Blawg Review #261. Today is the tenth World Intellectual Property Day. While you’re reading this, I shall be partying with friends and colleagues in my intellectual property community. This community, for the record, consists of IP creators, owners, practitioners, teachers, judiciary, licensors and licensees, consumers and infringers. It’s a small planet and we’re all on it together. Since we can’t escape one another’s company, we may as well party!
I don’t often enjoy reading other people's blogs. The bad ones irritate me and the good ones make me jealous and inordinately competitive. When I do read them, it is normally (i) weeks in arrears, so I don’t feel tempted to poach; (ii) with more attention to their ‘look and feel’ than to their content; and (iii) voraciously, as one might devour six burgers at a single sitting and then not be able even to look at another one for months.
Not all the blogs I like are necessarily those that are good in terms of content or format; there’s usually some sort of inherent balance to them and they speak directly to the inner IPKat. Before I conduct this review, I’d better declare my personal position.
Five pet likes
• Short, clear posts that hit the target
• Crisp, punchy and well-informed comments to the blogger’s posts: a bright and creative readership can keep a so-so blogger on his toes
• Intelligent use of links to support the blogger’s contentions or give relevant sources
• The camaraderie of team-blogging
• Bloggers who operate the golden rules of What they didn’t teach you in Harvard Business School: be big enough to say ‘I was wrong’, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I need help’.
Five pet hates
• Non-transparent blogs (“who is this ‘I’, and why is he blogging?)
• Unnecessary and intrusive autobiographical data (too much ‘I’, and I really don’t want to know what the author ate for breakfast)
• Posts you can’t understand unless you’ve been following the blog for the past six months
• Unexplained use of abbreviations, acronyms, terms of art and the names of people I’ve never heard of
• American sports metaphors where the blogger expects non-American readers.
A few of my pet likes, and rather more of my pet hates, can be found in my selection for Blawg Review #261.
A good post can leave the reader with a previously-nascent thought bursting to the top of his mind. South Florida Lawyers’ “The "Cocooning" Effect on Federal Judges” does just that. Why shouldn’t Supreme Court justices—or indeed any members of the judiciary—be expected to answer questions during oral argument? Some members of the American judiciary have enjoyed a remarkable longevity which may suggest they need to be treated in a delicate manner. However, there’s an old Yiddish saying that no-one ever died of a question. If that’s true, they have nothing to fear. Talking of fear, won’t South Florida Lawyers let us know who they are? Or is modern Miami a bit like Cold War Minsk?
Judges are an easy topic to write on, since (i) like the weather and the economy, they’re a public-domain sort of subject on which everyone is entitled to have an opinion and (ii) they are generally constrained as to how they might reply. God is a more sensitive subject, since—unlike judges—he has many followers who may be apt to flood the blogwaves with indignant comment, vitriol, fire, brimstone and the like (this depends on the nature of God’s following: few blawgers have been savaged by a wild Quaker, for example). “Theologically Misdescriptive”, from Ron Coleman’s Likelihood of Confusion, is the paradigm for a gentle and whimsical treatment of a potentially explosive God-driven subject—trade marks which include the deity’s name. Ron raises the subject, gentle turns it around a couple of times so that readers can identify some apposite legal issues, and puts it to rest.
Titles of blog posts are important too. They can promise something exciting (might “The Cocooning Effect on Federal Judges” just reveal a new sexual fetish, involving cocoons?). Other titles promise no excitement at all but deliver much. “How Much Information Does A Search Query Reveal About A User?” is about as much a turn-on as yesterday’s sandwich, abandoned at the platform of Paddington Station. Yet the splendidly-named Maximilian Schubert (the Austrotrabant) produces a lively tale which encompasses a pretty French girl, TweetPsych and a 70-year old Austrian attacking a Google Streetview car with a pickaxe. Nice one, Max!
Frequency of posting helps keep blogs in their readers’ minds, which is why the next thing into the suitcase after the bucket and spade, on the blawger’s precious family holiday trip to the seaside, is a beloved electronic posting device. But frequency is no guarantee of quality and the charm of some blawgers is strictly rationed: their offerings pop up irregularly and when you least expect them, like prize truffles. Nicholas Weston’s Australian Trade Marks Law Blog is a case in point. “She will not be apples”, a neat post on iPOD v DOPi, is that rare blawg’s only article this year. The IPKat waits for more.
An observant blogger will spot a social or commercial development and recognise instantly that it has some significance for his readers which they might not have spotted themselves. A visionary blogger however will spot something that has no obvious connection with a current issue and turn it upon it like a probing searchlight. Thus TechnoLlama (Andres Guadamuz), in “Socrates and Free Software”, picks up a snippet of dialogue between sophist Antiphon and philosopher Socrates in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, where it contributes to the defence of Free Software.
Given the range of intellectual property subject-matter, it’s no surprise that IP Blawgs cover the whole gamut of human emotions: jocular comments on silly inventions and naughty trade marks can be found at one end of the range, while profound and scholarly analyses, replete with footnotes, can be found at the other. A good example of the Continental European tradition of Blogospheric Scholarship is IPEG’s team blog: “Value of Patents and the Endowment Effect". This report on recent research on the real or imagined tendency of IP owners to overvalue their property is the sort of thing that gives blawgs in Europe their grativas: you can almost feel the heat of the breath of Grotius on the back of your neck as he leans over your shoulder to read the screen.
The range of IP is also immense geographically, with over 200 jurisdictions in which treasured rights can be protected, exploited, misappropriated and infringed. It’s easy to write for your fellow-countrymen, but commenting on the developments in one country for readers in another requires quite different skills. That’s why Danny Friedmann (a.k.a. 龍知權) provides such a useful service with his IP Dragon blog. “Cheese With A Double Identity Crisis: Dutch, No Chinese, No Kiwi” is a good example of the genre.
Fortunately for this Kat, Danny writes in English only. But IP is one of those areas where you can easily bump into a bilingual blog. The IPKat’s Latin-American cousin IP Tango has both Spanish and English entries, but the most colourful species of bilingual IP blog—literally—is the exotic Catch Us If You Can !!! (Stefano Sandri, Lorenzo Litta and friends), whose “Bio-tec, da New York soffia vento di crisi...” is typical of its output: last month’s ruling on human gene patents in Association for Molecular Pathology v US Patent & Trademark Office was picked up by many blogs, but never like this.
Blogs come, blogs go. The IPKat wonders why no-one has pounced on at least one abandoned blawg: Jorda on Trade Secrets. On 8 July 2009 the blog’s last post read: “Upon his transition to Emeritus Professor, Karl Jorda will no longer add new blogs. Pierce Law has decided to leave this blog up as a definitive source for the discussion on the complementariness of trade secrets and patents”. What a shame that no-one is building on a foundation consisting of a two-year archive, developing and applying the professor’s thoughts rather than leaving them to be fossilised in the blogosphere’s dubious amber. Bona vacantia is a topic familiar to many of us, so why not blogga vacantia too?
The discerning reader will by now be wondering about the whereabouts of the dog that didn’t bark: nothing has been said about copyright blawgs. This is because this particular Kat has had some difficulties with them. We all blog because we want to make an impact of some sort on our readers, and many blogs succeed in fulfilling a didactic role. The distinction between the didactic blog (which seeks to educate and shape the reader’s understanding) and the campaigning blog (which seeks to persuade the reader to adopt the writer’s position) is however a fine and often blurred one; I feel that most copyright blogs lie on the wrong side of that dividing line. I don’t like being expected to agree with a position which a blogger believes to be so self-evidently true that it requires neither explanation nor justification. This is more likely to be the case with copyright, on account of its freedom of speech dimension, than with patents or trade marks However, this being World IP Day, it would be churlish to omit mention of Cathy Gellis's thoughtful appraisal of the Statute of Anne and 300 years of copyright which featured in her blog Statements of Interest as Blawg Review #258.
A good example of a didactic blawg post can be found in a recent offering on John L. Welch’s TTABblog, “Test Your TTAB Judge-Ability on This Specimen of Use Question”: a recent application to register a US trade mark is turned into a simple exam question for the reader. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board decision is given, the reader has a chance to test himself against the experts and John gives his own brief comment.
When the IPKat got blawging in 2003, he may have been the only IP-Animal on the block. Since then, he has been joined not only by llamas, dragons and platypuses but by a host of other animals. Rumour has it that an IP Elephant is in the pipeline: we hope that this will not cause any serious blockage. The choice of “Kat” was not accidental. Like Rudyard Kipling’s The Cat That Walked By Himself, the IPKat chose the path of independence, which is why it does not indulge in reciprocal bloglisting and carries neither paid adverts nor revenue-earning search engine-sponsored click-through ads. Do blogs grow to resemble their emblematic animals? Now, that’s a good subject for a future Blawg Review …