Disruption of the Democratic Campaign Machines: Does a New Machine Mean Changes for Patent Policy?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

Bernie Sanders has motivated many individuals to get up and do something with their own talents to help make others aware; aware of Bernie that is. FeelTheBern.org and the viral TV ad from the Sanders campaign exploiting images of many Americans with the tingle of Simon and Garfunkel’s spinal tap “America” enable people to feel the impact of their own works on a larger collective. Win or lose, the momentum Sanders has been able to create is nothing short of remarkable. In a year where outsiders are believed to be at a disadvantage Sanders, who has been in Congress for twenty-five years and in politics for virtually his entire adult life, continues to sell his honesty, trustworthiness and vision, embracing a non-traditional, unorthodox approach that inspires.

So much of the intellectual property community is driven by disruption, creative destruction, invention, innovation, collaboration, sharing and many other forms of ideas coming from a person and diffusing into society. Generally this type of visionary upheaval comes from younger minds unafraid to question the established orthodoxy. So far in the 2016 Presidential cycle, at least on the Democratic side, the challenge and change that has captured the spirit of the masses in the early voting states is found in the Sanders campaign. At least that is the perception. Of course, Sanders faces the challenge of any candidate – getting the younger voter to show up.

That Sanders is the agent for disruptive change and hope on the Democratic side presents an irony for a variety of reasons. Until recently Sanders didn’t even call himself a Democrat, but more remarkable is this disruption is coming from oldest person running for President. Indeed, Sanders is squarely from the generation of mainframe and super computers, which most of his followers probably don’t even understand. Today the average smartphone has computing processing power easily three times that of vintage super computers, yet the vintage Sanders has found a way to communicate his message to a growing follower base.

In fact, he appears to be mastering Metcalfe’s law – the value grows as more endpoints are interconnected. Will this make Sanders and his campaign machine more resilient, more competitive? Or will the more traditional campaign machine of Hillary Clinton, running with modifications tested and improved since her rigorous experience in 2008, prevail? Are these two campaigns reflections of the different kinds of creative capacity people posses and place into society?

Clinton learned too late in the 2008 primaries that Barrack Obama was charging via his website for t-shirts, hats, yard signs and other campaign tools that she was giving away. She burned through so much of her cash to promote herself while Obama monetized himself. Worth noting that Obama made much wealth for himself before and during his Presidency by licensing intellectual property and generating royalty income: selling books talking up his own life and what those experiences with many others taught him.

The Sanders campaign machine may be a simple fulcrum. It leverages the enthusiasms of many, especially the young, accelerating their excitement into a broader community. Let’s see if this fever is caught quickly by the Martin O’Malley followers in the Iowa caucuses as they will have to make a second choice, either Sanders of Clinton, under the rules of the Iowa caucus.

Clinton’s public service and substantial exposure since the inception of blogging and web driven journalism means she enjoys the economic effect of long tails. So many former staff and supporters and so much vetting. Clinton’s campaign may be seen as more traditional in that it has the advantage of access to so many interconnected people and information. Some also argue that Clinton enjoys a disproportionate amount of support from the Democratic party apparatus itself.

Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill made the patently obvious “all politics is local” famous. And the phrase is all too true today for the disruption of the Democratic campaign machines.

Ro Khanna

Ro Khanna

Ro Khanna is a patent attorney and friend of Larry Lessig (former Democratic candidate for President famous for his work on copyright and corruption issues) running again in Silicon Valley against a Democratic opponent, Congressman Mike Honda for the second time.  (Years ago Khanna also ran against Congressman Tom Lantos.)  Khanna is backed by young tech startup execs and VCs and Honda is backed by the Democratic party, unions, corporate PACs and traditional supporters of Democrats. In a state with a jungle primary system, where voter turnout is already poor, and probably no top ticket draw the Khanna vs. Honda contest may illustrate this fulcrum vs. long tail and in doing so help indicate where the technology community is getting a return on its investment in politics generally and when they are dividing their votes and dollars on a single party contest that will repeat from primary to general and in the epicenter of Silicon Valley.

Specifically, does this contest mean that voters think that traditional views on patents or copyrights are on the way out and that collectivism is on the rise? The so-called “Napster generation” is now definitely 30 something and kissing 40. Millennials and how they are using the Internet for work, life and politics may show us a shift in compensation for creativity that is rewarding inclusiveness, building a community and a base of customers. This contrasts with the more traditional top down, broadcast marketing coupled with enforcement of longer term royalties. Silicon Valley and Wall Street at least have embraced the former, it seems, given how much people love to value unicorns these days. But in the past as unicorns grew up the market would demand adherence to traditional top down norms – think Twitter, for example, which had few patents of their own until they purchased 900 patents from IBM shortly after going public.

Will Clinton work on patent policy in the traditional way of lobbyists, lawyers, and industrial trade groups? Will her long tail of former staff and supporters flood the pool of talent working in her administration and thus shape much of the policy? If you look at who is backing her campaign and the Clinton’s power base the answer seems to likely be yes. In a Hillary Clinton Administration there would perhaps not be as much influence from academics as there has been during the Obama Administration, and given how Hillary’s Super PAC has struggled to raise money in Silicon Valley the tech elite likely won’t have the influence they currently enjoy at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue either.

Sanders has of course been an elected official for a long time and has had ample opportunity to be vocal on patents. He may yet be vocal at least at the intersection of his work on drug prices, income inequality and how patents impact the two. Certainly, patent rights on drugs would need to change in a way that is not favorable to patent owners if the Sander’s vision of regulated drug prices were to become the law of the land, but getting such a measure through Congress would not be an easy task.

On patent issues Sanders won’t be driven, or held hostage, by his votes in Congress or his industrial constituents in Vermont that produce a surprisingly high number of patents. Instead, Sanders will be operated by this fulcrum machine of talent that self-organizes.  Does this mean too that lobbyists and special interests will have less influence over patent policy in a Sanders administration? The answer is likely yes, at least if you are talking about existing corporate special interests and lobbyists that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.


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Join the Discussion

20 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    January 28, 2016 11:22 am

    To put aside the “patent hat” for a moment, I would like to share the website ” isidewith.com ” as an interesting tool to not only think about the issues, but to see which of the candidates align with the issues.

    Take a moment to expand all of the questions (and all of the answers with the “other stances” radio button). Pick your answer and weight your answer. Then scroll through all of the results and see some very excellent graphical displays.

    And there’s more, from charting individual candidates and slicing through various demographics to focusing on particular issues.

    (and I will share that I have no affiliation with the site or those running the site)

  • [Avatar for Joachim Martillo]
    Joachim Martillo
    January 27, 2016 07:56 pm

    In re #7. I can’t believe I forgot to include MacArthur Fellow Richard Stallman (RMS), who is the founder of the Free Software Movement as well as creator of the original TECO Emacs and of today’s Gnu Emacs. (He does not seem to have a problem with patents even when the patent involves software.)

    Some of us that remember the Emacs screaming matches of the early 80s consider RMS the ultimate progenitor of the concepts that underlie the Java Virtual Machine (JVM).

    Gosling Emacs contained a Mock Lisp implementation (a pun on MacLisp) as a sort of wart, but RMS built a highly optimized Lisp virtual machine container that runs the programs that comprise Gnu Emacs.

    In many regards the Gnu Emacs Lisp Virtual Machine, which contains a full interpreter, compiler, and program executor, is more powerful than the Java Virtual Machine, which only contains the program executor.

    (To be fair, elisp is a functional and not an object oriented language, and when I was working with it back in the 80s, it did not support multithreading as Java does today. On the other hand people are always trying to give Java the ability to manipulate Java methods as data objects — something that is built into the fundamental nature of Lisp. It may be my prejudice, but Java annotations and Scala seem quite awkward to me.)

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 27, 2016 05:47 pm

    Curious @6–really great post. Curious @17–I agree with you. We need to chill and discuss.

    I think the biggest thing is the SCOTUS. If Clinton is elected, we can expect that Stevens dissent in Bilski will become the law of the land. If Sanders gets elected, I am not sure what will happen. I actually think that Sanders is right of Eisenhower and Clinton. I also think that Trump is secretly a liberal and that he would probably get patents. I think if Clinton gets elected that I will probably change careers out of patents. Sanders not sure what he’d do. He might do the right thing. Trump might do the right thing.

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    January 27, 2016 05:21 pm

    Obviously, the answer is it depends upon who wins

    OK … how about this: “Different candidates have different power bases who may have different impact on the candidate’s policies.” I took an 1200 word article and boiled it down to 15 words. However, I’m not one step closer to understanding what a Clinton presidency or Sanders presidency will mean for patent policy. Forgive me if I was looking for insight and what I got was speculation.

    if Hillary Clinton wins the White House we can expect the same top down enforcement minded lobbyists and interests to be influencing her policies on patents and intellectual property. If Bernie Sanders wins we can expect a different set of non-traditional influencers shaping policy in a Sanders Administration
    So he speculates. The current power structure (including both the pros and antis) did not get where it is by not hedging its bets. Neither Sanders nor Clinton will win the general election without substantial money (is that the current power structure I hear calling?) (I also believe that Sanders has little chance of winning the general election period, but that is another story for another day).

    So clearly the article answered the question presented in the title.
    No — all I got was maybe — depending upon who gets elected — but nobody knows what those changes are. If you are happy with that, then so be it. This is your sandbox, and you can do whatever you want with it.

    However, I don’t appreciate being insulted. In case you haven’t noticed it, I’m on your side. Our side has enough problems with a massive lobbying campaign being waged against us by well-heeled interests. Can’t you take well-intentioned criticism about an article (that you didn’t write) and leave it at that? You don’t have to come down hard on everybody that doesn’t agree with you.

  • [Avatar for Joachim Martillo]
    Joachim Martillo
    January 27, 2016 01:23 pm

    Google has been very lucky.

    Back when search technology was just starting, DEC’s Altavista search system was clearly superior, but DEC management did not understand what it had.

    Nowadays I prefer Bing — not that Microsoft is arguably less evil than Google. (Microsoft managed to appropriate DEC VMS to build the WindowsNT operating system.)

    Personally, I prefer working on an Ubuntu Linux platform to using Microsoft Windows, and I have never been tremendously inspired by Apple technology.

    (Unfortunately, Microsoft Office is still superior to LibreOffice. Fortunately, Oracle supplies VirtualBox, which makes it possible to run a virtual Windows system on top of Linux.)

    The high tech industry seems to correct itself in 25-30 year cycles. It may be too early to think of special regulation for the search market, but working hard to strengthen the patent system by shining a bright spotlight on SAWS and similar unlawful programs within the USPTO may be necessary to keep the US economic and political systems inclusive.

    See my comments #2 and #3 on President Obama continues technology focus in his final year.

    I also recommend Why Nations Fail by Acemoglu and Robinson.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 27, 2016 12:09 pm

    (Sorry for the three posts.) Everyone should contemplate how weird it is that Google is a monopoly in the search market and no one cares. They are making ridiculous margins on the searches which gives them 10’s of billions of dollars to cause mischief with. Anyone who isn’t concerned about this knows nothing about economics or politics. Google has some enormous power. Big time power. I am personally afraid of Google. I think they would come after me for me consistently pointing out what they do. (And, no not with a hit man, but there are many ways to destroy people with that kind of money.)

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 27, 2016 12:05 pm

    I still think a lot of the reason we are getting insanity with the patents is the Federal Reserve. All the money to the rich and banks flows right into the stock of corporations and makes them ridiculously rich. Add to that that everyone seems fine with monopolies now and the ridiculous profits of Google (probably advertising on Google costs about 4 times what it would if there was competition), and you get things so out of wack that it is hard to know what is going on. Google just says we don’t need patents. Look we hire 20,000 to innovate and that will take care of it.

    You see, this whole thing is very complicated. (At the end of the day, I think the models of innovation advocated by Google are not going to work.) Google’s motto “Do no evil” was clearly meant to be a diversion tacit.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    January 27, 2016 12:00 pm

    >>You could argue that Google and Facebook represent the established powers if you want, but I think you would pretty clearly be wrong.

    You have to be kidding Gene. Google has market power with searches. It owns the search market. Facebook owns the social networking market. The only corporation to outspend Google was Goldman Sachs. Google is clearly the established power. Google’s model is we will provide it to you so if there is no IP we can provide more to the consumer and make more money.

    The best things for patents would be for Google to be broken up as a monopoly (which it is.)

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 27, 2016 10:34 am


    I think you are right about the spanning tree protocol per se, but one of the two patents that Perlman will be inducted for is this one, which is an improvement on the spanning tree protocol.


    Stay tuned for more next week.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 27, 2016 10:22 am


    You seem to have a problem with me asking if you read the article, but it is really impossible to believe you read the article with you continuing to say that the article does not answer the question about whether a new machine means changes for patent policy. If you read the entire article you would know the answer to that question. Obviously, the answer is it depends upon who wins. Much of the article is spent on discussing the new dynamic that is represented both in the Sanders campaign and to a lesser extent the Khanna campaign. If you read all the way to the end (which is hard to believe you did) Peter explains that if Hillary Clinton wins the White House we can expect the same top down enforcement minded lobbyists and interests to be influencing her policies on patents and intellectual property. If Bernie Sanders wins we can expect a different set of non-traditional influencers shaping policy in a Sanders Administration, which would tend to suggest favoring policies, rules and regulations that are more in line with a sharing economy and different exploitation models.

    So clearly the article answered the question presented in the title. How or why you choose to ignore that is something of a mystery. That is why I said it seems rather clear to me that you wanted to read a different article than what was written and somehow that makes the article bad in your opinion. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion, but this article does provide answers and insights.

    As I’ve explained many times in the past, an article is not a treatise. We are going to be writing more articles in this series between now and November 2016, and then many more as the Administration of whoever wins takes shape. Stay tuned. Perhaps future articles will be more to your liking if you are looking for just the facts without any of the background explanation.


  • [Avatar for Joachim Martillo]
    Joachim Martillo
    January 27, 2016 05:54 am

    In re #8. I met Radia at an IETF meeting in 1994 although our paths frequently came close to crossing at MIT before then.

    While Radia has done a lot of interesting work in security and cryptography, I think she is best known for An Algorithm for Distributed Calculation of a Spanning Tree in an Extended LAN, for which no patent application was made as far as I know.

    Of course, patent claims directed solely to the distributed algorithm would have been ineligible under 35 USC § 101, but it should have been possible to craft eligible system or method claims that involved the distributed algorithm.

    One must hypothesize that DEC considered it more important to the bottom line to encourage the proliferation of large bridged networks than to stake out a claim to this intellectual property that Radia had developed.

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    January 26, 2016 05:56 pm

    Did you actually read the article?
    Did you have to ask the question?

    You could argue that Google and Facebook represent the established powers if you want, but I think you would pretty clearly be wrong.
    I think NWPA would disagree that Google isn’t an established power. Clearly, Google already has their hands in the current power structure. Moreover, Facebook’s hire of the former chairman of the FCC to head its lobbying efforts certain evidences the power they have and are wielding. While Google and Facebook may not be long established powers, they have certainly established their substantial power.

    a sharing economy where IP rights are monetized through various other business models (i.e., first to market, building a loyal base of users, etc.)
    I think you’ve misstated what is being monetized. You aren’t monetizing “IP rights” if you are first to market and/or building a loyal base of users and the IP right you are using are not yours. You cannot monetize an IP right when you don’t have the right.

    Let me ask this of you. The tile of this article includes the question “Does a New Machine Mean Changes for Patent Policy?” Does the article answer that question? Consistent with my discussion of Google/Facebook above, what about the so-called “New Machine” differs from the machine currently in place? I want the answer to the question posed in the article.

    So I’m not sure how you could have actually read this article and put them into the “traditional” category, that is unless you ignore what Peter wrote.
    I didn’t ignore what Peter wrote — I just didn’t like his style of writing.

    The phrases “intellectual property” and “copyrights are each mentioned just twice in the article. While the second half of the article mentions “patents,” the only substantive comment is “patent rights on drugs would need to change in a way that is not favorable to patent owners if the Sander’s vision of regulated drug prices were to become the law of the land, but getting such a measure through Congress would not be an easy task.” However, that speculative belief about “Sander’s vision” says more about Sanders’ take on the cost of health care and less about some overarching patent policy.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 26, 2016 04:10 pm


    I am a fan of the disruptive works Steve Wozniak. It is too bad that he walked away from Apple so early.

    Interesting that you mention Radia Perlman. She is going to be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May 2016. Stay tuned next week for an article on her innovation that won her inclusion. The article is already written and scheduled to publish on the anniversary of the issuance of one of the two patents for which she will be inducted into the hall of fame.


  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 26, 2016 04:06 pm


    Did you actually read the article?

    It seems that you just wanted to read an article different from the one that was written. The article title did not suggest that it was about Sander’s policy positions on intellectual property.

    You could argue that Google and Facebook represent the established powers if you want, but I think you would pretty clearly be wrong. If you read the article you would see that Peter draws a distinction, which I also tried to explain to you above, between traditional norms of IP enforcement versus a sharing economy where IP rights are monetized through various other business models (i.e., first to market, building a loyal base of users, etc.) Clearly, Google and Facebook are not traditional in their approach to IP. Google would rather intellectual property not exist and has spent most of the Obama Administration lobbying for a demise of the patent system. Google has also championed large scale copyright infringement, which was challenged by the Authors’ Guild and others. So I’m not sure how you could have actually read this article and put them into the “traditional” category, that is unless you ignore what Peter wrote.


  • [Avatar for Joachim Martillo]
    Joachim Martillo
    January 26, 2016 03:58 pm

    I am not so sure that there are no tech or science superstars today comparable to Tesla or Edison.

    I consider Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Adam Osbourne, Rod Johnson, James Gosling, Radia Perlman, Steven Hawking, Maryam Mirzakhani, Alec Jeffreys, Ed Witten, Andrew Wiles, Noel Chiappa, Bill Yeager, C. Gordon Bell, Gordon Moore, Andrew Grove and many others all to be comparable modern superstars. There may be so many comparable superstars today that we no longer think of them as superstars.

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    January 26, 2016 03:48 pm

    this generation has not seen the rise of an inventor hero.
    Sure they have — Larry Page, U.S. Patent No. 6,285,999. That patent is the very basis of Google’s search engine, which is the prime driver for everything Google has done. The problem is that no one ever talks about Larry Page being an inventor — instead, he is hailed as a co-founder/innovator.

    The problem with the big technology companies, such as Facebook and Google, is that they use so much technology that they, themselves, did not invent. They cannot extoll their own technological breakthroughs without acknowledging the technological breakthroughs invented by others — so they avoid doing it. Additionally, instead of “inventors” being hailed as heroes, we have “innovators” being hailed as heroes (with the hidden subtext being innovators are allowed to use other people’s technology).

    As a result, we have inventors being derided as “trolls” and we have businesses being advised to practice “efficient infringement.” Getting back to Sanders and his views on intellectual property, I don’t know how much worse he can get than the current policies being implemented in which inventors are the bad guys and the infringers are encouraged to keep on infringing.

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    January 26, 2016 03:32 pm

    you should be left with is that on the Democratic side of the Presidential race there is a race between two different people who have two very different power bases
    That is true of most candidates to be a party’s nominee for presidency. Everybody has a different “base” — I get that. However, what does that say about potential “Changes for Patent Policy”? One could argue that the Googles and Facebooks of the word represent the established powers. For example, Kevin Martin (the former chairman of the FCC) heads Facebook’s lobbying arm in Washington. If that isn’t the application of traditional lobbying, I don’t know what is.

    Also, there is a difference between pandering to a constituency to get votes and pandering to your donors to get the spigots of money flowing (the spigots of money being the best way to get (re)-elected) these days. The pandering is not necessarily aligned.

    What I wanted to know is Sander’s policy positions on intellectual property. I didn’t get any of that in the article. Who may or may not be supporting Hillary/Sanders doesn’t say a whole lot about the opinions of either — particularly on an esoteric topic such as intellectual property.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    January 26, 2016 01:51 pm


    I think if you read through the entire article the message that you should be left with is that on the Democratic side of the Presidential race there is a race between two different people who have two very different power bases. Sanders is making the most with tremendous enthusiasm from a grassroots movement that is dominated by Millennials and the Napster-generation, who seem inspired by a sharing economy in ways that would call into question the traditional monetization strategy of IP that leverages enforcement. Whether that viewpoint can or will be tempered by Wall Street as it has been in the past remains to be seen.

    On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is backed financially and politically by established powers. As the article explains her Super PAC has been shunned in Silicon Valley, so her connection to IP comes from hollywood and Wall Street, where she is much more comfortable. That would suggest that traditional lobbyists and top down enforcement models (rather than sharing economy models) would tend to be supported by a Clinton Administration.

    The interesting twist between Sanders and Clinton is that this dynamic between the way younger generations approach IP and older generations approach IP is generally manifest between younger and older generations. But Sanders is the oldest candidate and is riding a wave of young support. Peter predicts that Sanders will not be held hostage to his previous views or votes on IP, which makes sense given the paradigm shift he is tapping into and that he has largely deferred to Senator Leahy in the past.

    We are also seeing this potential generational shift in Silicon Valley play out between Ro Khanna and Mike Honda. Khanna lost two years ago, and prior to that as well. So even if Sanders does not win against Clinton or take the White House there may be some evidence of this growing tech unease with the old guard and their approach to problems, including tech problems, tech business models and IP rights. The Khanna v. Honda matchup in November will be quite interesting to watch.


  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    January 26, 2016 12:42 pm

    The fault lies not in our movie stars and political icons but in that this generation has not seen the rise of an inventor hero.

    No one of the likes of a Thomas Alva Edison or Nicholas Tesla occupies the modern spotlight.

    Children are not growing up saying, Mom, when I’m older I want to be like this modern inventor hero ___ (fill in the blank).

    Inventors have become an invisible minority class.
    They have no effect whatsoever on the outcome of elections.
    Politicians have no reason to give the inventor class any respect.

    I was looking to see where in the recent past President Obama has paid homage to individual inventors. Couldn’t find an example. Only found sound bites about “innovation” and good “corporate” citizens and moonshots to cure cancer once and for all because yes, “we” can “science the heck out of this stuff” (and program a generic computer over weekend’s last gleaming). Sad.

    For a recent example, go to You Tube and add the following ending to the standard URL: /watch?v=hiYXvVWppFM

    Another example of sciencing the heck out of stuff here: /watch?v=V6DKC-K1Sko

  • [Avatar for Curious]
    January 26, 2016 12:08 pm

    Honestly, I’m trying to discern some salient, concrete point from this article, but I’m struggling to find it. Given Sanders rise in the polls, I was curious to read an opinion on how a possible Sanders presidency would impact patent policy.

    If I could think of one word to describe it, I would say “meandering” is a good fit.