Author: Deven Desai

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Bring Out Your Brands, More Brand Scholarship

If you’re looking for some perspectives on brands, maybe some reading for holiday trips or early conferences, the first part of the Brand New World Symposium is up at the UC Davis Law Review site. The Review is publishing, I believe, almost all the presenters’ work, which is a testament to the group that came together for the event. My piece will be in part two; more on that later. Part I kicks off with Mario Biagioli, Anupam Chander, and Madhavi Sunder’s introduction. It continues with work by law, i-school, design, business, anthropology, history of science, history of art & architecture, and Chinese studies professors from around the world. I am thrilled to see this work in print. The multi-disciplinary perspectives and depth make me even more excited for the next part of my brand work.

In addition, my friend, Paul Duguid, who has a piece in the symposium, also has a piece in Enterprise and Society called Information in the Mark and the Marketplace: A Multivocal Account (pay wall however). He digs into information theory and trademarks (a subject with which I have been playing), history of union marks, issues around producers as in mark holders versus the people involved with the actual production of goods, and much much more. The material about the politics and race issues with early marks systems and the application of Bhaktin to marks made this work a fun, insightful read. Paul has been a favorite sounding board and source for my work. This article adds to that respect and gratitude.

So into the New Year with more on brands to come.

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Of Wolfs, Wall Street, Art, and Poser Populists

I was not planning on seeing The Wolf of Wall Street but may have to after reading an op-ed by Christina McDowell, the daughter of Tom Prousalis who was a lawyer in the pump and dump schemes portrayed in the movie. She makes the argument that the film and especially the film makers, Scorsese, DiCaprio, and Winters, have glorified these tactics:

So here’s the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you’re glorifying it — you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by the Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you’d be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don’t even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.

On the one hand, I think McDowell is suggesting that these “liberal” film makers are what I like to call poser populists; lots of lip service to certain ideals but not much beyond that. Maybe that is so. Some artists and writers were horrible in private life but wrote works that capture and celebrate humanity. Do we stop reading them? No. When the opposite is true, however, we may indeed pass up the work. On the other hand, there is the film by itself. Is it that bad?

With McDowell’s critique, I find I may have to see the blasted thing to determine whether it is as lacking substance as it seems. The trailers made the film seem pretty much as McDowell describes. And I happen to find the Scorsese and DiCaprio combo flat film-making. But these images and perspectives of how to conduct one’s life come up in both business associations and professional responsibility. While I believe people should make what they wish for film, T.V., books, etc., if those works become popular, I find I want to know them so I can counter-punch the message or give some context to what students see. Thus I agree with McDowell that creators can exercise judgment in what they make, but once the thing is done, blast it all, I may have to dive in if I want to say “Not for me” and back it up with why.

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Digital Death – What Happens to Your Digital Stuff

What happens to your to your email and other digital content after you die? That question continues to pop up. Back in 2008, I wondered about the issue in a paper called Property, Persona, and Preservation. I noticed a sort of cloud effect. Once we moved email to the web, we were distanced from our creations. For those interested in the theories behind my argument, read the whole paper. But if you want to skip to the policy and application material, skip to part III starting at page 111.

In fact, while I was at Google, Google and a few other email providers started to come up with ways to let heirs access content and to let creators of content signal whether they wanted that work to be shared with heirs. Those solutions tracked some ideas I offered. I am not sure whether the paper was part of their reading but was happy to see the changes. Nonetheless as Pew shows, how we preserve, protect, and control that work will continue to be a problem. The Pew report notes that states and the Uniform Law Commission are starting to come up with laws to address digital estate issues. I will write a follow up to this post, but for now, I offer that any solution should allow Service Providers the ability to set defaults and users to alter them. In short, if someone wants to have an email account for things he or she would rather not have known, the user should be able to click a setting that says “This email account will self-destruct upon the provision of a death certificate.” Now we might want to let an executor verify these wishes and so on rather than relying on Service Provider’s insight or discretion. Still a clear signal about what one wants can be built into how we preserve or destroy our digital history.

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Peer review, replication, and thankless tasks

Peer review and the ability to test claims are powerful but not infallible. The video (here) from The Economist covers the way science and peer review may not be great or as reliable as we hope or believe. In short, industry such as pharmaceuticals, may draw on academia, but the research cannot be replicated. Pharma has revealed that issue. Many who think about this issue know that replication and verification is not well-rewarded, and so the scientific method may not live up to its potential. The chat also gets into some nice issues regarding statistics and false positives. It also looks at the failure of peer reviewers to do their jobs as well as desired (for example, not catching errors that one journal inserted as a test). And, peer review is not about reviewing the raw data.

I wonder whether open data sets as Victoria Stodden has described them will help here. It may be that modeling and other software approaches will be able to test the raw data and examine the method of collection to note it limits and find errors. Who knows? Maybe replication can be automated so that people could focus on the new work and machines can deal with the drudgery of “Yes, that is correct.”

UPDATE: I noticed that The Economist has an autoplay ad. That is lame. I have removed the embedded video but still recommend going to the site to watch it.

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NSA, Its Seal, and the First Amendment

Speech, Citizenry, and the Market in real life. It seems the NSA has invoked a public law to prevent someone from making parody NSA T-shirts. The shirt displayed the seal and the words “THE NSA, The only part of the government that actually listens.” The NSA was not amused. The first site to offer the shirts stopped offering the shirts after a letter from the NSA (apparently they were able to talk about that one for now). The NSA wrote to one online outlet, “The NSA seal is protected by Public Law 86-36, which states that it is not permitted for “…any person to use the initials ‘NSA,’ the words ‘National Security Agency’ and the NSA seal without first acquiring written permission from the Director of NSA.” The company, Liberty Maniacs, has sued under the First Amendment. That case may be near settlement.

In the Liberty Maniacs case, the obvious parody should suffice. If not, I suggest that the NSA is public figure entity and so mocking it by using its name and logo (just like we use a person’s name and face) should be protected under that reasoning as well. That said, I would think that under Alvarez, most special laws regarding seals, the Olympics, and so on will need some extra explanation to stay in place.

The video below is from Cafe Press which also offers the shirts and mugs.

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Santa’s Brand

Quietbook has a mock re-branding Santa guide up. It is a “refresh.” Refresh. The word triggered a flashback to corpspeak where irony goes to die. I scanned the rest of the page. “*Santa* is a Concept, not an idea. It’s an Emotion, not a feeling. It’s both Yesterday and Today. And it’s Tomorrow as well.” Ah yes. They get it. The Santa Brand book is a great example of the way branders operate. I dove into those ideas in my paper From Trademarks to Brands. These folks take you on a similar but funnier journey. Good times and a belated but truly meant Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

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Some Holiday Music a la Middle Earth

I rather liked the way the trailer (or preview) for the first past of The Hobbit used Misty Mountains Cold. The movie, well, more than enough has been said about that. I looked for the song, as it seemed appropriate for this time of year. It turns out several groups have covered it. And this one to get you started seems to agree that it fits the time of year. It is from the 2012 Holiday Concert at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

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On Lust, Dust, and Books

Bow down. Bow down to the queen of books. As a kid, if a foot touched a book, we employed a hand gesture, akin to genuflection, to make up for our disrespect. It’s an Indian thing. Doris Lessing’s Nobel speech captures why that gesture makes sense to me. It makes her my queen of books. We have the luxury of arguing over whether books are findable, searchable. We should pay attention to what Lessing said. In 2007 Lessing spoke of Africa, dust filled and hungry for books:

“Please send us books when you get back to London,” one man says. “They taught us to read but we have no books.” Everybody I met, everyone, begged for books.

And I do mean hungry:

Not long ago a friend who had been in Zimbabwe told me about a village where people had not eaten for three days, but they were still talking about books and how to get them, about education.

Lessing captures the faith that education will raise someone from poverty. Perhaps it is ironic that she attacks the Internet and blogging while wondering from where and the publishing of ideas will emerge in Africa. But her criticism seems to me more about the thin nature and “inanities” of much online than the technology itself. Her real concern is that reading begets reading and writing. She focuses on the simple fact that people want to read and write. Some learn from labels on jars or torn sections of novels left behind by those fortunate to have read the whole novel and who tore it for travel ease. In contrast, “We have a treasure-house of literature, going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. It is all there, this wealth of literature, to be discovered again and again by whoever is lucky enough to come upon it. A treasure. Suppose it did not exist. How impoverished, how empty we would be.”

For all the debate on scanning books and incentives to create, I have to stop and say rot and rubbish. Get the books, the texts to everyone. Now. Don’t tell me someone does not want to read or learn math or engage. Build and reinforce the culture that wanted to feed the body and the mind. As Lessing concluded:

That poor girl trudging through the dust, dreaming of an education for her children, do we think that we are better than she is – we, stuffed full of food, our cupboards full of clothes, stifling in our superfluities? I think it is that girl, and the women who were talking about books and an education when they had not eaten for three days, that may yet define us.

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San Francisco for the Rich but that can be fixed

Are San Francisco’s housing issues self-created? Possibly. Many have posted about the HuffPo article showing how New York and San Francisco are now populated by the wealthy almost exclusively. And as I visit SF what should I see but the Examiner running a series about SF’s future. Oh no it may hit 1 million people by 2032! That’s right a Dr. Evil 1 million. There is an artificial scarcity in SF. Let’s compare. SF square mileage about 47; NY’s about 23. SF, I believe, has assiduously limited housing. It could build up. It could improve public transport (Muni is not, repeat not, a subway). It is trying to do some work to get to address these issues. Still, it seems that the outrage over high prices and company buses might also be directed at government and residents unwilling to increase the amount of high rises.

Of course, the whole Peninsula could use density and better housing in the Fabgoog area would be welcome. Who knows? Maybe some light rail or better buses in the area would turn Mountain View into a Santa Monica of sorts. Great food, great living, and an identity of its own rather than a weird kowtow to the small city to the north.

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More Patent Fun, New York Times and another DC event

My paper with Gerard Magliocca made the New York Times in a piece called “Beyond 3-D Printers’ Magic, Possible Legal Wrangling,” and the fun continues. With patent reform on the table (pdf to the bill), the New America Foundation is holding a conference called Just How Broken Is the Patent System?. I will be on the kick-off panel with my friend Adam Mossoff. After some jousting over patents, property, and more with the help of Annie Lowery, the day will turn to industry folks, policy wonks, and more professors, to get into health and patents, green innovation, patent assertion, fixes to the patent system, and a keynote by Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission.

It promises to be a fun day. Hope to see folks there.