The Cost of Patent Trolls

Interesting new paper on the cost of Patent Trolls in the US.

In the past, “non-practicing entities” (NPEs), popularly known as “patent trolls,” have helped small inventors profit from their inventions. Is this true today or, given the unprecedented levels of NPE litigation, do NPEs reduce innovation incentives? Using a survey of defendants and a database of litigation, this paper estimates the direct costs to defendants arising from NPE patent assertions. We estimate that firms accrued $29 billion of direct costs in 2011. Moreover, although large firms accrued over half of direct costs, most of the defendants were small or medium-sized firms, indicating that NPEs are not just a problem for large firms.

For reference, $29 billion is more than NASA's budget ($19 billion in the same time period). This is a huge problem that has real impacts on our economy and our recovery.


Is the Sky Blue?

It's a really interesting question, that isn't as obvious as you might think. It's wrapped up in the social construct of colors, and how color words emerge in languages.

Radio Lab covered this recently in one of their best podcasts I've ever listened to. And there is another great look at color evolution here. I especially like that we're actually watching a color split emerge in modern Japanese language.

Recharged by the night sky

As I was packing up my telescope at midnight last night, calling it a night from our Star Party, I decided to take a short walk. And I did so looking up.

The milky way was rising, and as civilization was shutting down, it was getting darker and clearer. There was so much detail, so much horizon, so much beauty. And the universe just stopped, and stared back at me.

The kind of calm and quiet doesn't happen that often. And after a long and hectic week, it was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries.


Transit of Venus

Yesterday I saw something with my own eyes that's only been seen by humans 7 times in human history, and won't happen again for 105 years: Venus moving across the face of the sun. That view, I'll remember for the rest of my life.

The Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association and SUNY New Paltz pulled off a big event yesterday, with 250 - 300 guests showing up to see the Transit. While we had some clear skies at 5pm, by 5:30 there were clouds. As people streamed out from Dr Amy Forestdell's talk at 5:45 we pointed people back inside to catch the NASA stream of fist contact.

Of course, 2 minutes before first contact, the NASA stream hung. We jumped instead to the Google Plus Hangout that Fraiser Cain and Pamela Gay were hosting, which included views from 4 amateur astronomers from around the US. I watched first and second contact virtually as the clouds had us pinned in.

But I roamed out afterwards and saw we were getting thinning sections. I ran back to my scope and waited patiently as the clouds shifted. About 20 minutes later we got a quick hint of shadows, and I nearly got my scope aligned. From the crowd our club VP yelled out "I got it!", and then the clouds were back in. But they were thinning, and I was ready. A few minutes later shadows started showing up again, I dialed in my scope quickly, stuck my eye in to see if it was there. And...


It just hit me like a load of bricks. There was the orange disc of the sun, which I'd seen so many times in my solar scope, and it had this giant hole in it. A big black hole, so much bigger than anything I've ever seen on it. So much more distinct. So very cool.

I quickly started to have people come through the line. There was one high school kid who'd been hanging out for a long time talking with me, so I made sure that he got to jump the line and get a view. We had about 15 - 20 minutes of these thinner clouds, and I think I managed to get about 30 people through on my line in that time. The new tracking mount helped, as I didn't need to keep adjusting things. Then the clouds came back in, and we waited for another shot, which never came.

But for those brief minutes we saw it, with our own eyes. And it was amazing.