Saturday, November 20, 2010

Carol Moseley Braun and patent ignorance by Associated Press

Within a story on the political resurrection of Carol Moseley Braun by DON BABWIN of AP , one finds

Within months [of her election to the US Senate], Braun had a Mr. Smith-Goes-To-Washington moment: She stared down conservative North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, angrily promising to stand on the floor of the Senate "until this room freezes over" to stop the chamber from granting a patent on the United Daughters of the Confederacy insignia, which featured a Confederate flag.

When it was over, 23 senators who'd voted in favor of the patent changed their votes, and the patent — routinely approved in the past — was denied.

The issue was over an EXTENSION of an already-existing design patent and involved separate fights with Senators Thurmond and Helms. From :

n May 1993, just a few months after her induction into the Senate, she challenged Senator STROM THURMOND (R-S.C.), the Senate's most senior member at the time. The two debated a bill that would have extended the design patent on the insignia of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), which featured the Confederate flag. Arguing that the flag was a symbol of a time in U.S. history when African-Americans were held as human chattel under the flag of the Confederacy, Moseley-Braun persuaded her colleagues on the Judiciary Committee not to extend the UDC patent.

The issue was not dead, however. In July 1993, Senator JESSE HELMS (R-N.C.) included the patent extension as an amendment to another bill. The Senate voted 52–48 to approve the amendment. Undaunted, Moseley-Braun vowed to filibuster to reverse the vote. She lobbied her fellow Senators to reconsider the vote on the Helms amendment. She argued that the Confederate flag had no place in our modern times, no place in the Senate, and no place in our society. The Senate reconsidered its vote and finally tabled the Helms amendment, effectively killing it, by a vote of 75–25.

The New York Times wrote in Daughter of Slavery Hushes Senate:

As to the vote switching: The Senate, which calls itself the world's greatest deliberative body but in fact finds its votes changed sometime by public opinion but hardly ever by speeches, was convinced by the argument that the flag was an insult and killed the Helms amendment 75 to 25, as 27 senators changed their votes over three hours. [IPBiz notes that 48 + 27 yields 75; how Babin came up with 23 is unexplained.]

As to "renewal" of design patents: Design patents like the Daughters of the Confederacy logo come up for renewal every 14 years. Most patents are simply allowed to lapse. But the Daughters of the Confederacy have gone to Congress for renewal four times this century. Renewal by Congress confers honor and prestige for certain patriotic groups; in fact, only about 10 groups, including the American Legion, have won patents from Congress since 1900.

As to the United Daughters of the Confederacy: [Helms] maintained that the symbol, a laurel wreath encircling the national flag of the Confederacy -- not the battle flag or stars and bars -- was instead just a proud insignia of a charitable group of "about 24,000 ladies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, most of them elderly, all of them gentle souls who meet together and work together as unpaid volunteers at veterans hospitals."

Babwin and the AP got several facts wrong in their story.

[Braun earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago School of Law in 1972; LBE also holds a J.D. from the University of Chicago.]


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