Friday, August 14, 2009

Demise of the (anti-)Doughnut campaign: a parable of patent reform?

Dr. Jason Newsom lost his position at the Bay County (Florida) Health Department over his campaign against fatty foods, most particularly doughnuts.

An AP story notes that doughnut selling lawyers were partly to blame for the demise: A county commissioner who owns a doughnut shop and two lawyers who own a new Dunkin' Donuts on Panama City Beach turned against him ... After the lawyers threatened to sue, his bosses at the Florida Health Department made him remove the anti-fried dough rants and eventually forced him to resign, [Newsom] says.

This little story evokes themes in the story of patent reform, although the patent reform saga has added complexity. In patent reform, the big doughnut sellers (eg, IBM, Cisco) are complaining about the little doughnut sellers ("trolls") and are trying to implement "reform" to favor the big doughnut sellers, rather than to get rid of the doughnuts. The popular press would have the public believe that the little doughnut sellers are the only ones selling doughnuts, and that "reform" will get rid of the doughnuts. Anybody who actually advocated getting rid of the doughnuts would meet the same fate as Dr. Newsom, likely from doughnut selling lawyers. Furthermore, the position of the big doughnut sellers would do significant harm to smaller vendors, who aren't selling doughnuts at all.

Of details, the lawyers in this matter were concerned about some aggressive language of Newsom, which specifically portrayed Dunkin Donuts in a bad light:

In May, lawyers Bo Rivard and Michael Duncan, co-owners of a new Dunkin' Donuts, asked Newsom to take down the "America Dies on Dunkin'" message. Other language included "Doughnuts (equals) Diabetes," and "Dunkin' Donuts (equals) Death."

This does seem over-the-top, but then labeling inventors as "trolls", or even NPEs, wasn't nice either. The patent biz is about disclosing inventions, not about practicing or exploiting inventions. An inventor who discloses a patentable invention has done his job. What happens next is not about the inventor's role in the patent system.

***Of IBM selling doughnuts:

IBM's US 7,571,105: issues of patent quality and exam quality


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