A veritable flood of letters has poured into our editorial office since the last issue. We love it when our readers talk back, so this week, we're letting you do just that -- in place of our usual opinion and comment. As always, tell us what you're thinking at: Letters to the Editor, Washington Technology, 8500 Leesburg Pike
Setting the IAC Record Straight
I had intentionally not written you regarding the recent reference to the Industry Advisory Council and Izzy Feldman's leave of absence as IAC chairman (WT, June 8 and June 22), but my intent was overtaken by events. As is the case with all of us in the IAC, Izzy acts in a volunteer capacity as the IAC chairman. Consistent with his track record, Izzy's company, The Feldman Group, is successful and the time demands this success puts upon him precluded his continuing in the capacity of IAC chairman and president of TFG while doing justice to both entities. Therefore, he asked me to take over as chairman of IAC until he decides what his next step will be. They say that what makes a professional a pro is that the pros make it look easy, and that's what Izzy did as the IAC chairman. Now that he isn't here, the entire IAC executive board is working a lot harder on IAC issues. Izzy's need to free up some time for himself is understandable.
As for the silly reference to charges against the IAC for copyright infringements, nothing could be farther from reality. We are a group of volunteer, unpaid executives who try to make a positive difference in the working relationship we have with our government customers and partners. In fact, our popular Executive Leadership Conference of Oct. 22-24 will sell out because people recognize the value of the partnership benefits of our session.
None of us in the IAC makes any money from the work we do for the IAC. We work for the IAC ideals because we believe in what we do. We would have no reason to infringe on anyone's copyrights.
I did not intend to respond to the tabloid-style comment from the issues in question, yet the phone calls and E-mails it generated made this letter necessary. Sorry there's no story there, but thanks for the opportunity to plug the IAC and the Executive Leadership Conference.
Robert J. Guerra
Industry Advisory Council
It's Not That Slow
In your Industry Watch column (WT, June 22), you are probably quoting a press release from En Technology Inc. about their $100 product that can transmit a 3-megabyte file in four minutes from a television to a PC. You go on to say "That same task would take hours over phone lines and conventional modem."
I don't know what speed modem you/they are referring to in the quoted comparison, but a V.34 modem running at 28.8 kbps over regular phone lines (and selling for as little as $125 today) would transmit that file in about 15 minutes (not "hours"). And if the file was not already compressed at the source, the data compression feature that is standard on all these modems could dramatically reduce that 15 minutes.
Clarification of ISO-9000
Please let me express my concern over some of the indirect errors contained in your article, "Land of the Rising Trade Barrier," (WT, June 8). This is necessary because it spreads some misinformation regarding the position and function of ISO-9000 and SEI's Maturity Index, and how they relate to each other.
ISO-9000 (specifically ISO-9001-3, as applies to software production) is part of a total package of guidelines covering most types of manufacturing and services. ISO-9001-3 does not include specific controls on how to implement these guidelines, only the requirement that certain process checks be in place.
SEI's Maturity Index is a measurement system that gauges the level of self management or destination control that an organization is exercising. That measurement process looks to see if certain processes are in place, and how they are operating. The SEI process evaluation criteria is somewhat definitive of a total quality assurance process.
ISO-9001-3 and SEI's Maturity Index are mostly complementary in that ISO specifies what checks need to be in place and SEI indicates how to make most of the same checks work as an organized process.
Underneath both ISO and SEI is the actual quality assurance plan for an organization. At this level it may include the methodology of one or more various QA systems (Taguchi, total quality management/TQM, Deming, etc.).
For additional clarification, ISO-qualified organizations frequently exercise a process called "Quality Provider Evaluation," which is an auditing procedure performed on each of their source providers to ensure that what they purchase meets the quality levels they expect. This is a standard ISO methodology, and seems to be very close to what your article is complaining about. If that is true, then the concerns raised in your article are probably non-issues. We already deal with that every time non-ISO certified organizations sell to a certified company.
Having said all that (we need to clarify to the industry that ISO and SEI are complementary, not conflicting), your article implied but failed to come right out and say that the Japanese plan to inspect "source code" for software products. If they are just inspecting the compiled product, or its actions, they can and do perform that today. We all evaluate software products for performance and accuracy prior to purchase as a part of our decision-making activities.
If the intent of Japan's direction is actually inspection of source code, then the same inspection requirement could/would be placed on their products in the U.S., resulting in publication of their internal product methodology in this country. Obviously, their manufacturers are not going to be supportive of that approach. The next logical extension of what you imply as the new Japanese direction would be for them to ask for revelation of the chemical codes that are used in the manufacture of alloys, medicines, plastics, etc. It's no different than source code for software.
How about doing some research and technically specific reporting on just what it is that the Japanese wish to inspect? It would be much more valuable to your readers if you were to provide hard facts with details enough to be useful.
Quality Check on Software
There was some complaining about the Japanese instituting quality control standards for software sold in that country (WT, June 8). If those standards apply equally to all software that is sold in Japan, then there is no basis for any complaints. Does the U.S. software industry deliver such inferior products that it is afraid to compete against other software sources that deliver better quality software that would stand up better to the quality inspection?
Gabriel P. Katona
New York, New York
Keep Up the Good Work
Of all the technology publications received by this office, we find Washington Technology to be the most informative. Keep up the good work.
Anthony T. Lane
Intellectual Property Counsel
Department of the Army
Brown Is Right -- Money Counts
In your recent opinion column (WT, June 22), you quote J.S. Brown as stating "the seeds of real innovation are in serious jeopardy because funding for those seeds does not come from small companies." The clear implication is that government must continue to support research at large companies in order to get true innovation.
Brown is correct just and only to the extent that much contemporary research requires money. History has shown repeatedly that breakthroughs and true innovation come from individuals and small groups. Moreover, efficiency and cost-effectiveness clearly favor individual effort: Witness the Wright brothers flying airplanes at Kitty Hawk while the liberally funded Langely was sinking pseudo-aircraft in the Potomac. The size of the site at which scientists work is irrelevant. Results obtained per dollar spent, however, clearly favor individual effort. The SBIR program, despite its often overly prescriptive nature, is a case in point. The few remaining federally supported basic research programs directed at individual researchers are another.
Despite the higher rate of return on smaller projects, government money handlers tend to prefer supporting megacorporations and large federally funded centers for one reason. They have higher visibility. Their domination of science and technology, however, rarely results from the ideas they produce (which typically derive from individual effort) but from their overwhelming presence -- like weeds crowding flowers. Given current budget constraints, scarce federal dollars should be used to fund relatively small-scale, truly innovative, unsolicited research. Leave it to the large corporations to find and pick the flowers for further cultivation and packaging.
Joseph M. Scandura, Ph. D.
Dr. Acronym Heal Thyself
One would think that criticisms of a publication such as Washington Technology would relate to issues of business and technology rather than the issues of "good taste." However, the "joke" included in the Dr. Acronym column (WT, June 22) begs such criticism, and gives the reader reason to question the decision to include this particular column in the Netplex section rather than in the trash can where it belongs. The good doctor should have been less concerned about E-mail concerning perpetuation of a hoax and more concerned about perpetuating a sick joke concerning a man who is fighting to overcome the devastating results of an unfortunate accident. Rather than prove Dr. Acronym to be an "interactive humor column," which the column normally contains, this poor attempt at badinage merely proves that the old adage "Doctor heal thyself" applies to more than just physicians.
I notice that there is space reserved in the contents section to correct errors of fact and interpretation. I wonder if that space might not be used for apologies.
Dennis L. Sossi
The Future Is Now For U.S. Technology
Your June 22 issue contained two articles that were very important to the future of U.S. technology, therefore important to U.S. jobs, emerging industries and national wealth.
Your opinion article, "The Marketing of Marketing, Not Innovation," addressed the seeds of innovation falling on the barren ground of corporate cultures focused on "results" rather than research. Your supportive quotes from John Seely Brown, chief scientist at Xerox, were right on target.
Mr. Brown's assertion that large corporations may be dinosauric, especially in terms of research and innovation, is probably the result of "near term bottom line only" thinking, in phase with our national corporate downsizing experience of the past five or 10 years.
Washington Technology's conclusion is that, if Brown is right (which I also believe that he is), the U.S. is basically living off research spending done five, 10 or even 15 years ago. The most significant research/innovation has, and is, being developed by small business/independent innovators, and is simply being marketed by large, mostly multinational corporations.
The same fuzzy thinking that has allowed our government and corporate executives to lead us down this highway, manifests itself most recently in the GATT implementing legislation. Therein our government leaders, in step with foreign interests and large multinational corporate interests, added what many have termed inappropriate domestic intellectual property language in the GATT approval process. That language changed the U.S. patent term from what had been 17 years from the date of issue to 20 years from the date of filing. In doing so, our leaders chose marketing over innovation.
This leads us to your second article, "Patent Law Paralyzed," which discusses the standoff between small business/independent innovators against large manufacturing companies relative to this seemingly simple patent term change. In spite of PTO pendency "claims," the fact is that pioneer or breakthrough inventions most often take longer than three years to process through the PTO. This is for a number of reasons including the technical complexity of those applications, the turnover rate of qualified examiners, and the manner in which the PTO accounts for its processing time. The results of the GATT implementing legislation will be to shorten the exclusive period of "pioneer" inventor ownership of his/her intellectual property, allowing foreign interests to move our technology offshore to lower cost production areas, and allow foreign and multinational corporations to copy our technology earlier. No wonder they supported the change.
Corrective legislation has been introduced. H.R. 359 has approximately 180 co-sponsors, and S. 284, introduced by Sen. Bob Dole, will likely be just as popular. Sen. Dole has secured an agreement from the White House that the president would not oppose such legislation in the 104th Congress. Those bills combine the patent term contained in GATT with the earlier law to allow the patent term to be 17 years from the issue date or 20 years from the filing date, whichever is longer. They do not violate the terms of the GATT, or the Uruguay Round Agreement. The bills also address the "submarine" patent issue by publishing patents after five years of pendency.
In addition to inventors' groups from across the country (including the Washington-based Alliance for American Innovation Inc.), the coalition supporting H.R. 359 and S. 284 includes the 320,000-member National Association for the Self-Employed, the 62,000-member National Small Business United, the National Venture Capital Association (inventors need money to commercialize their product), the Association for University Technology Managers Inc., and others. Also, the recent White House Conference on Small Business voted to retain the patent term of 20 years from date of application or 17 years from the date of issue, whichever is longer.
The effective date of the regressive GATT implementing language was June 8, 1995. Innovative America voted against that legislation when 52,452 patent applications were filed the week preceding -- an increase of 45,000 over the average week. To process the deluge, 65 temporary employees were hired by the PTO for the three days before June 8.
The factors discussed in your opinion article began our demise. Failure to pass the corrective legislation discussed in your second article will serve as the "last straw" to kill the U.S. world class innovation system. I commend you for addressing this timely issue.
Orville J. Litzsinger
Alliance for American Innovation
Organized Religion's Dangerous Pursuit
I can walk today because someone developed a metal pin that held by left leg together until my young bones matured. Not surprisingly, I'm not mad that the inventor made a profit with his patent. In my opinion, he or she deserves a royalty on the running shoes I've purchased since my operation.
It doesn't bother me that neither the New or Old Testaments make much mention of orthopedic procedures. As a regular church-goer, I am quite comfortable with the moral and religious implications of it all.
Now a collection of religious groups seeks to prohibit the patenting of scientific discoveries based on animal or human gene technology. They believe "that humans and animals are creations of God, not humans, and as such should not be patented as human inventions."
A cynical observer might wonder if all of the proponents are strict vegetarians. If not, they stand for the interesting proposition that it is immoral to patent a disease-fighting product derived from an animal gene, but moral to slaughter cattle for hamburgers.
Historically, there have been two breeding grounds of opposition to technological advances. Either nervous workers revolted against new machines threatening their jobs; or society's elites persecuted scientists who challenged the world view of organized religion.
It is hard not to sympathize with struggling workers' fear of losing their livelihood. But today's religious thinkers opposed to patents are not protecting jobs; they are advancing their sense of morality. The imprisonment of Galileo is one of many history lessons that teach us to beware religion's attempts to limit scientific discovery.
Genetic research ought to be part of the debate about the appropriate limits on the use of technology. Biotechnology has created drugs that fight disease and save lives, but one can imagine some genetic capabilities that would be better left undeveloped.
The religious coalition's proposal to prohibit patents smells more like prohibition than the start of a discussion on where to draw the line. Society would be better served if the coalition came to the debate with an idea instead of a hammer.
Michael P. Meotti
Shipman & Goodwin