Monday, September 12, 2011

We'll Miss You Michael Hart

By Michael Bowman

Michael S. Hart passed away on September 6, 2011. Hart invented ebooks, and founded Project Gutenberg. According to his obituary on the Project Gutenberg page,

"He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart's life's work, spanning over 40 years." (

Project Gutenberg houses more than 36,000 ebooks in the public domain.  I have enjoyed a number of them.

Hart’s invention, in recent years, has transformed the publishing world, providing the reading public access to many new authors, and spurring new inventions such as the Nook, Kindle, iPad, and fostering new file formats for the display of written content (e.g., PDF, epub, lit, Mobipocket, Plucker, TealDoc, etc.). Could he have foreseen these subsequent innovations when he decide to post an electronic version of the Declaration of Independence?

Not to detract from Hart’s invention, there was someone else who did envision this technology prior to Hart.  Arthur C. Clarke, a polymath, author, and visionary. Perhaps like I did, you read Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and saw Stanley Kubrick’s movie. Maybe you remember this passage:

"When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship's information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world's major electronic papers ... Switching to the display unit's short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. ... the postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he had finished, he would flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination. Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man's quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word "newspaper," of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites. It was hard to imagine how the system could be improved or made more convenient. But sooner or later, Floyd guessed, it would pass away, to be replaced by something as unimaginable as the Newspad itself would have been to Caxton or Gutenberg."

And in another episode of life imitating art imitating life imitating art...Samsung cited the 2001: A Space Odyssey Newspad as prior art in its ongoing patent war with Apple.  Attached hereto as Exhibit D is a true and correct copy of a still image taken from Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey." In a clip from that film lasting about one minute, two astronauts are eating and at the same time using personal tablet computers. The clip can be downloaded online at As with the design claimed by the D’889 Patent, the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor.

Thank you, Michael Hart, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Zero Net Non-Farm Jobs

By Michael Bowman

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its August 2011 jobs report on 9/2/11. BLS reported that there were no (zero, zip, nada) net nonfarm jobs added to the US economy for the month. Pay attention next month when that number is revised (unexpectedly) downward, and the "experts" are once again surprised that the actual employment situation for September is "unexpectedly" worse than their projections.

One of the talking points used to support passage of patent reform in the America Invents Act (which is anticipated to occur this week) is that it will spur job creation.  This seems like a good time to take a look at patents related to hiring.

In the US Patent Classification System, Class 705 is commonly referred to as “Business Methods”. Within this class, subclass 321 addresses employment or hiring. This subclass is new, having been created as part of USPTO reclassification efforts over the past few years. In the class 705 classification schedule, this subclass is indented under subclasses 1.1 (AUTOMATED ELECTRICAL FINANCIAL OR BUSINESS PRACTICE OR MANAGEMENT ARRANGEMENT ) and 320 (Human resources). Subject matter to be classified in 705/321 must also meet the requirements of their respective definitions. Employment or hiring (subclass 705/321) is defined as:

Subject matter drawn to a computerized arrangement for engaging the services of a person or persons for wages or other payment either directly or through a third party.

A search note refers also to subclass 705/8. This subclass was eliminated in Classification Order 1904, released on 2/1/11, and the 705/321 schedule has not yet been updated to reflect this change. Searches should probably also be conducted in the following class 705 subclasses:

7.12     Resource planning, allocation or scheduling for a business operation
7.13     Scheduling, planning, or task assignment for a person or group
7.14     Skill based matching of a person or a group to a task
7.15     Status monitoring or status determination for a person or group
7.16     Schedule adjustment for a person or group
7.17     Staff planning in a project environment
7.18     Calendar-based scheduling for a person or group
7.19     Meeting or appointment
7.21     Task assignment
7.23     Resource planning in a project environment
7.25     Needs based resource requirements planning and analysis

Returning to 705/321, employment or hiring, there are 51 issued patents contained therein as of 9-6-11. We'll take a look at a few of these.

The most recently issued (today) patent in 705/321 is number 8,015,047, “Method, system, and computer program product for employment market statistics generation and analysis”, invented by Foulger, et al. and assigned to Archeron Limited LLC. The original classification (i.e., the highest, most indented classification accepting the subject matter) for this patent is 705/7.14, Skill based matching of a person or a group to a task. Claim 1 states:

A method of generating employment market statistics via a network, comprising:

accessing, by a data processing device, an employment resource via the network, the employment resource comprising data;

matching, by the data processing device, the data to one of a plurality of employment market categories, wherein the matching includes matching resources to the plurality of employment market categories according to a multi-tiered matching strategy;

and updating, by the data processing device, at least one statistical indicator associated with a matched employment market category, wherein the updating comprises calculating a ratio of resumes associated with the matched employment market category to job listings associated with the matched employment market category.

Given the huge number of unemployed, or underemployed, workers in the country, screening of job applicants is a potentially critical bottleneck for human resources departments and hiring managers. Enter patent number 7,778,938, “System and method for screening of job applicants”, issued 8/17/10 to Stimac and assigned to Corporation. Claim 1 states:

A method for screening a plurality of job applicants comprising:

receiving input to a predetermined plurality of job related profile questions through at least one input device, which are locked to prevent alteration by the job applicant, wherein the plurality of job related profile questions include at least one job-related question regarding a preferred work style for a job applicant, that provides an indication of motivation for the job applicant to perform a particular job, and are targeted to a predetermined job opening from the plurality of job applicants;

providing a numeral score associated with each predetermined response with at least one processor;

and tabulating the total score for all predetermined responses so that each job applicant can be objectively compared to other job applicants based on the received input with the at least one processor for viewing on at least one electronic display.

Here is one that might be familiar to millions of online jobseekers. Patent number 6,370,510, “Employment recruiting system and method using a computer network for posting job openings and which provides for automatic periodic searching of the posted job openings”, was issued April 9, 2002 to McGovern, et al., and assigned to CareerBuilder, Inc. Claim 1 states:

An employment recruiting method, comprising the steps of:

receiving first computer readable data, representing information pertaining to a job, provided by a job seeker user via a computer network;

automatically periodically comparing said first computer readable data to second computer readable data including job opening data representing information pertaining to at least one job opening;

and sending said job seeker user a message informing said job seeker user when said comparing step determines that said first computer readable data matches at least a portion of said second computer readable data, said message including a link to a site at which additional data pertaining to said job opening is accessible by said job seeker user via said link.

The earliest patent found in 705/321 is number 5,117,353, “System for use in a temporary help business”, issued 5/26/92 to Stipanovich, et al. and assigned to Staff-Plus, Inc. The preamble of claim 1 (the entire claim is too long to include here) states:

A system for use in temporary help businesses for screening temporary help employees, testing said temporary help employees for one or more employee skills, recording a time that said temporary help employees are available to perform temporary jobs, receiving and recording job orders from one or more clients requesting temporary help personnel with one or more specified required skills to perform temporary jobs, assigning said temporary help employees to said temporary jobs, recording client comments about said temporary help employees, determining an amount of money due to said temporary help employees for specified periods of time, determining an amount of money due from said clients for temporary help services performed by said temporary help employees for specified periods of time, and reporting trends and patterns of said job orders and temporary help employees applications based on specified input criteria . . .

None of these patents create private sector jobs -- they provide tools for more effective and efficient hiring. Contrary to much of what is reported in the news, and put forth by government, government doesn't create private sector jobs either. Specifically, jobs are created primarily by small employers (less than 500 employees). And as we know, small business owners today are very averse to hiring given the economic and regulatory uncertainty they are facing.