Reinventing Job Corps

Here is another example of a government program that is coming to grip with the I-Cubed Economy – Job Corps Plans Makeover for a Changed Economy – New York Times:

Over the last four decades, even as failed experiments and partisan disputes took the luster off the war on poverty, the Job Corps, the government’s main effort to give poorly educated youths a second chance at a diploma and a trade, was widely seen as one of the few success stories.
But now, as the economy has turned against those with low skills and researchers have questioned the long-term impact of the Job Corps on the lives of its graduates, this remnant of the Great Society is facing an urgent need to reinvent itself.

According to the story, the new head of the Job Corps, Dr. Esther R. Johnson, wants to move the program toward higher value-added careers through “improving their reading, math and vocational skills. She also wants trade courses to connect more closely with college programs and emerging industries, and she thinks the corps must double the number of graduates, now just 10 percent, who go on to higher education.”
The result will be individuals who qualified for those higher level jobs:

With better training, high school diplomas or, better, degrees from community colleges, many graduates of such programs, it is hoped, will become chefs instead of hamburger flippers; plumbers, electricians or carpenters instead of pickup laborers; nurses instead of health aides.

That is clearly the right direction. As more and more of the low skill jobs are either automated or shifted offshore, the skill level of the bottom portion needs to be significantly raised. The rising tide may lift all boats; but you have the skills to float – otherwise you drowned.
Revamping Job Corps is a good start at making sure those individuals at the bottom are ready when the tide comes in.

Cisco and Apple – part 2

As a follow up to an earlier posting, Apple and Cisco have reached a settlement. According to WSJ.com:

Under their agreement, Cisco, of San Jose, Calif., and Apple, of Cupertino, Calif., are free to use the iPhone trademark on their respective products throughout the world. Cisco will drop a lawsuit it filed against Apple in federal court in San Francisco, accusing Apple of infringing on a Cisco trademark with a forthcoming cellphone called the iPhone, due out in June.
In a joint statement, Apple and Cisco said they will explore opportunities for making their products work better together “in the areas of security, and consumer and enterprise communications.” The companies said other terms of the settlement are confidential, declining to comment further.

The agreement may be a win-win. As the AP reports (Cisco, Apple settle ‘iPhone’ dispute – Yahoo! News):

Analysts said the settlement announced late Wednesday in Cisco’s trademark-infringement lawsuit could help both companies strengthen their positions in the increasingly fierce battle to deliver video and other applications directly to consumers’ homes.
Zeus Kerravala, a network infrastructure analyst with Yankee Group, said there are ample opportunities for the companies to dream up collaborative projects to win over consumers.
One possibility, he said, could be a device from Cisco’s Linksys division that users call into to record podcasts that are then automatically uploaded to iTunes. Such a product would make it easier to create and disseminate such programs.

Negotiations win out once again.

Supreme Court hears ATT-Microsoft patent case

Today the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Microsoft v. AT&T. At issue is generally framed as the extraterritorial application of U.S. patent law. As the FT explains:

AT&T won a claim that Microsoft infringed its ­patent by including its technology in the Windows operating systems installed in computers built in the US. This case tests whether Microsoft must also pay when it sends Windows versions including the AT&T technology overseas for installation in ­foreign-made computers.
The dispute centres on a law aimed at preventing companies from circumventing US patent law by shipping “components” overseas for assembly. The case tests whether software is such a “component” and whether creating copies of software overseas from a master disk shipped from the US is covered by that law.

I am less interested in the extraterritoriality of the case as with the definitions. One of Microsoft’s claims (in their brief) is that they do not supply the infringing component:

The only things Microsoft furnishes from the United States are the golden master disks and encrypted transmissions containing master versions of the Windows object code. But those masters are never installed on a computer that is sold; rather, only the foreign-made copies of Windows are installed on foreign built computers.

Thus, the infringement takes place when the foreign copies are made from the master and installed on the computer. This is beyond the scope of US law (I won’t get into all the details – for a good discussion of the case see the Patently-O: Patent Law Blog: Microsoft v. ATT: Unlicensed Export of Patented Software).
To argue this, Microsoft has to claim that the copying the software from a master disk (but not directly onto a computer) is foreign “manufacturing.”
I worry about that assertion. Copying of the software from a master to individual disks does not involve a transformation, which what is required to define “manufacturing.” The point of transformation is the process of installation on the computer (which transforms the computer and the software into a usable product). In the Microsoft case, the component is never transformed between the time it leaves the US and the time it is installed on the computer abroad. The software can in no way be considered foreign-manufactured by simple copying (no transformation).
I also find the case interesting in what it says about the US patent law. In their brief, Microsoft and the software industry essentially argue that US infringement penalties are so draconian that they would move software “manufacturing” (i.e. code writing and development) offshore rather than expose it to US infringement penalties on foreign sales. I don’t know if that is just hyperbola rhetoric. But is it is a damning statement about the current state of patent law.
It may also come back to bite the software industry when they argue for tougher enforcement in other countries. On the one hand, Microsoft (and the software industry) admit infringement in the US but argue that US law should not be enforced abroad. They also seem to say that piracy is allowed. Microsoft and the software industry are defending the right of foreigners to pirate IP (and reverse engineer) in foreign countries (see p. 19 of the petition for writ of certiorari):

In foreign markets, a patentee’s competitor remains free to duplicate or reverse-engineer inventions patented in the United States, or to assemble such inventions from foreign-manufactured component parts.

Then, on the other hand, the software industry routinely calls for sanctions on countries that don’t enforce as tough as US laws.
It may be good legal argument to stress the limit the extraterritoriality of US law. But it runs counter to all public policy in this area, which is based on the assertion that foreign infringement on foreign sales (aka piracy) is bad. Thus Microsoft seems to be arguing that the sale of a computer with a pirated Windows operating system sold in China should be subject to US trade retaliation (trade law under special 301) but its infringement of AT&T’s patent in operating systems sold in Europe should not be subject to US law. Legal technicalities aside, it make no sense.
Interesting. We will see what the Court decides.

Measurement and innovation

One of the underpinnings of any technologically advanced economy is the research infrastructure. That infrastructure is not just physical, but also intangible. One of those intangible pieces is our system of measurement. Accurate measurement is important for any technological innovation. With that in mind, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is recently completed An Assessment of the United States Measurement System: Addressing Measurement Barriers to Accelerate Innovation:

The National Institute of Standards and Technology teamed with other organizations to assess the capacity of the nation’s scientific and technical measurement infrastructure – the U.S. Measurement System, or USMS — to sustain U.S. innovation at a world-leading pace.
The USMS is the complex network of organizations that develop, supply, use, and ensure the validity of measurements. This system spans from university laboratories to commercial testing services and from manufacturers and service providers to regulators and standards bodies.
Involving more than 1,000 people in industry, academia, and government, the assessment included a survey of 11 industrial sectors and technology areas. This yielded more than 700 measurement-related challenges facing U.S. industry today or impeding its progress toward the technologies of tomorrow.

You may not think that this is a real problem, but it is. As the NIST report points out, “software errors due to ineffective testing cost the U.S. economy $60 billion annually.” Likewise:

The United States spends more than $100 billion per year on measurements in health care, incurring
increased costs due to errors in measurement. For example, in a cancer screening trial participants
spent an extra $1,000 a year in medical expenses due to false-positive results.

The next steps will be to work with companies and universities to address those issues. Some of this work can be done as part of NIST’s ongoing mission. Other government agencies and laboratories will need to be involved in other parts. Still other areas may require more action by academia and/or the private sector.
However it is done, this is a great example of public policy adjusting to the shifting nature of the economy. The I-Cubed Economy is very different from the old Industrial Age – and we need new measurements to better understand the differences. I applaud NIST For leading the way. Now, let’s see if they get the resources to do the job.

Greatest Innovations

The consulting firm Doblin has come up with a list of The Greatest Innovations of All Time:
1. Weapons
2. Mathematics and the number zero
3. Money
4. Printing
5. Free markets and capital markets
6. Domesticated animals and agriculture
7. Property ownership
8. Limited liability
9. Participatory democracy
10. Anesthetics and surgery
11. Vaccines and antibiotics
12. Semiconductors
13. The Internet
14. Genetic sequencing
15. Containerized shipping
Personally I think they missed some – including language. But it is an interesting idea.
It is especially an interesting idea because many of the innovations are essentially intangibles – not technologies. For example, mathematics, free markets, ownership, limited liability, democracy are all intangible social inventions. Money has a physical manifestation – but it is essentially an idea.
So, lesson for today: when you think about innovation and national innovation policy, think about the full range of innovations (not just the next gizmo).

Enterpreneurship and competitveness

This is Entrepreneurship Week – and a host of studies are out.
Yesterday, the Kaufman Foundation held a Public Policy Forum on U.S Entrepreneurship and Innovation at which they discussed their latest paper: On the Road to an Entrepreneurial Economy: A Research and Policy Guide.
As I said at the meeting, the paper is a refreshing look at the state of entrepreneurial policy – refreshing in that it attempts to break from what I call the same-old, same-old mentality that permeates our policy debates. The paper rationally discusses the problems with university technology transfer, with the patent system and with corporate governance (among other topics). It may be refreshing because the authors actually talked to entrepreneurs – who pared down a large volume to those areas that entrepreneurs believed were really important. By the way, Kauffman is encouraging comments at the report’s webpage.
Also of note is the Council on Competitiveness’’ new report – Where American Stands: Entrepreneurship:

Building on the findings of its flagship Competitiveness Index, the Council on Competitiveness is releasing the first in a new series of reports on the high-impact drivers of U.S. innovation capacity and prosperity. Where America Stands: Entrepreneurship focuses on one of the most critical advantages for U.S. competitiveness. While U.S. entrepreneurial performance continues to lead the world by almost any measure, this report shows that other nations are catching up to the United States. The report also highlights that the U.S. environment for entrepreneurial activity faces its own challenges and opportunities in the 21st century.

Entrepreneurship Week runs through Friday with events all across the nation. For activities in your area, check their website.

India gets it

From BusinessWeek – India’s Designs on Innovation:

In India, design has never been a part of the business lexicon. Now, New Delhi wants to change that. This month, 40 years after setting up the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat, the Indian government finally ratified a design policy to make the discipline a national priority.
To achieve this, the new policy envisages a “platform for creative design development, design promotion and partnerships across many sectors, states, and regions for integrating design with traditional and technological resources.”
Not only has the NID been deemed a university, the government wants to set up four more NIDs and make design a part of the curriculum in engineering and other educational pursuits. Finer details are still scarce, but with education as the key issue, it will bank on public-private partnerships to foster design.
So far, India has only a dozen design programs, compared with 241 in China. There are 300 design colleges in Korea, in contrast to India’s 10. While China churns out 30,000 design students annually, India produces just one-third of that number. And while Asia is increasingly becoming the hotbed of design, India is nowhere on the scene.

And where is the US national policy making design a priority for the American economy?