A Paean to Pi

Today is National and World Pi Day because the numbers of the day (3-14) match the first three digits for pi or π, the Greek letter, 3.1415926535897… Although most people think that π is relegated to just geometry and trigonometry, the number pervades all of mathematics and the natural sciences, even statistics. This article was published last year, but pi day has returned!

Several thousand years ago the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Chinese and the Ancient Greeks tried to make sense of the world through mathematics, an abstract way to envision and explain the operations of Nature, not as the activities of the gods. Over time geometry developed, which could explain much of the world. For example, Euclid and his various axioms were employed to describe much of the natural world. However, when it came to circles and non-linear lines, there remained a mystery among all the Ancients, which was π.
It had long been recognized (and still taught to reluctant students in high school geometry) that the ratio of the circumference of any circle to its diameter is a constant. The Ancients knew this, but the value of that constant eluded them. They realized, however, that there were approximations, e.g., the fractions 25/8, 22/7, 256/81, etc., that were close, and these fractions were employed for centuries as substitutes for pi.

Over two thousand years ago Archimedes carried this approximation technique to its logical limit, using techniques akin to calculus infinities approaches, and was able to obtain very close estimates of π to whatever tolerance was needed, e.g., through circumscribing and inscribing large numbers of polygons, e.g., an algorithm employing up to 96 such polygons for an accuracy between 3.1408 and 3.14285, about 99.9% accuracy. But, around the year 480 A.D., Chinese mathematician Zu Chongzhi used this approach with 12,288 polygons, and created a far more accurate fractional approximation, 355/113, roughly 99.99999% accurate, which was the best approximation for π for the next 800 years.

As a side note, through recent discoveries, Archimedes is also credited with understanding aspects of calculus long before Newton and Leibnitz, who developed differential and integral calculus just over three hundred years ago. Had the Roman soldier not killed Archimedes in the siege of Syracuse, our world may have been very different. But, I digress.

Clearly, these fractional representations of π were all approximations and not a pure answer, which galled the Ancients at their inability to solve the conundrum. Indeed, the purity in mathematics was at the heart of Euclidian geometry’s goals of solving problems. For example, in their effort to solve the π enigma, the Greeks were famous in their efforts to “square the circle,” i.e., geometrically constructing a square having the same area as a given circle, and asking whether Euclid’s axioms posit the existence of such a number. However, the Greeks and many others later could not do it, which had profound implications to Plato regarding the usefulness of Euclid’s theorems or even mathematics to actually describe the real world. In short, the quest was impossible. But why?

With Euclid and the pre-Socratics trying to explain the world in physical ways, e.g., Democritus postulating atoms in a very logical way 2,500 years ago, it is sad that the mystery of π seems to have derailed the very influential thinkers Socrates and Plato to fully trust mathematics. Accordingly, Plato looked to another realm to describe the world: using his forms or abstractions. For example, the concepts of a circle and π were perfect, idealized forms, but every attempt to depict them in the real world would, by definition, be imperfect. This philosophical view held sway until the Renaissance started new ways of thinking.

But, back to π. We now know that pi is both Irrational and Transcendental. An irrational number is defined as a number that is not a ratio of two whole numbers, i.e., fractions. This irrationality of pi is strongly suggested by Archimedes’ and others’ succession of better and better fractional approximations, without a final answer. Also, with computerization it has been found that the digits of pi have no pattern, and for several trillion digits pass the mathematical test of normality, i.e., all of the digits appear equally often in the series. The irrational nature of pi was formally proven in 1761.

A transcendent number is defined as a number that is not the root of any non-zero polynomial with rational coefficients, which is a modern way of saying you cannot square the circle. The transcendence of π was proven in 1882. The staggering notion that the digits go on and on, without repeating or in any pattern to infinity, was (and remains) hard to grasp, the immensity of which was something well understood to Aristotle and others. Over a hundred years ago, however, mathematician George Cantor tackled the mathematical problem of infinity and actually demonstrated the nuances between infinities. π is also computed by various techniques, e.g., equations and trigonometric series, that have terms that go to infinity.

The use of the Greek letter π in this context dates from about three hundred years ago when the great mathematician Leonhard Euler started popularizing it. Mathematician William Jones in 1706 is accredited with being the first to symbolize the circle circumference-to-diameter ratio as π, which is also attributed to the Greek word for perimeter. Prior to computers, pi calculation was a laborious and very error-prone endeavor. With the advent of computing, the mere six or seven hundred digit manual calculations not too many decades ago have jumped to many trillions of digits.

Despite all of the mathematical rigor of the modern era, π remains a mystery, a constant that in a way is inconstant. Of course, there are many other such enigmatic irrational and transcendent numbers out there, e.g., e (2.71828182845…)(which I have also written about), but π is the oldest of these cosmic constants for us humans. On a related note, this is the 51st anniversary of Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, an inscrutable movie that still contains innumerable mysteries. It is also the 20th anniversary of π, the movie, a psychological thriller about the irrationality of π and the human mind. In Star Trek, Mr. Spock crashed a hostile computer making it calculate pi precisely. π also pops up once and a while in TV shows, such as the Simpsons.

This magical number is everywhere, and is part of our lives – even if you hated high school geometry and math. Indeed, we are all still trying to understand the meanings of π.

Raymond Van Dyke is an intellectual property/patent attorney, educator and a science and technology enthusiast.  He has a B.S. in mathematics/computer science and was admitted to Pi Mu Epsilon, an honorary mathematics society, has an M.S. in Computer Science, and a J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the Chair of several organizations and teaches IP, technology law, the history of technology and IP.  His website is: http://www.rayvandyke.com.

An Ode to e

Mathematics is a fascinating subject to some people, but a horror to most. Formulas and rules abound to govern purely abstract relationships that appear alien to ordinary life. Yet, mathematical laws govern our entire world, and the Universe. Physicist Max Tegmark believes that the Universe is itself entirely mathematics, i.e., we are all elaborate formulas in some metaverse.

Embedded within the mathematical laws are inscrutable constants, such as pi and e, where e is the so-called base of the natural logarithm. e is roughly 2.718281828…. Although Pi (3.14159…) has an official day, 3-14, or March 14, e has yet to acquire this honor. Last year, I wrote in honor of World Pi Day on this site and also below.  This year, I propose making 2-7, or February 7, National or World e Day.

The Wonders of e

The constant e is found primarily in mathematical theories and physics computations, but it also turns up in finance. Just like the mysterious pi, the constant e has a lot of stories and mysteries of its own and is also related to ordinary life. For example, e is found in the study of compound interest in banking, as well as probability theory. But e is of considerable value in the entire field of calculus, where the use of e reduces computational complexities.  Another explanation of e:

Before calculators and computers, e and natural logarithms were a mainstay in slide rules, which were graduated scales of numbers along two slidably-arranged pieces of wood. Multiplication and division were easy using a slide rule, simply lining up numbers on the appropriate scales. But these devices included considerably more functionality with the usage of logarithmic techniques, using the base e, and exploiting the properties of these functions to simplify complex calculations using log scales.

The Renaissance was a time of great intellectual exploration, and science required precise measurements and instruments for calculations. Just after Galileo, John Napier invented logarithms, which in essence is a simplified mathematical reformulation of numbers to make them easier to calculate. Such concepts were, however, generally known by the Babylonians (2000 BC) and Indians (800 AD).

To the Moon

Using logarithms simplifies the math, e.g., the process of multiplication is simplified to addition, and large or small numbers could be calculated by first simplifying the number, e.g., 4,567 could be reduced to finding the log of .4567 (from a precomputed table) and adding the exponent value (10,000) afterward. During the Industrial Revolution, slide rule design and usage went into overdrive with the rise of science, technology and engineering. We went to the Moon using slide rules and e.

The constant e, actually hinted at by Napier and others, was first calculated by Jacob Bernouli, one of the famous Bernouli Brothers of mathematics, in 1683. Gottfried Leibnitz first used the letter b for the constant in 1690, but Leonhard Euler coined the letter e for this constant (for Euler?) in 1727 or so, and that coinage later took.

A Complicated, but Constant Cousin

Just as with pi, e is both an irrational number, i.e., it is not a ratio of integers, and a transcendental number, i.e., not a root of any non-zero polynomial with rational coefficients, which means that e’s digits, like pi’s, continue unrepeating to infinity. The constant e is also prevalent in mathematical formulas that involve a series going to infinity, e.g., the Taylor series in calculus and many others.

e does, however, crop up in unexpected places. For example, Google’s IPO valuation was for $2,718,281,828, or e billion dollars. More obscurely, famous computer scientist Donald Knuth labeled the versions of his Metafont program, as 2, 2.7, 2.71, 2.718, and so on.  See here for a Simpsons take on transcendentals pi and e:

Unlike pi, which is much better known, and which is even relatable to many, e is a more complicated and more distant constant cousin. Still, this marvelous constant is of immense value to science and society at large and should be commemorated accordingly. Hence, I proclaim February 7 as World, National, or International e Day.

Raymond Van Dyke is an IP consultant, strategist and educator; he has an undergraduate degree in mathematics, and was on the math team in high school.

Symposium on Patenting in 2019

As Chair of the Greater Washington, DC Chapter of the Licensing Executives Society (LES), I have been privileged to host many distinguished speakers over the years.  This month is no exception.

The state of patents is a big question.  After years of relentless attack from lobbyists and academia, the value of patents dropped significantly.  Corporations have developed a sue me attitude, and countless patents were considered worthless by the somewhat clueless Supreme Court (absent Scalia things have gotten worse).  The single biggest bright spot, however, is Trump’s appointment of Andre Iancu as the USPTO Director and his ongoing effort to rebuild both the Office and the patent system itself.  It is critical to restore faith and honor to the patent system, and Director Iancu is on this quest – as am I.

With the above in mind, LES is honored to have the new Deputy Director Laura Peter speak at our Symposia.  The roster also includes Bob Held, the current President of LES, Mark Lauroesch, Executive Director at the Intellectual Property Owners (IPO), Sanjay Prasad and Everado Ruiz, Palo Alto IP Strategists, Ken Porter, a Director at the University of Maryland, and me.

The event starts at 3 PM on January 23, 2019, with a reception following Deputy Director Peter’s presentation.  I will reprise my historical sweep of technology, patenting and famous inventors at 6 PM, followed by another reception.  I hope that you can make it.

The link to the event is: https://www.lesusacanada.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1187185&group=160111

Ray

 

 

The Categorical Imperative for Innovation and Patenting

The political theories of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu and others greatly influenced our Founders in the creation of our nation, as well as our patent system. In particular, Locke’s political philosophy included the maxim that a person’s property or fruit of their labors should be protected by their government. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, and others inculcated this viewpoint of a patent system into the fabric of our nascent nation. Indeed, the only “Right” mentioned within the text of the Constitution is the right to secure protections under patent and copyright. The other Rights, i.e., Freedom of Religion, Security in One’s Home from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures, etc., are set forth in the attached Bill of Rights.

Despite the clear language of the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and other writings that the Lockean “natural rights” view governs, some academics try to decry this approach, and turn to other philosophies, such as John Stuart Mills’ Utilitarianism, to either bolster or undermine the usefulness of a patent system, usually undermine. Born thirty years after the creation of the United States (and nearly twenty years after the Constitution), Mill wrote extensively on individual liberty, freedom, logic and other issues, and is chiefly known for his principle of utilitarianism, the greatest good for the greatest number. His maxims are many, including “Originality is the one thing that unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of.”

But there was another philosopher, contemporaneous with the Founders, that bears notice, Immanuel Kant, who had a different take on moral and political philosophy, including the Categorical Imperative. Kant spent his life trying to distill the issues of morality into a logical framework. Just as the natural scientists of the Enlightenment were forming logical arguments concerning the physical world, e.g., physics, natural science and other disciplines, Kant tried to do the same with human morality: systematize it.

In his Categorical Imperative, Kant simplifies a moral argument position for an individual by asking a question: if you thought that your position or Statement would be Universal, i.e., applicable to all people, it would have the stance of a Categorical Imperative and thus you must do it. For example, a Statement that I should try to save a person that is drowning can be considered a Categorical Imperative since this would be a betterment of humanity.

However, the proposition or Statement that it should be ok for me to steal another’s car is not a betterment at all. Applying this as a universal law would lead to societal chaos and possible collapse since thievery would reign, and anarchy would result. Since the entire purpose of government is the protection of people (and their possessions), this Statement fails, and you are NOT compelled to act in that manner. This Statement does not rise to the level of a categorical Imperative.

Intellectual property has been attacked of late on various grounds, including being less than property, and thus not entitled to the protections of the Constitution, despite the evidence to the contrary. This attitude is most recently, and most troublingly, exemplified by the U.S. Supreme Court in Oil States, where the Court equated patent rights to taxicab medallion rights. Freeriding is also being touted, subverting copyright law. Information must be free is the mantra.

As we shall see, applying Kantian logic entails first acknowledging some basic principles; that the people have a right to express themselves, that that expression (the fruits of their labor) has value and is theirs (unless consent is given otherwise), and that government is obligated to protect people and their property. Thus, an inventor or creator has a right in their own creation, which cannot be taken from them without their consent.

So, employing this canon, a proposed Categorical Imperative (CI) is the following Statement: creators should be protected against the unlawful taking of their creation by others. Applying this Statement to everyone, i.e., does the Statement hold water if everyone does this, leads to a yes determination. Whether a child, a book or a prototype, creations of all sorts should be protected, and this CI stands. This result also dovetails with the purpose of government: to protect the people and their possessions by providing laws to that effect, whether for the protection of tangible or intangible things.

However, a contrary proposal can be postulated: everyone should be able to use the creations of another without charge. Can this Statement rise to the level of a CI? This proposal, upon analysis would also lead to chaos. Hollywood, for example, unable to protect their films, television shows or any content, would either be out of business or have robust encryption and other trade secret protections, which would seriously undermine content distribution and consumer enjoyment. Likewise, inventors, unable to license or sell their innovations or make any money to cover R&D, would not bother to invent or also resort to strong trade secret. Why even create? This approach thus undermines and greatly hinders the distribution of ideas in a free society, which is contrary to the paradigm of the U.S. patent and copyright systems, which promotes dissemination. By allowing freeriding, innovation and creativity would be thwarted (or at least not encouraged) and trade secret protection would become the mainstay for society with the heightened distrust.

Also, allowing the free taking of ideas, content and valuable data, i.e., the fruits of individual intellectual endeavor, would disrupt capitalism in a radical way. The resulting more secretive approach in support of the above free-riding Statement would be akin to a Communist environment where the State owned everything and the citizen owned nothing, i.e., the people “consented” to this.

It is, accordingly, manifestly clear that no reasonable and supportable Categorical Imperative can be made for the unwarranted theft of property, whether tangible or intangible, apart from legitimate exigencies.

On the positive front, there is a Categorical Imperative that creators should be encouraged to create, which is imminently reasonable and supportable. Likewise, the statement set forth in the Constitution that Congress should pass laws “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” is supportive, as a Categorical Imperative, for the many reasons elucidated two centuries ago by Madison and others, and endorsed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and later by Abraham Lincoln. A Categorical Imperative, universality, however, may be a stretch outside of the United States since other cultures may not treasure the progress of science and the useful arts and freedoms that we Americans do. Nonetheless, it is certainly a supportable proposition in the United States, and even a Categorical Imperative that we must do it!

Turning to issues facing us today, despite the categorical imperative nature of an intellectual property system, some powerful naysayers object to intellectual property per se, but on more fundamental grounds, pecuniary. A large amount of the condemnation of the intellectual property laws over the last decades has been from the big tech companies that would like to use new innovations for their own profit at the expense of the individual inventor. Ignoring the small entrepreneur or inventor is even de rigueur, i.e., most tech companies now have a “sue me” approach to patent infringement, which means openly taking patented technology knowing that a patentee is not likely to have the means to bring a costly litigation. To further undermine small inventors, the big tech companies, at the behest of Congress, instigated onerous administrative proceedings at the Patent Office, where the odds were stacked against patentees, proceedings often called “death squads” due to the very high percentage of patent invalidations.

Indeed, these patent-hostile, monopolistic companies lavishly fund lobbyists to further influence Congress on their behalf to diminish patents, thereby undermining the patent system and the value of patents, and increasing their profit margins with the freeriding. With all of the denunciation of the Chinese for freeloading our IP, we should perhaps look within first to make America great again. To add insult to grave injury these same companies have also supported numerous Supreme Court challenges to further undermine the patent and copyright systems. The recent appointment of Andrei Iancu as the new Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trdemark Office is a harbinger of a possible turning point toward a more positive patent system.

As a result of all of the big tech efforts to destabilize the patent system, the engine of innovation has suffered. To further harm the patent system, the press labels all inventors de facto trolls and thus unworthy. This demonization of inventors by the press has been profound. Gone are the days of an inventor being celebrated for building a better mouse trap or developing a nifty app. Now, even the Wright Brothers and Edison have been brought low, equated to trolls and not respected American innovators.

Immanuel Kant’s dream of systematizing morality is, of course, imprecise, but the meaning is quite clear and analogous to another famous maxim: do unto others as they would do unto you. Kant’s Categorical Imperative and the Bible extort us to be better people and form a better society. If, however, you feel that innovation is trivial and content should be free, then a Categorical Imperative for freeriding may be sane for you, but it fails at the societal level, i.e., universal application would undercut society. It is also wrong to steal. In the balance, society wants new ideas, new stories, new ways of doing things, and newness itself. All of this takes effort and expense, along with ingenuity and creativity, which should be strongly encouraged and not punished.

A Kantian Categorical Imperative to encourage, support and defend the creations protected by intellectual property is manifest. We should not be swayed by the arguments of corporate monoliths desirous of their own wellbeing and not society’s. In connection with his categorical imperative, Kant also believed that we should all “always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as a means to your end.” In other words, we should value and respect each human being and their contribution to the world. By deliberately or wantonly stealing patented technology from individual inventors, big tech companies treat them as a means to the corporate end, diminishing and dehumanizing the inventor.

Our Founders well knew that human beings create, and that the stuff of that creation has value. The patent and copyright clause, embodied within the Constitution itself, recognizes this need to encourage, facilitate and support the creativity embodied in us all.

 

 

Article also published today on IpWatchdog.com website

Vint Cerf: Internet Evangelist and Visionary

As a computer science major and having a Masters in Computer Science as well, I have had the privilege of meeting several famous people in this discipline.  At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I had the honor of working with Dr. Frederick Brooks in getting my Masters, and while there met Ivan Sutherland and others.  I was on the Arpanet years ago while at UNC sending electronic messages, not yet called email, to classmates.  Those simple communications later went global with the creation of the Internet, an information superhighway.

The creators of the Internet are Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf, who wrote most of the code.  Drs. Kahn and Cerf developed the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) that controlled the transmission of data packets among networks, which soon become the means of interconnecting all networks – the Internet, a truly transformative endeavor!

On Monday, July 16, 2018, in Washington, DC, I have the privilege of hosting Dr. Cerf at one of my events for the Licensing Executives Society, of which I am the Greater Washington, DC Chapter Chair.  The event is open to the public, and registration and information can be found at https://www.lesusacanada.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1089056&group=160111   Please contact me (vandyke@acm.org) if you have difficulty getting the information or have questions.

Dr. Cerf, now Google’s Internet Evangelist, will speak on the importance of design in innovation, providing his experience with the Internet as an example to potential future new paradigm producers.  I hope to see you next Monday evening for this informative talk.

Raymond Van Dyke, Greater Washington, DC Chapter Chair, LES

 

 

The U.S. Patent System: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There is a lot of reason for hope in the pro-patent community over the last several months. New USPTO Director Andrei Iancu has been saying all the right things, and the USPTO has already released helpful 101 guidance in light of Berkheimer. But there is a long way to go to get back to an equilibrium point, as we have been reminded recently by the Supreme Court’s decision in Oil States, and the U.S. Chamber’s report of the U.S. falling to 12th place in terms of patent protection worldwide. Sometimes it is darkest before the dawn, and that may be where we are now. Join us for a candid conversation about the Good, the Bad and the Ugly with prominent Intellectual Property Blogger Gene Quinn. What you need to know to navigate (and survive) the shifting winds of the U.S. patent system.
The talk is this Wednesday, May 30, 2018, starting at 4:30 PM with a networking event before and afterward.  For those in the Washington, DC area I hope that you can come to this informative meeting and social event. Here is a link to the event: https://www.lesusacanada.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1110304&group=160111
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me: vandyke@acm.org 202.378.3903.

Speech on Intellectual Property for 2018 at the Annual Meeting of the Bar Association of Montgomery, County Maryland

Tomorrow I reprise my update on IP law at the Bar Association of Montgomery County, Maryland, which is the county adjacent Washington, DC. Lots to report, The Oil States patent case has introduced even more confusion into U.S. patent law. But the appointment and confirmation of the new Director of the USPTO, Andrei Iancu, offers some rays of hope. I also address recent events in copyright, trademark and trade secret. For those in the area, I hope that you can attend.

Here is the program: http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.barmont.org/resource/resmgr/temporary_newsletter_files/2018_annual_meeting_web_file.pdf

I am Chair of the IP Section. If you have any questions about IP or require assistance (I have both domestic and international clientele) please contact me.

http://www.rayvandyke.com vandyke@acm.org
My website is being updated so please excuse its primitiveness;)
Ray

A Primer on Intellectual Property: The Basic Tools for You to Know

Tomorrow (February 1, 2018), I am presenting a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program on the Basics of Intellectual property (IP) for the general attorney.  With the value of IP assets a large factor of our economy, general practice attorneys frequently face issues in this specialized field of law of patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and some other areas.  This CLE is designed to allow non-IP attorneys to know some of the basics, understand the vernacular and know something of the problem areas.

I am pleased that the Bar Association of Montgomery County (BAMC) Maryland has offered me this opportunity.  I am also a Chair of the IP Section of BAMC.

For those in the area, I hope that you can make it – whether you need CLE or not.  Here is the link: http://www.barmont.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=1062031&group=

Please feel free to contact me if you need additional information.

The Constitutional Foundations of IP – A Natural Rights Perspective

Despite the value of intellectual properties to the United States, there have been numerous efforts of late to curtail those rights, rights which were enacted by our Founders to encourage inventors and creators.  The Constitutionality of some of these rights is now in question, particularly now at the Supreme Court. Randolph May, writer of the recent book “The Constitutional Foundations of Intellectual Property,” will discuss this critical issue from the natural law perspective.  Raymond Van Dyke, IP practitioner and educator, will speak about the importance of IP to society then and now.

This Greater Washington, DC Licensing Executives Society Chapter event is on the evening of July 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.  Here is the event notice: http://www.lesusacanada.org/events/EventDetails.aspx?id=981094&group=160111

With the constitutionality of inter partes proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the USPTO now in question, the issue is quite pertinent, and the consequences quite serious to the patent system.

If in Washington, DC tonight, I hope that you can make it.

Ray, Greater Washington, DC Chapter Chair, LES

(202)378.3903  vandyke@acm.org

 

Roberts Rules of Order

The Supreme Court has been quite active fine-tuning the patent system and deboning the law of the Federal Circuits for many years.  Today is no exception.

In Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc.  (May 30, 2017), Chief Justice Roberts took to task the Federal Circuit’s take on the law of patent exhaustion, i.e., whether a patentee upon a sale retains any rights to the sold object.  In this case, Lexmark tried to prevent other companies, such as Impression, from refilling Lexmark printer ink toner cartridges.  Obviously, the printer ink business is quite lucrative and it is no surprise that this case made it to the Supreme Court.

The Federal Circuit had earlier held that Lexmark’s proscriptions on refilling were acceptable, whether the sales were within the United States or abroad (for import).  The nuanced, decades-old jurisprudence of the Federal Circuit held patent law in special regard vis-à-vis other areas of law, and permitted limited controls post-sale.

Back in 2013, the same issue arose in a copyright dispute.  The Court there held that the first sale doctrine extinguished a copyright holder’s rights.  In that case, Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Kirtsaeng sold Wiley textbooks printed in Thailand on eBay for U.S. students.  The large price differential between the prices in the United States and Thailand made the venture profitable, much to the chagrin of Wiley who sued him.

Just as in Kirtsaeng, the Court today said restrictions or conditions on resale or use constituted unlawful restraints on alienation.   Thus, Lexmark cannot predicate their refilling policy on patent law.  They can, of course, seek coverage under licensing, contract law or another approach.  To Chief Justice Roberts, the patentee upon selling the object has obtained the full measure of the patent right, i.e., no rights remain and the patent right is exhausted.

Justice Ginsburg, who dissented in Kirtsaeng, dissented here.  In her dissent, she made several cogent points.  First, the patent system is different from the copyright system, which has an explicit first-sale statutory provision – unlike patent.  Second, the territorial nature of the patent system and activities in global commerce suggest different handling.  Foreign activities have no bearing on the existence of U.S. patent rights.  Also, the patent laws differ between countries, unlike the more uniform copyright laws, making the first sale exhaustion argument for patent weaker.

Nonetheless, Lexmark and other patentees will now have to take care to obtain a fair price for their products at the time of sale.  Roberts Rules of Order for IP are straightforward: the patent bargain must honed further, and the rogue interpretations of the Federal Circuit must be stamped out.  It is rather odd that the Court regularly condemns the Federal Circuit, yet often has zero alternative interpretation.  The Alice and other recent cases simply held that they did not like the interpretation of the Federal Circuit, and no substitute was proffered.  Here, however, we have a clear directive: you sell a patented item and that is all you get for it.