Kansas Supreme Court asked to order grand jury on Kobach

"A former legislative candidate is asking the Kansas Supreme Court to force a grand jury investigation of Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Steven X. Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said Tuesday that he has asked the state’s highest court to require that the Douglas County District Court summon a grand jury. Davis said in a statement that the jury needs to investigate Kobach because of rumors that his office intentionally suppressed voter registration. Davis does say that his evidence is slim.

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Professor analyzing decades of data to determine patent value

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

LAWRENCE — For more than two centuries, patents have been considered a key governmental policy tool for economic innovation. And for just as long numerous assumptions have been made about what they mean to an innovation’s value, where the most important ones are litigated and numerous other questions. A University of Kansas law professor is part of a project that is providing definitive answers to these and other patent questions for policy makers through a unique, big-data approach.

Andrew Torrance, the Earl B. Schurtz Research Professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, and colleagues have developed an approach to analyze mountains of detailed U.S. patent data from 1976 to the present day. One application of their research, commissioned by Canada's Ministry of Innovation, has been a comprehensive analysis of how patents having either Canadian inventors or owners compare with those without such connections. One of their most striking findings is that patents listing at least one Canadian inventor are more than 15 percent more valuable, on average, than other patents.

In a separate study, they have shown that litigated patents tend to be much more valuable than those that avoid court, and that federal courts in the southern midsection of the U.S. play host to litigations involving the most consistently valuable patents. Current studies involve comparisons of patent values of so-called “patent trolls” and companies whose goods or services are covered by their patents, an exploration of which parts of the U.S. give rise to inventors of more valuable patents, and which areas of technology give rise to the most valuable patents.

The U.S. Patent Office recently made decades of patent data available online. Torrance and colleagues Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington used this data to build a huge database which they can use to analyze the data from a myriad of perspectives. Through this approach, they hope to test many questions arising from the perceived wisdom about patents.

“We’ve put that data together in a giant database and added other data to it as well that includes information on every U.S. patent from 1976 until last Tuesday (the day new patent data is released by the United States Patent & Trademark Office each week),” Torrance said. “We have transformed it into an easy-to-use form that allows us to run many different types of analyses.”

The Canadian Ministry of Innovation approached Torrance to learn more about the value Canadian inventors add to American patents. Their goal was to learn more about how Canadian inventors and companies perform in the U.S. patent system. The data provided a number of fascinating insights possible only through a big data approach, including one that should make Canada quite happy.

“We found that, when you add a Canadian to a U.S. patent as an inventor, that patent tends to increase in value by more than 15 percent,” Torrance said. “When you add a generic, non-American from another country, the average patent value actually tends to go down. This raises intriguing questions about how Canada fosters more successful inventors.”

What’s not clear is why Canadian inventors tend to increase a patent’s value. It could be due to the particular technology fields in which Canadians tend to invent, characteristics of science and technology education in Canada, or Canadian skill at collaborating with other talented inventors, Torrance said. But he and colleagues are beginning to analyze the data to calculate the average values of patents generated by inventors from every other country to compare them all.

The findings are unique because the data they are drawn from was largely unavailable for decades, which forced people to make assumptions about the patent system and value of patents it issued. Additionally, because the data accessed is comprehensive, the analyses can provide objective answers based on all the data rather than just small random samples.

Torrance compared it to polling: Political polls ask a sample of people questions such as which candidate they plan to vote for, then report who has a lead, based on the representative sample of people they polled. That method, widely used in research for many years, can provide a good idea of the answer to a question, but it comes with built-in error margins. The method Torrance and his colleagues are using, however, gives definitive answers because it relies on all the data. It is akin to being able to access every voter and get a definitive answer on whom they voted for.

“Having these gigantic data sets finally allows us to answer questions about which, until now, people could only speculate – and often speculate wildly,” Torrance said. “Now we can formulate a question about patent law, such as, ‘How valuable do design patents tend to be compared to utility patents,’ write a software script to analyze our huge data set and then see what answer the data give. That simply was not possible before the era of big data.”

Torrance and colleagues have already submitted their preliminary analyses of Canadian inventors and patent owners to the government of Canada, which then hopes to use the resulting insights in future policy decisions regarding the Canadian patent system and how it influences innovation. Torrance and colleagues plan to publish these findings and plan to carry out many more analyses using their data.

“Our big patent data research should keep us busy for a while,” Torrance said. “There are myriad basic questions we can now answer.”

Two projects they’ve already begun are looking at the value of patents that are litigated and where litigation of the most valuable patents takes place. In the former case, there has long been a school of thought that holds patents that are litigated in court are not inherently more valuable than those left unlitigated but are acquired by companies with the resources to hire teams of attorneys to assert those patents against others in legal proceedings.

In the latter, it has long been assumed that most patents are litigated on the coasts, and that the middle of the country is a “patent flyover country” of sorts. Contrary to this assumption, the big patent data analysis has showed that both assumptions, though long-held, are extremely inaccurate. For example, the highest concentration of valuable-patent litigation occurs in the southern middle of the country, with the coasts and the north lagging behind. Publications are forthcoming on both topics.

Torrance was also recently named a senior fellow with the Center for International Governance Innovation, or CIGI, International Law Research Program. The international, nonpartisan think tank focuses on improving international governance through research on the global economy, global security and politics, and international law. The organization brings scholars from around the world together to provide governments information on innovation and how it can address problems such as human rights, avoiding war, fighting terrorism and poverty, improving development and the standard of living for people worldwide.

Torrance hopes his ongoing research, both into patent systems and user, open, collaborative and free innovation, through CIGI, will be valuable in contributing to CIGI’s goals and to questioning assumptions that may not survive rigorous scrutiny.

“It’s great to be able to ask basic questions, then look at the data and see what they say, compared to what the assumptions are,” Torrance said. “We’re already in the age of data and are increasingly able to answer questions that were infeasible to tackle before. My background is in science, and it’s gratifying to be able to apply the scientific method to legal questions, especially when the answers upend long-held, but unjustified, assumptions. This is a great way to improve the law.”

Will new member of Supreme Court Nominating Commission tip balance in Brownback’s favor?

Lenin V. Guerra, an Olathe attorney, was recently chosen by default to fill an open seat on the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission, a group that has significant influence over the naming of Supreme Court justices.

That commission has been the subject of intense and heated debates in the Kansas Legislature in recent years. Critics say it unfairly limits a governor's ability to name justices and gives too much control to the very attorneys who practice in front of the court.

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Partnership between KU School of Law and LMH will bring free legal aid, experience

"A newly-formed partnership between the University of Kansas School of Law and Lawrence Memorial Hospital will help bring free legal assistance to patients that are unable to obtain it on their own. At the same time, the program will give law students an opportunity to help with cases and gain valuable real world experience.

The partnership is part of a national movement of hospitals that will bring free legal assistance to low-income patients and other patients that are unable to obtain legal counsel, Associate Dean of Law Lumen Mulligan said.

How Police Still Fail Rape Victims

"Last week, the Department of Justice released a scathing report of the Baltimore City Police Department, concluding that officers were pervasively abusing their power in bluntly racist and gender-biased ways. 'We found that [the police department] has engaged in a pattern or practice of serious violations of the U.S. Constitution and federal law,' wrote Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, 'that has disproportionately harmed Baltimore's African-American community and eroded the public's trust in the police.'

Partnership between KU, LMH to provide free legal counsel to patients in need

"A new joint program between the University of Kansas School of Law and Lawrence Memorial Hospital that would provide legal counsel to some of the hospital’s neediest patients will likely launch within the next few weeks.

The medical-legal partnership would offer free legal services to low-income patients with health-related legal issues while giving KU law students a chance to build professional experience and earn credit working on those cases.

Grand jury to investigate online voter registration

After Devon Weisenbach's wife's voter registration was not processed, he submitted a petition asking the Douglas County Court to appoint a grand jury to investigate the matter.

"'It's not a trial as we think of a normal trial. What a grand jury does is conduct an investigation to determine if there's enough evidence that some crime occurred,' said Mark Johnson, law lecturer at the University of Kansas.

International trade law expert authors book on TPP, new edition on Islamic law

Thursday, August 04, 2016

LAWRENCE — When the United States and 11 other nations recently agreed to the Trans Pacific Partnership, they set in motion history’s largest free trade agreement. A University of Kansas professor of law and international trade law expert has authored a comprehensive, objective look at the TPP, giving it a passing grade while detailing what it got right, where it could improve and why it’s important to millions of people around the world.

Raj Bhala, associate dean for international and comparative law and Rice Distinguished Professor at the KU School of Law, has written "TPP Objectively: Law, Economics, and National Security of History’s Largest, Longest Free Trade Agreement." The book is the first comprehensive, objective analysis of the 6,000-page agreement, the largest in human history. Bhala has also authored the second edition of Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a), his landmark textbook, and both books take an in-depth look at issues that will be central to this year’s presidential election.

"TPP Objectively"

“The book tries to look past the pro- and anti-TPP sides who are so often just talking past each other and screaming about things,” Bhala said. “The political debates tend to oversell the TPP as an economic engine or a catastrophe. The truth is it’s neither. Others miss that it’s about national security. Free trade agreements are not solely economic animals.”

“TPP Objectively” will be available in September as a hardcover and ebook. Copies can be ordered online.

Bhala, who has worked in 11 of the 12 TPP nations, breaks down the economic and national security aspects of the agreement and assigns it a B grade. In terms of security, he assigns the TPP an A, noting the importance it plays in securing agreements with 11 other nations. Many of those countries are longtime allies of the U.S., and others — critically — have agreed to a trade agreement on Western, capitalistic terms favored by the U.S. and not China, which is not part of the agreement. He also points out the national security significance of Vietnam’s membership, noting the entry of a 100 million person market and former bitter enemy of the United States.

Bhala gives the economic aspect of the TPP a C grade. The agreement doesn’t free up trade as much as most people assume, he said, pointing out that about 15 percent of all goods and services produced in the agreement’s member nations are not freed up. That is despite the fact that the agreement covers nearly 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Perhaps most importantly, Bhala’s book argues the TPP did not go far enough in addressing women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and those of religious minorities in terms of trade.

“The book is the first to argue we need to advance, more resolutely, the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and religious minorities,” Bhala said. “The TPP doesn’t cover much for women’s rights and does nothing for LGBTQ and religious minorities. It’s time to advance human dignity across the board.”

He argues that human rights treaties have attempted to address such topics but, while well-intentioned, are not as effective. Economic agreements among the world’s largest economic powers would get more attention and effect more change, Bhala added.

“TPP Objectively” breaks down concepts, goals, membership, logic and various national markets of the agreement in detailed, understandable language. It also examines nations that are part of the agreement, what they bring to the table specifically and nations that are not part of the agreement and why they are not included. It also examines challenges for the TPP, both short and long term. On the topic of national security it outlines how the agreement can both serve as containment for China and as a guideline for the United States’ pivot in focus from the Middle East to Asia.

While the book analyzes complex legal and international topics and can be invaluable to lawyers, scholars and policy makers, it can also be a source of indispensable insight for any reader interested in learning more about the agreement and what it means for the future of millions of people.

“The TPP is a public issue, it is not an arcane topic,” Bhala said. “It involves a treaty that covers things people eat every day, things they consume every day, intellectual property they depend on every day, labor and environmental issues, and raises women’s rights and minority rights issues. In a 6,000-page agreement there are topics that cover the lives of every American and every citizen in the other 11 member nations.”

Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a)

Bhala has also authored the second edition of his landmark 2011 textbook, “Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a).” Since its initial publication the book has been adopted for use in law classes throughout the United States and across the world. The book is the only comprehensive text on the topic, in English, by a non-Muslim law professor.

In press now, the second edition has a wealth of new material, including chapters on ISIS/ISIL, its definition, ideology, atrocities committed, its divergence from Islam and more. The book also contains updated information on the Shia-Sunni dispute and examination of the Prophet Muhammad’s actions during wars in his lifetime.

Understanding Islamic Law also presents in its second edition information on recent developments such as “burqa bans” and other anti-Shari’a law measures enacted in several nations. It also features Arabic terms, in English, a glossary of Arabic terms and expanded coverage of Islamic finance, especially Islamic joint ventures as well as Shi’ism.

The book provides the foundational materials for studying Islamic law without necessitating previous study of the religion, history or law of Islam. Additional chapters cover fields such as banking and finance, contracts, criminal law, family law and property.

Also available as an ebook, “Understanding Islamic Law” is available online.

Photo: A 2010 summit with leaders of the (then) negotiating states of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement. Credit: The government of Chile.

 

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