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greg.fenton

About greg.fenton

I have been/am a software developer, a software consultant, a trainer, a product manager, a high school teacher, and a small business owner.



Posted on Techdirt - 26 April 2010 @ 5:18pm

Doctors Against Patients Having Direct Access To Test Results

from the too-much-information-access-makes-the-gatekeepers-angry dept

The title of this article is a tad melodramatic, claiming "Big Brother doctors say patients don't need to see their imaging test results," but the conclusion from a study of a small sample set of radiologists and referring physicians is that these medical professionals are against empowering their patients with their own information.

This isn't too surprising knowing that the entire healthcare system is wrought with ill-conceived ideas against efficient and ready access to patient health records.

Physicians with a "Big Brother" mindset apparently think people having imaging tests are incapable of dealing with the outcomes without suffering from so much anxiety they must be protected from seeing the results.

It's not clear exactly that this attitude is akin to an Orwellian state, rather than simply an elitist mindset.  Many "experts" feel that people outside of their field have no business reviewing their work (look at the commenters on Techdirt who claim others should not comment on music/patents/laws/newspapers if they aren't a musician/inventor/lawyer/journalist).

The attitude of these physicians is just one reason of a whole host as to why the healthcare system is one of the last industries holding out against the IT revolution.  The argument that patients will freak out being exposed to the core information that leads to diagnoses is ridiculous.  If someone is going to be overly anxious, it isn't because they have information; they'll be anxious because they have symptoms and a diagnosis, but little-to-no information.  They'll be anxious because the medical industry is unwilling to have a two-way conversation with the patient themselves.

There are many examples of this elitism when it comes to sourcing and analysis of information. Why is it that experts fail to recognize that more points of view have a greater opportunity for catching errors and bringing different perspectives to the forefront?  In addition, bringing the patients into the conversation gets them involved in their own health stories, leading to many long term benefits and ultimately lower healthcare costs.  But maybe this is another one of the reasons the healthcare industry is unwilling to change?

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Posted on Techdirt - 20 April 2010 @ 7:58am

The Economist On Why Copyright Needs To Return To Its Roots

from the monopoly-money dept

An article in The Economist from earlier this month highlights what many Techdirt readers know well: the current state vs the historical intent of copyright brought forward by The Statute Of Anne.

When Queen Anne gave her assent on April 10th the following year—300 years ago this week—to “An act for the encouragement of learning” they were less enthused. Parliament had given them rights, but it had set a time limit on them: 21 years for books already in print and 14 years for new ones, with an additional 14 years if the author was still alive when the first term ran out.

Thinking about the times, one could see how such a system might encourage the creation of more works of art.  An artist is given a limited time on which they have a monopoly on the production of copies of their works, a limited time for exclusively monetizing their works via those copies.  After 14, 21 or possibly 28 years, the author had better have another work available to copyright if they decide to continue living off the proceeds of their works.

But today's rules give no such incentive.  An artist that creates a popular work is almost guaranteed of being able to derive income from that single success well into their afterlife.  Not only is the artist not incentivized to continue their creation, some of their descendant generations can rest on their laurels, allowing lawyers to gather income for them -- often from well-intentioned future artists who actually are trying to create new work from the existing.

The Economist goes on to highlight:

Copyright was originally the grant of a temporary government-supported monopoly on copying a work, not a property right.

Surely there will be copyright supporters who will cringe at such a statement. They believe that copyright is "intellectual property", and therefore their arguments often confuse the requirements for laws that support copyright with those that support physical properties.

At the moment, the terms of trade favour publishers too much. A return to the 28-year copyrights of the Statute of Anne would be in many ways arbitrary, but not unreasonable. [...]. The value society places on creativity means that fair use needs to be expanded and inadvertent infringement should be minimally penalised. None of this should get in the way of the enforcement of copyright, which remains a vital tool in the encouragement of learning. But tools are not ends in themselves.

Encouragement of learning, inadvertent infringement, societal values. These are all crucial with the original intent of the establishment of copyright. Yet over time the publishing industry and others have shifted the focus, and thus the legal system, away from the benefits that society gains from access to these works towards a radically limited system focusing on maximizing control (in the hopes of maximizing profits).

A few hours, weeks or even years of work turn into a lifetime (plus) guarantee of exclusivity. Where is the social value in that? How does this current system encourage learning? Though it is great to see a popular media outlet like The Economist talking about a reduction in current copyright terms, it would be even more fantastic to see them tackle the alternatives to copyright systems.

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Posted on Techdirt - 25 March 2010 @ 10:00pm

In Favor of Software Patents...Why?

from the patents-kill-pirates dept

There is an old (some claim Irish) joke about someone asking directions and the response is "Well...I wouldn't start from here at all."

In his article In Favor of Software Patents, Alain Ranaud walks through his take on how to fix the patent system when it comes to software. He claims that software patents are just a little flawed:

The problem, you see, is their length. Seventeen years of monopoly is an eternity in Internet time. Instead, software patents should only be valid for seven years.

His take is that by only allowing for seven years, "patent trolls" lying in wait to pounce on a technology to become successful would lose their window in which to sue. This of course ignores the cases where lawsuits are filed almost immediately after a patent is rewarded. In cases such as those, the problem is not in their length. But why seven years? Why not eight? Or six? Or zero? By what measurement is he claiming this number, and how does he envision determining that this change, once implemented, is "successful?"

I don’t buy the argument that just because it’s software, it can’t be inventive. A position that aims to eliminate all patents might be more consistent, but I’d point to China, where piracy runs rampant [...]

Err...piracy? How did copyright infringement get caught up in this discussion? File the discussion under "intellectual properties" and we can now throw trademark and corporate espionage into the mix. Ranaud has fallen into the classic trap of assuming the patent system, though fraught with troubles, must exist for some (valid) reason and must continue to exist. However, none of his reasoning directs itself back to the Progress of Science and useful Arts that the Constitution proscribes.

Patents are meant for amazing new technologies, for that brilliant idea [...]. That deserves something.

Like a patent.

So what, exactly, is the magic reward that this "patent" gives the brilliant inventor? If the software developer truly is deserving of a reward for their invention, won't the market provide them with that? Bill Gates became well rewarded by the market before amassing patents to stifle the industry. A major problem with this line of thinking is that it leads to big grey areas, which in turn lead to abuse. Ranaud does not discuss who or what determines that a software algorithm is truly "brilliant." This is likely a bigger problem in the current system (patenting simple or overly broad ideas) than the length of those rewards.

In addition, software systems typically build on one another. If a "brilliant" idea leads to an entire new field of study or application, why should a tollbooth be put in place for seven years by someone unwilling or unable to compete beyond their one stroke of brilliance?

Ranaud is welcome to his opinion of changing a system that has as many problems as the patent system does. But blindly accepting that the system must remain, without any measured justification for the change, is a band-aid approach at best.

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