Monthly Archives: June 2016

IP: The Dragon Awakens

Ah, the Law of Unintended Consequences. It is both universal and infallible.

What gives it such a robust life is that we seldom consider context in our predictions or expectations. If anything, we project events within the context that we have known and experienced.

A recent case in point. The world has been demanding that China tighten up its Intellectual Property (IP) protection for years. It was one of the conditions on which China was admitted to the World Trade Organization.

And it has started to, just as it promised. Only things are quite working out the way everyone predicted. In the last year or so Apple, for example, has lost two critical IP cases in the China courts, which found that two Chinese companies legitimately held the IP in question. In the most recent case, Apple has been banned from selling the iPhone 6 in China, although it has not disappeared from the shelves to date.

What gives?

For starters, IP law is probably the most complicated area of law there is. It is almost impossible to protect a single patent or idea. Slight variations in design can generally skirt the original IP. That is why companies who rely heavily on IP generally file what IP lawyers call “a forest of patents” to protect a single idea. That helps, for sure, but the very practice gives you an idea of just how complicated this area of law can be.

The context issue, in this case, has to do with the collectivist perspective of Chinese culture versus the individualist perspective of Western culture. IP law, as we currently know it, has been developed in a highly individualistic context. It will no doubt look very different when remapped onto a collectivist mindset.

Perhaps the biggest issue at play here is mere prejudice. Many Westerners, I suspect, simply assumed that there was little IP already in existence in China. Most Westerners assume that China makes toys and widgets and that’s about it. But that, of course, is not the case and the Chinese tech industry is expanding geometrically by the day.

Are the Chinese playing fair? How can we say that any court is playing fair? The job of a court is to interpret and that always comes with baggage. As Socrates taught us, we don’t know what we don’t know. The truth is seldom obvious to all.

I have no doubt that the Chinese courts will again rule against Western tech giants in the future. Be careful what you wish for, my mother used to say. China has four times the population of the US. By the numbers, therefore, we can expect the Chinese to be prolific in their production of patents and other forms of IP.

Perhaps, in other words, by insisting so strongly on IP protection in China we have handed the Chinese economy the most powerful weapon possible in its future economic arsenal.

The Chinese economy may not return to double-digit growth. It’s not going away, however. Any Western company that ignores China either as a market or a competitor does so at its peril.

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It’s True: You Can’t Hunt in China

It goes without saying that the tragedy that occurred in Orlando this past week was just that – a tragedy. A big tragedy! A huge tragedy!

It also, by coincidence, occurred on the day that I returned from living in China for the last nine years. My Chinese wife stayed behind to finish packing and I frankly have my doubts that she will ever make it here. That’s tongue in cheek, of course, but the reality is that much of the world, including the average Chinese, believe that America is totally out of control when it comes to guns, drugs, violence, hate, etc.

And we are. Call me what you will. A Commie, if you like. I grew up in rural America and have been shooting guns – real guns – not BB guns – since I was eleven years old – more than fifty years. I’ve been a hunter off and on – mostly waterfowl – find real enjoyment in shooting skeet and trap, and I have, in fact, owned a gun for a good portion of my adult life.

But I’ve lived in China for almost a decade and no one there, of course, is allowed to own a gun. Even the police don’t have guns. Only the military does. And while that all sounds pretty authoritarian to the average American I have never heard of anyone ever getting shot there.

And while they’re older now and living in North Carolina, I never hesitated to let my young daughters wander the area around where we lived – despite the fact that it is home to 22 million people. Violent crime just doesn’t exist. (I’m told I would get arrested in the US now for such lax parenting but we actually picked teams when I was in school, I walked to school on my own, and, yes, we played dodge ball. And somehow there seemed to be a lot less violence back then.)

And, no, you can’t hunt in China, and I truly get the fact that hunting is part of America’s social fabric. As I said; been there, done that. I understand the whole family tradition issue.

But you don’t need an automatic weapon that holds 50 rounds of ammunition to hunt. So I really don’t get it. Why can’t we get past this argument about the Second Amendment and the right to own assault rifles? It makes no sense to me. Like the torpedoes of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870) fame; slippery slope be damned!

For those that would argue – and I know many very intelligent people who would – that the Chinese are victims of the lack of private ownership of guns because they can’t overthrow their government as the colonists did the English monarchy, I would say you need to go there. I firmly believe that you could give every Chinese citizen an assault rifle and there would be no regime change. Nor have I ever heard a Chinese citizen express remorse for the inability to hunt or own a gun.

I am not defending the Chinese Communist Party position or the NRA’s. But there is context to everything in life and this notion that you must own assault rifles to prevent the loss of individual liberty is pure folly. Look around the world if you need proof of that.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that when an incident like this occurs the gun manufacturers get rich because everyone runs out to buy a weapon. What are people thinking?

They’re thinking, of course, that if they are armed and a guy walks in a bar with an assault rifle they can kill him first. I don’t think so. He has a bigger gun, a lot more hate, and the element of surprise. You don’t stand a chance.

I will never own another gun. Now it’s personal. I will protect my wife and my daughters but owning a gun has nothing to do with that.

I do applaud, by the way, the fact that many media outlets are refraining from providing the name of the shooter. He doesn’t deserve the glory. What I find perplexing, however, is that every account refers to the shooting as taking place at a ‘LGBT’ bar. Whatever your position on sexual identity, why does that matter? Hate is hate. Death is death. If we continue to categorize each other on whatever basis we aren’t going to get around the violence.

My parents often told me that there would always be someone smarter, faster, and/or more handsome than me. They wanted to keep my feet on the ground.

A corollary of that is that there will always be people who hate more than you. Don’t buy what they’re selling.

My condolences to all impacted by this senseless violence, and the rest of the senseless violence that affects millions of innocent victims around the world on a daily basis

It doesn’t have to be this way.

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Driverless Cars – They’re the New Norm in the US

My latest novel, Now You Are Lisa, is currently available in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon.


Having just returned from a trip to the US my overriding observation of the journey is that driverless cars can’t come soon enough. From what I saw the cars are driverless now. They’re just not supposed to be.

The reason, of course, is that nearly every driver is either texting, talking on the phone, or surfing the Internet. Hands-free use of your smart phone, which my car was equipped with, helps, but is not a cure. It’s not about your hands; it’s about your head. Hands-free or not, communication in any form is a distraction.

Until this trip I thought that China was the capital of freeway anarchy. While there are just as many rules of the road here as in the US nobody pays any attention to them. And as long as you are aren’t jeopardizing social order the police don’t seem to care too much.

It's tough to text with your mother and daughter riding on your scooter. But is that all bad? At least you have to pay attention.
It’s tough to text with your mother and daughter riding on your scooter. But is that all bad? At least you have to pay attention.

China no longer has anything on the US in terms of roadway anarchy, however. The only difference is that in the former they don’t care; in the latter they just aren’t paying attention.

Frankly, I was shocked at how quickly technology has been applied on every front to life in the US. I can order directly off a tablet at Panera and avoid the line. (And Panera can avoid having to pay someone to take my order.) And I’ve always believed that electronic toll payment, like the electric garage door opener, is the perfect application for technology.

In some ways, however, the technology is getting just a little too smart. If I look up the address of a store or restaurant I am only going to see ads from that store or restaurant from then on. That kind of ‘smart surfing’ isn’t exactly expanding our horizons. Frankly, I find it more annoying than helpful.

And I still maintain that some applications just don’t lend themselves to technology. We’re just allowing the provider of the product or service in question to push their costs onto us with no offsetting benefit in terms of ease or speed of service. Even doing some task in my pajamas is of no real value if it takes all day.

The dividing line between a good application and a bad application is the complexity of the task. When I pull up to the gas pump, for example, I essentially have three choices and I can generally get through the process.

On the other hand, when I went to apply for a visa for my Chinese wife, I am certain that if I could have actually spoken with an individual human being I could have completed the process in a fraction of the time. (They don’t provide telephone numbers any more for a reason. They know you’ll call and there’s no one there if you do.)

Just think of how many variables there are among the global population of people who might want to visit the US. Just the reasons for wanting to visit alone easily number in the dozens – and you can still never quite find the exact one.

To automate the process, of course, you have to accommodate virtually every possible variable. That means any given applicant must fill out page after page of questions that either don’t apply or are essentially unnecessary. In the end, what should take a few minutes ends up taking much longer because the process has taken on a life of its own – all in the name of automation – which is supposed to be a good thing.

There are some complicated processes that are made easier by technology. When I closed on a new condo, for example, it was all done electronically and there were pages and pages of documents. The key there is that neither the title company nor the bank is going to change anything anyway. It’s like a software license. You either sign it or you don’t. It’s a digital process despite the appearance of great complexity.

My new car came with a lot of technology. And the GPS is helpful, but not always. I can’t get mine to shut up and I still don’t know what destination it thinks I’m looking for. And I suppose an electronic parking break has some advantage over a mechanical one although I can’t imagine what that is, particularly since there are few occasions when a parking break is actually needed and a block of wood under the tire always worked fine for my father.

What I do know is that cars are a lot more expensive than they used to be. I actually saw an ad for a pickup truck that lists for $60,000. I bought an extended cab, full bed, pickup not that long ago for $15,000.

To be clear, I am not against technology. I am, however, quite fearful of how little people have really thought through all of the implications, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence. I fear we’re playing with fire because we don’t see it as fire. It all seems rather benign. (And the source of great riches.)

Unfortunately, you can’t put your toe in the water on this one. We’re doing that now with all of this texting business. We’ve either got to remove the smart phones or the drivers – one or the other.

If we don’t we’re going to ‘smart’ our way into oblivion.

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