice of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren would thrill some people but would stir new controversy (the two-woman ticket) while putting her Senate seat at partisan risk at a time when Democrats have hopes of retaking the Senate. That same Senate problem applies to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who’s close to the Clintons, has financial and other issues and would aggravate the Bernie Sanders contingent. Sanders himself is a non-starter, as Clinton has made clear, not least because he has not worked in the party vineyards. Other prospects have little or no serious experience as a candidate for high office.

Merkley was the only senator to endorse Sanders, which made him beloved within that contingent, but he did that without trashing Clinton, who he has since endorsed. Picking Merkley would be a signal from Clinton that she can overcome her issues of insularity, and expand her enthusiasm quotient on the left. (Of coursse, if she’s as insular as reputed, Merkley’s Sanders link would be a disqualifer.) The risks would be small. Merkley is a loyal Democrat, has run as such since his first election to the Oregon House in 1998, and has helped other Democratic campaigns.

In demeanor, he has a low-key, “aw-shucks” manner (in person he comes across more like Crapo than an of the others in the Idaho delegation) which would neatly balance Clinton’s presentation, but he’s also a skilled speaker and debater. He rose quickly into Oregon House of Representatives leadership, and showed political chops by leading the campaign effort that switched control of the chamber from Republican to Democratic ad made him speaker. Like Oregon’s other senator, Ron Wyden, he’s held town halls in every county in the state each year he’s been in the Senate (he’s now in his second term). His background, as he routinely reminds Oregonians, is as the son of a Myrtle Creek mill worker, and his interest in practical economics grows out of that.

If elected as vice president, Oregonians would choose his replacement in a special election. Given Oregon’s politics, Democrats probably would not have to worry about losing the seat.

His easy manner led many Oregon Democrats to figure him for an unambitious centrist, and he has cooperated with a variety on other senators on sundry issues, including Idaho’s Republicans on regional topics like wildfire prevention. He also, however, has been a liberal activist on economic and other issues (his highest national profile probably has been on the subject of filibuster reform) which is why the Sanders backers would approve of him.

What few Oregonians probably know, and Merkley seldom mentions, is that he has a strong foreign relations and defense background as well. After a stretch in the office of (Republican) Senator Mark Hatfield, Merkley worked for a variety of international non-profit and other organizations around the world, spending time in Ghana, Mexico, Italy, India and elsewhere. After that he became a presidential management fellow at the Department of Defense, working in Caspar Weinberger’s administrative offices on defense process and strategy. And after that, at the Congressional Budget Office as a nuclear arms analyst. He discusses defense and foreign relations policy with ease.

Merkley’s name, as a veep prospect, has come up so far only on the periphery, and to reiterate, I make no predictions here. But the case for hism is strong enough that you shouldn’t be shocked if you hear it again.

Email lessons

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What Hillary Clinton should say, soon, about the e-mails. Should, probably won't.

First, I want to thank Director Comey and his staff at the FBI for their extraordinary efforts at investigating the circumstance surrounding my emails from the years when I was secretary of state. They had to have known that exceptional efforts needed to be taken, since whatever their report and recommendation would be, some people, maybe a lot of people, would criticize it. The best way to counter that is to do what they have done: Investigate with great thoroughness, and then analyze the results carefully in making recommendations. I believe they did just that.

You could say I'm happy to endorse the results because the director, and the agency, recommended no indictments in the case. But as we all also know, the director was also sharply critical of my handling of the emails, and the procedures used. And he was critical of what he described as a culture at the Department of State that was lax in handling classified material.

Let me be very clear here and reiterate as plainly as I can: I mishandled my emails during that period. I made a mistake - more than that, a running series of mistakes over a period of time. And I apologize to the American people for that, for putting classified material at risk. I will have a few more things to say here, but none of those changes any of that.

Today, however, the question should be: Can we make sure something like this doesn't happen again? It doesn't diminish my own culpability to recognize that many other people in sensitive positions have handled their email in similar ways, and many have, including some of my predecessors.

Our system of internal federal communications, especially in the area of classified information, is badly in need of an overhaul. One reason many people have resorted to informal communications methods, like private email servers, is that the official system for secure communications - which I also used over the years - is cumbersome and doesn't allow for the kind of efficient contacts and information sharing we need.

If I am elected president, I will first of all pledge to confine my communications to a better set of channels. But beyond that I will set about finding ways to improve our secure communications, making their efficient, speedy and effective as well as confidential.

There is a related subject we should address: The vast number of documents held by the federal government which are marked as confidential, whether "top secret" or otherwise. The numbers of such documents has exploded, and a large number of them are over-graded for security. I will seek a wide-ranging review of these records so we can make sure we focus our security efforts on those documents which really are sensitive, and allow the American people to inspect, as they should be able to, those which are not.

This has been a troubling case for many people, not least me. But lessons can be drawn from it, and we may be better off down the road from having had this discussion.

Toward 2018

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Brad Little, Idaho’s lieutenant governor since January 2009, has filed paperwork toward a run for governor in 2018. In doing that, he has finally done what some observers expected he would in 2014 or even as far back as 2010.

No need now, he was quoted in one news report, to be coy about it any more, which makes definitive that the incumbent governor who appointed him, C.L. “Butch” Otter, will not try for a fourth term. Running for governor, or one of the top offices, has been more or less eventually expected of Little for many years. Even when he was in the state Senate, and before that when he rebuffed suggestions he run for this or that, there was the sense that he would one day be a contender for top-rank office in the state.

Brad Little comes from one of the major Idaho pioneer families, for three decades running his family’s large ranching operations based at Emmett. He has been an actual cowboy – the real thing, not a rodeo enthusiast but a working cattleman. Years ago during a backcountry drive I paused for refreshment at one of the bars at Yellow Pine, and watched as a gaggle of dirty, tired, ragged cattle hands burst in through the door – Brad Little in the middle of them, one of the gang. You’d not easily have picked him out as the corporate and political figure in Boise he also was even then. Or guessed at the scope of self-education and contacts he’s developed, the variety of perspectives he’s absorbed.

He is a more complex figure than most Idahoans probably realize. His profile as lieutenant governor for the last six-plus years has been defined as a rigorous Otter loyalist. He will no doubt have Otter’s support in the coming campaign, and – as the campaign treasurer appointment of Vicki Risch, wife of Senator Jim Risch, should make clear – that of most of the Republican establishment as well. To tag Little as simply providing another term of Otter would be wrong and unfair given his own capabilities, though that is likely how his opposition will describe him.

And there will be opposition. Two names at least have been circulating for quite a while: Representative Raul Labrador and former state Senator Russ Fulcher, who lost the Republican primary – after a hot and spirited contest – to Otter in 2014. Labrador has been mentioned as a prospect almost as long as he’s been in the House, though he may be more likely to continue settling in there than to uproot for the statehouse. Fulcher appears to have kept in touch with his support base, and could be well positioned to renew his campaign if he decides to give it another go.

The governor’s office doesn’t come open all that often, and it almost certainly will be contested.

For the moment, however, Little has good positioning for it, for at least two reasons.

One, taking a tip from Otter’s campaign approach, he effectively announced early. Otter did that in his first run for governor and hoovered up most of the money and support available. Jim Risch, who was seriously considering a run for the job too, finally backed off. Little may be a formidable contender before 2018 even arrives.

Second, if he has to fill in the political role Otter has played, that may not be a liability. Otter, after all, decisively won in 2014 in the face of serious opposition. Little might well be able to appeal to many of those elements that gave Otter his third term.

In 2014, Little was challenged in the Republican primary directly from the Fulcher wing of the party, and defeated Idaho County Commissioner Jim Chmelik with just over two-thirds of the vote. He will not be easy to defeat.

But challenged he almost surely will be, and now the campaign is on.

Truth limping after

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The Twin Falls incident that blew up around the world actually went something like this.

On June 2 at the city’s Fawnbrook Apartments, a five year old girl encountered three boys, ages seven, 10 and 14. The older two were natives of Sudan, and the youngest from Iraq. One of the younger two is believed to have physically touched the girl, but the incident mainly seemed to have centered around humiliating her. A video of the incident was shot, police were called and responded soon after. The two older boys were taken into policy custody. Not many more details were released by authorities because records in juvenile cases generally are kept under wraps.

It was a sad event, maybe traumatic for the girl. But compare the facts – laid out clearly by Twin Falls Prosecutor Grant Loebs and Twin Falls law enforcement – with the accounts many people first heard.

For many people, that first report came in the form of a Drudge Report headline, “REPORT: Syrian ‘Refugees’ Rape Little Girl at Knifepoint in Idaho.” Variations of that headline, with short unsourced stories to match, shot around the Internet for days before reality set in.

To underline it: There were no Syrians involved; no Syrians have even been settled in the Twin Falls area through the (highly controversial) refugee programs. Whether the boys were refugees is not clear (albeit possible). There was no rape. There was not even a knife. The only part of that headline that was true is that the incident purportedly referred to occurred in Idaho.

Since this was a Drudge headline, I wouldn’t necessarily have expected any better. But some actual news organizations picked up on the report and also posted it online, making the situation worse.

According to the Twin Falls Times News, some versions of the story had the boys’ parents celebrating the attack. That wasn’t true either, but it apparently was enough to get at least one of the families involved evicted from their rental residence. There were also loud claims that law enforcement was slow in responding and local authorities were engaging in a coverup. Also not true.

How did this happen? Loebs suggested that “There is a small group of people in Twin Falls County whose life goal is to eliminate refugees, and thus far they have not been constrained by the truth.” Based on the way the story developed and spread, that seems likely.

But let’s expand this a little, because we may be back in this area again.

Please: Don’t be too quick to believe what you hear – especially if it supports your bias.

Or, in the old cautionary aphorism of the professional group Investigative Reporters and Editors: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Okay, maybe the second one was a little harsh: You may already have plenty of good evidence for believing that proposition. But the point is reasonable. At least pause to ask what sources there are for a given piece of information (in the case of at least some of the early articles on the assault, none were cited).

Too much of what you see online, or hear on radio or television simply isn’t true but does have the primary effect of tearing communities apart and turning neighbor against neighbor. Don’t let that happen. Again.

Idaho droppage

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The elections of 1992 were mostly good for Democrats around the country but overall excellent for Republicans in Idaho – in spite of a drastic drop in the GOP vote for president.

There’s a thought here worth unpacking during this campaign of 2016.

In the last half-century Idaho’s electoral votes for president not only haven’t been in doubt, but have been in landslide territory for Republicans nearly every cycle. If you consider the 1976 vote for Gerald Ford among the landslides (and at 59.9%, it’d be churlish not to), then only two elections in all those years stand out: To a lesser degree 1996, when Robert Dole won 52.2% (to 33.6% for Bill Clinton) and to a greater degree in 1992, when George H.W. Bush won Idaho with 42% (to Clinton’s 28.4%).

That 42% was the lowest percentage a Republican has gotten for president in Idaho – even though it was enough to win the state’s electoral votes – since 1936.

That also was the big year, of course, for independent Ross Perot, who caught the attention and support of a lot of Idahoans. Perot’s support, in Idaho at least, came mostly out of the Republican side, and drove down Bush’s percentage. (The same thing happened to a lesser degree four years later to Dole.)

To be clear here: The decline in Republican percentage in Idaho did not result in an uptick on the Democratic side. Clinton’s percentage in Idaho also was unusually low even for a Democrat. And Republicans did very well that year down the ballot, though the legislature and courthouses.

But Perot surely was not the only reason Bush’s numbers cratered in Idaho that year. It also had to do with the relative level of actual enthusiastic support. And the early 90s was a period when a kind of predecessor to today’s in-GOP insurgency was beginning to become active in Idaho, not to today’s extent but enough to shake up thinking and alignments among a lot of Republicans.

There was some subtlety to it. Idaho’s Republican establishment was solidly behind Bush; there was little visible Idaho activity in support of his in-party critics like Pat Buchanan. The Perot activism was genuinely grass roots; it seemed to grow in part from Republicans who were interested in sending a message to Bush, and to the Republican establishment.

If some of this is starting to sound a little familiar, there’s a reason: Those factors from back then may be a lot stronger now.

The dissatisfaction among Republicans with Bush (over the broken “no new taxes” pledge, for example) was real but low-level, not much surfacing. The dissatisfaction among a lot of Republicans this year with Donald Trump is much greater. In various ways he was all but ignored at the state Republican convention, an unheard-of slight, drastically different from past presidential elections.

A Dan Jones & Associates poll of Idaho voters released in the last few days shows Trump at 49% to 32% for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Clinton number isn’t far from what you might expect, but the Trump number is unusually low for what you’d think a Republican nominee would pull.

Is there an opening for some third candidate (such as the Libertarian Party ticket, which has two unusually strong contenders running) to do what Perot did 24 years ago? We may see.

The quiet convention

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Dogs that don’t bark in the night-time tend not to get as much attention as those that do.

Same with political conventions.

The 2014 Idaho Republican convention got plenty of media splash, and for reasons that made party leaders grimace. That was a convention that ran on ground so bitter that much of its basic, normal work could not be done, and it adjourned in chaos. And led to lawsuits and worse, even a dispute about who was or wasn’t the state party chair.

This year’s convention, held in Nampa a week ago, saw none of that. It ran quietly and smoothly, saw the approval of party leaders – re-election without dispute of those in place – and of party platform and resolutions, with only the mildest of argument. It was closer to the way conventions were run 20 or 30 years ago, apart from the lack of enthusiasm for the presidential nominee.

Not that it was entirely an era of good feelings; new ideas were largely blocked and the platform was simply that of 2012. But it still ran far smoother than 2014.

Some of that may have to do with care and effort on the part of some of the party leaders. But some other factors were almost surely involved too.

One was the relative lack of a big rift within the party. Obviously, the Idaho Republican Party was home to plenty of legislative primary battles, concluded only a few weeks ago. But these were local and generally small in scale, and in many cases specific personalities were key to the battles involved. While both U.S. House members had in-party challenges, they didn’t come to much, and many voters probably were surprised even to see the extra names on the ballot. Almost all of the real conflict was at the legislative level, and these conflicts didn’t much spill over from district to district, or around the state.

If you were a delegate from, say, Pocatello, the recent intense battles in several legislative races up in the Panhandle would have little resonance for you. There were no big sweeping bases for opposition.

In 2014, the Idaho Republican Party seemed to contain two parties in one – the insurgents and the establishment. it involved not just local races, but many of the statewide and even congressional races, and the rhetoric involved in those contests periodically ran hot. And when the establishment won the primary, the insurgents were left fuming, and had no outlet for their anger, until the convention met. Little wonder the convention that followed a battle ground.

I have to wonder if there was another aberrational factor this year, too, by the name of Donald Trump.

Trump surely had supporters in Idaho; in the presidential primary earlier this year he came in second and won a bunch of counties in the center of the state. But Idaho’s Republican establishment hasn’t exactly attached itself to him.

One story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review noted that at the convention, “When delegates were urged to rally behind Trump at the close of their morning floor session on Saturday, only a few waved signs and the cheers were noticeably muted.”

When Representative Raul Labrador was asked for his thoughts about Trump, he responded, “It’s a beautiful day in Idaho, isn’t it?”

At this year’s Idaho convention, there was plenty of willingness to get along with one’s neighbors. Maybe they were encouraged in that process by the sounds of unexpected and fearsome creatures outside the doors.

The movement

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The contest for the Democratic Party's nomination for president is over. Nearly everyone who will be voting around this country for a presidential nominee now has voted. Hillary Clinton has won enough delegate votes to win the nomination, including a strong majority of the pledged delegates. Most of the Bernie Sanders campaign staff is being laid off.

It was a strong race; it's over.

But for the Bernie Sanders campaign, this doesn't have to be it. There's an alternative to simply disbanding and going home.

It shouldn't disband.

The idea would mean transforming this temporary campaign for a party's nomination into a political action force, a force to elect Democrats that will back their goals and apply pressure on Democrats that weaken on them.

We've seen outside forces have major effects in recent years. The Occupy forces had real impact; they may have fizzled as a direct political action group, but they transformed the way many people thing about the economy and society in this country. The Tea Party may have been less coherent, but their activism made a real difference in political races all over this country.

Imagine now a force that has what neither of those two had:

A clear, worked-out vision both of what is wrong and steps that ought to be taken to correct it.

A well-structured organization, at the national down to the local level, in all 50 states.

A strong funding mechanism to pay for employees and fund campaigns.

The Sanders campaign has all those things, and more. It even has a person at the top who - for now - could set a general tone and approach and mediate between conflicting points of view.

The opportunity is there to build a strong organization that could put pressure on a Clinton Administration to remember promises made, and to deliver political clout in support when that administration is trying and struggling to get those things done. It could affect the course of the 2018 congressional elections, which as matters stand may continue the frustrating ding-dong approach of elections that cut in different directions every two years.

A chance for affecting the course of near-term American history is there for the Sanders people, in the weeks and months to come.

If they don't let it slip from their grasp.

The voter-built agency

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Idaho voters over the years have had a hand in reshaping or founding several important state agencies, from the Department of Water Resources to the reapportionment commission. But the Department of Fish & Game may be the most voter-impacted of all.

The dispute ongoing now, involving two Fish & Game commissioners - Mark Doerr of Kimberly and Will Naillon of Challis – who were not reappointed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, makes for a direct reflection on some of that.

Idaho has had fishing and hunting rules since its early territorial days; the first were set in 1864, banning big game hunting for a period from February to July. But those rules were on the honor system. No one enforced fish or game law until after statehood, when in 1899 the Fish & Game Department was first created and a game warden was hired. (Maybe there’s an indicator here: Idaho is among the states referring to “game” in its agency name, while most other nearby states, such as Washington, Oregon, California, Montana and Utah, refer to “wildlife”.)

That early agency was under direct political control, meaning that governors appointed the executives and oversaw the staff, and legislatures directly set much of the policy. Not many years passed before complaints began to surface. As early as 1911 the state Game Warden, Frank Kendall, advised “placing the fish and game department of Idaho on a scientific basis and in order to do so we must have men who have made this a study and are familiar with the needs and requirement of this line of work, regardless of political affiliations, and to this end I would recommend … we place the men who are directly in the fish and game department under a civil service ruling and retain them as long as they do good work.”

Sportsmen's groups started calling for the same thing, pressing the legislature to upgrade the state fish and game efforts. Lobbying over a span of 25 years by Idaho’s many hunters and fishers got them nowhere.

In 1938 they mobilized to place on the ballot their proposal, placing fish and game under control of a commission and requiring that officers hold and keep their jobs based on merit. At a time when suspicion of government expansion was not so different from now across much of Idaho, the initiative passed with 76 percent of the vote. That measure set the framework for the Department of Fish & Game still in place today.

Nothing in government can ever truly be “taken out of politics,” and in the broad sense shouldn’t be – that would mean the public has no input, no control. And there’s often some tension between what various people in the public, and sometimes their elected officials, want and what the fish and game department and commission do. But the measure of independence usually has been seen as a plus.

In 1995, new Governor Phil Batt asked for letters of resignation of the commissioners; he had wanted the departure of the then-director, Jerry Conley, and a number of policy changes. A statewide eruption ensued, and Batt dropped his request for the resignations.

He later told Idaho Public Television, “I found out that was a mistake, I apologized for it, and since that time I have never tried to influence any decision of the Fish and Game Commission. I don't think that I should. I do think that we all have to work together for the good of the State of Idaho, I've impressed that on them many a time, but I've never tried to tell them what they have to do or what they can't do.”

The tension is always there. Doerr and Naillon could tell you about that.