Virulent Word of Mouse

March 22, 2014

USPTO public hearing on Attributable Ownership.

Filed under: Announcements — Shane Greenstein @ 12:12 pm

Attributable Ownership Public Hearing in San Francisco on March 26, 2014: Testimony and Written Comments Invited

The USPTO announces a public hearing on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at U.C. Hastings College of Law in San Francisco from 9 a.m. until noon to receive feedback about proposed rules concerning the ownership of patents and applications (aka “attributable ownership proposed rules”). The public is invited to attend the hearing in person or via Webcast. Additionally, the public is invited to give testimony in person at the hearing and/or to submit written comments about the proposed rules.

To request to give testimony, please send an email to: To submit written comments, please email:

The attributable ownership proposed rules require that the attributable owner, including the ultimate parent entity, be identified during the pendency of a patent application and at specified times during the life of a patent. The goal of the proposed rules is to increase the transparency of patent ownership rights. More details about the attributable ownership proposed rules are available here:

Hearing Logistics:
• Wednesday, March 26, 2014, from 9 a.m. until noon (PT)
U.C. Hastings College of the Law
Louis B. Mayer Lounge
198 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

LiveStream Access Information:
An agenda for the hearing is available here:


February 20, 2013

A Legend in Economics Passes

Filed under: Announcements,Uncategorized — Shane Greenstein @ 11:35 am

By Professor Thomas N. Hubbard, Senior Associate Dean, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Armen Alchian died yesterday. He was 98.


Many economists of my generation did not know Armen personally.  However, signs of his work are pervasive in the field.  There are many good examples of this in the research and teaching of many faculty at Kellogg, particularly in the Management and Strategy department. 

Armen’s work on learning curves in aircraft production (from the late 1940s, though not published until 1963 because it relied on classified data) is credited as the first empirical investigation of learning curves – an important feature of many industries.  We sometimes take for granted the implications of learning curves on firms’ strategies and economic outcomes – for example, the strategy implications were popularized nearly forty years ago by Bruce Henderson and others at the Boston Consulting Group — but much of the large body of research on these issues builds from Armen’s work.  Economists and strategy professors implicitly appeal to Armen’s work on industry evolution – where he emphasizes that competitive outcomes need not depend on the assumption that firms can precisely profit-maximize – when students ask them whether the frameworks we teach depend on such strict assumptions.  And modern economic thinking on the productive efficiencies of vertical integration, and professors teach their students about such efficiencies, draws directly from Armen’s famous paper with Ben Klein and Robert Crawford (as well as from Oliver Williamson’s work which was done in parallel around the same time) in the late-1970s.

Armen’s most-cited paper is his work with Harold Demsetz, published in the American Economic Review in 1972.  This paper may be the most influential paper in the economics of organization, catalyzing the development of the field as we know it.  It is the most-cited paper published in the AER in the past 40 years.  (If one takes away finance and econometrics methods papers, it is the most-cited “economics” paper, period.)  It is truly a spectacular piece.  It is a theory not only of firms’ boundaries, but also the firm’s hierarchical and financial structure.  And it is a theory – like all of Armen’s work – that is grounded in real-world phenomena.  The back half of the paper is devoted toward explaining how the theory explains why various forms of organizations – from corporations to partnerships to employee ownership – are used in different circumstances.  Seminal work in the economics of organization by other great economists such as Bengt Holmstrom, Oliver Hart, Paul Milgrom and others can easily be traced to this paper.

Armen’s most-read work, however, is almost certainly his undergraduate textbook University Economics, first published in the early 1960s.  Ironically, most economists trained during the past thirty years have probably never seen it.  But it is a tour de force, and unquestionably the most entertaining economics textbook ever written.  It teaches economics by way of a series of illustrations of how economic thinking plays out in the real world.  It taught millions of students how to think like an economist.  It also provides a fairly accurate depiction of Armen as a person – an economist to the core, deeply engaged in the real world, and someone with more important concerns than political correctness.

I was lucky to know Armen reasonably well.  When I arrived at the UCLA economics department in 1995 as a rookie assistant professor, Armen was 80.  He was no longer teaching classes, but came into the office every morning (usually after hitting a bucket of golf balls at the local driving range).  Although he did not generally attend seminars, he generally did read the seminar speaker’s paper.  If you were lucky, which I sometimes was, Armen would stop by your office to discuss it.  Even at an advanced age, his economic insights were unique, on point, and valuable.  I found him tough on ideas, but a very generous and gracious man in general.

I regret that I am too young to have known him in his prime, but there are many admiring stories that you can hear from those who had him as a student.  Kevin Murphy – indeed, both Kevin Murphys – Bob Topel, and David Levine are among the many ex-students that are sources for such stories.  His Ph.D. microeconomics class was legendary at UCLA for teaching students how to think like an economist and apply these insights to explaining the real world.  It was also legendary for its toughness.

Armen Alchian never won the Nobel Prize.  However, his influence on the field was at least as large as many economists who are laureates – and this influence can be seen not only in the direct influence of his best-known papers, but also in how we ourselves think like economists and teach others how to do so.  He had a profound effect on the field, and will be greatly missed by those who he and his work have touched.

February 9, 2013

Postdoctoral Fellow in Infrastructure Studies

Filed under: Academic Research,Announcements — Shane Greenstein @ 7:47 pm

The University of Michigan announces an eleven-month postdoctoral fellowship position. The position will start September 1, 2013.

Position Description

The Department of Communication Studies (in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts) and the School of Information are jointly offering a postdoctoral fellow position in the multidisciplinary area of “infrastructure studies.”

The addition of information technology is transforming the way society provides important infrastructures, including those that support media, telecommunications, power, and transport, but also those that support  knowledge, culture, and scientific data. Thanks to new capabilities in computing and control, every year our infrastructures claim to be “smarter,” with new capacities for distributed processing, analysis, sensing, adapting, and autonomous self-improvement. This radical transformation is well underway, but the assessment of its consequences is still in its infancy. For example, infrastructure unevenly distributes benefits and capabilities, with complex and sometimes unforeseen implications for politics, economics, knowledge, and social justice (to name just a few domains). This position will fund a researcher who will have the opportunity to work alongside senior collaborators to define and shape this new area of scholarship.

Salary: $50-60,000 per year (depending on negotiated duties), plus a competitive benefits package, $5,000 in discretionary funding, and the opportunity to appoint and supervise one or more paid undergraduate research assistants to work on projects of your choice.

This position is made possible by an MCubed grant.

Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled.

Download the complete position description, requirements, and application process here.

October 20, 2012

A Contest to End Robocallers with Technical Invention

Filed under: Announcements — Shane Greenstein @ 9:10 am

FTC Challenges Innovators to Do Battle with Robocallers

Agency Offers $50,000 for Best Technical Solution as Part of Ongoing Fight Against Illegal Calls

The Federal Trade Commission is challenging the public to create an innovative solution that will block illegal commercial robocalls on landlines and mobile phones. As part of its ongoing campaign against these illegal, prerecorded telemarketing calls, the agency is launching the FTC Robocall Challenge, and offering a $50,000 cash prize for the best technical solution.

This is the agency’s first government contest hosted on, an online challenge platform administered by the U.S. General Services Administration, in partnership with ChallengePost. empowers the U.S. government and the public to bring the best ideas and top talent to bear on our nation’s most pressing issues.
For more information, look here:

March 22, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica folds its hand with class

Filed under: Announcements,Signposts and milestones in evolving markets — Shane Greenstein @ 11:36 pm

Encyclopedia Britannica recently announced that it will cease publication of its books. This kicked up a range of sentimental reactions from those who grew up with the books. I would prefer to accentuate the positive: we are watching the end of a rather civilized economic transformation. This transformation is notable for the degree of civility embedded within it, an aspect rare in today’s high tech world.

This requires a short explanation.

Let’s understand what Encyclopedia Britannica actually said and what they did not say. They said they will cease publishing their encyclopedia as a set of books, not that they will cease to be a commercial organization. They can still cover the operational expense of their non-book businesses. In other words, their announcement actually means something rather straightforward: their business will be conducted around two principal products, an online service and DVD.

That announcement is the end of a long transformation. The sales of those books began to decline many moons ago, first in North America during the recession of the early 1990s. It got worse after the introduction of Encarta in 1993 and 1994, which was (a) rather cool for its time; and (b) much cheaper.

I have written about this elsewhere, particularly in my business school case about EB, but EB was also a highly leveraged organization. It sold books with door to door salesmen. This was an expensive way to distribute a product, and it did not, could not, last under assault from the PC and the Encarta.

More to the point, the management of the organization was forward looking. They has sponsored a set of projects for DVDs and online experiments. The latter eventually went online in January 1994 with an html version. Its descendants still generate licensing revenue for the organization.

Then Wikipedia came along and ate everyone’s lunch in the reference section, that is, everyone who made DVDs and books. Encarta had to close its doors a couple years ago. It was simply not getting enough sales any longer for Microsoft to find any reason to keep it going.

Here is my point. Notice what happened as the market evolved. The once leading firm changed its organizational form. It adopted a new form too, both DVD and online licensing. It still survives today with the latter, albeit, at a much smaller scale than during its peak.

In short, this transformation came about in a rather civilized way. Do you hear any whining or fussing from EB about unfair trade practices, as so many firms have done? Do you see EB suing anybody for patent infringement, as seems so common today in high tech? No, in the last decade EB did the classy thing, restructuring as best they could to make due in the new world.

Other firms should pay heed to that example. This is how it is supposed to happen, as one new market replaces an old. This is how markets should evolve. Let’s hear it for Encyclopedia Britannica, for evolving with a sense of class, and for moving along with everyone else as we all move along into the new age.

October 19, 2010

Be a Beta tester for CACM

Filed under: Announcements — Shane Greenstein @ 9:27 pm

In case you have not noticed, the venerable, Communications of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), has been undergoing modernization in the last few years. It has a wonderful web page now, a totally new layout, and many new columns (included a business/economics viewpoint edited by yours truly).

First of all, this is great. Check it out!

But there is more. In another new step, CACM plans to go mobile! Coming soon to a hand-held device near you!

Of course, this is easier to say than do. It cannot happen overnight. CACM needs beta testers for mobiles versions of the CACM websites. The first version applies to all hand-held devices. The second version will apply to iPad/iPhone apps.

That is where you can help. CACM needs beta testers. If you are willing to be a beta tester, please let David Roman know. His email is [].

Sounds like fun!

September 29, 2010

Blogging scholarship for students

Filed under: Announcements — Shane Greenstein @ 8:00 pm

Is Your Blog Worthy of a $10,000 Scholarship?

Do you maintain a weblog and attend college? Would you like $10,000 to help pay for books, tuition, or other living costs? If so, read on.

Some folks are giving away $10,000 this year to a college student who blogs. The Blogging Scholarship is awarded annually.
Scholarship Requirements:

* Your blog must contain unique and interesting information about you and/or things you are passionate about.
* U.S. citizen or permanent resident;
* Currently attending full-time in post-secondary education in the United States; and
* If you win, you must be willing to allow us to list your name and blog on this page. We want to be able to say we knew you before you became a well educated, rich, and famous blogging legend.

The application and additional information are located here: The application due date is October 21. The winner will be announced on November 2nd.

Good luck!

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: