An Overview of the U.S. Patent System

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 22:07 by The Lunatic

(Note: This was a term paper I wrote for an MBA class in 2012. I recently ran across it in my files and thought it would be a good addition to my blog. Enjoy!)

An Overview of the U.S. Patent System
David M. H. Workman


A Patent is a form of legal protection for an invention, allowing the patent holder to have exclusive rights to make, use, or sell the invention for a specific period of time (typically either 14 or 20 years in the U.S., depending on the type of patent).

To secure a patent, a Patent Application is submitted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); the application consists of two major elements: a description of the invention, and certain claims (which define the scope of protections desired under the patent application). The USPTO may grant the patent for the invention, but allow or disallow each of the claims individually. “Broad” claims mean that the applicant is asking for the invention to be protected in a wide range of uses, and are more likely to be rejected (and if allowed, are more likely to be challenged by competitors). “Narrow” claims mean that the invention has very focused and well defined commercial applications, which are less likely to be challenged.

For a patent application to be approved, it must meet a certain bar for (1) Novelty, (2) Non-Obviousness, and (3) either Utility, Distinctiveness, or Ornamentality (depending on whether it is a “Utility”, “Plant”, or “Design” patent, respectively). The USPTO reviews the patent application to ensure that the patent, and each of the claims, meets the bar for each criterion.

During the application process, the patent may be rejected if “prior art” (i.e. any published diagrams or descriptions which show that the invention is not original) is found by the USPTO, or if any aspect of the invention was publicly disclosed by the inventor before the filing date. Even after the patent has been granted, others may challenge the validity of the patent (or any of the individual claims) if prior art is presented which is proven to have been publicly available before the application date.

Patents cover an amazingly diverse range of ideas – from describing the optimal radius of the bend in a wire paper clip, to what is arguably the most important invention of our age: the development of the silicon bipolar transistor (Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain, 1947).

Ownership, Transfer of Ownership, and Licensing of Patents

Patents are classified as “personal property” which may be sold, mortgaged, and even passed to the heirs of a deceased inventor. Transfer of ownership is accomplished by an “assignment” to another party, which gives the new owner all the rights and protections as if they had applied for the patent themselves; patent holders can also retain ownership but license certain “rights” to the patent on either an exclusive or non-exclusive basis.

Unlike the process in many other countries, patents in the U.S. are only granted to the individual inventors, not to corporate entities. However, many U.S. employment agreements stipulate that the company will own any inventions made by an employee in the normal course of work; because of this, the initial patent application is often filed with an automatic assignment to the employer. As such, there is little functional difference between the U.S. and other countries that allow a corporation to apply for a patent directly.

Once a patent is issued, assignment is a simple process of transferring title from one owner to another. In addition to granting patents, the USPTO also acts as a title registry for recording patent assignments.

Patent licensing, on the other hand, does not require registration and can take many forms. The “Licensor” (owner) of a patent will grant certain rights to the “Licensee” in exchange for payment or other consideration. Payment structures range from lump sum payments to “per unit” arrangements (where the licensee pays a royalty based on the number of units sold). Instead of cash payments, patents are frequently licensed in trade with other patents (which are known as “cross-licensing agreements”).

An exclusive license agreement means that the licensor and licensee are the only two parties that would be allowed to capitalize on the invention (i.e. the licensor promises not to license the patent to other parties). A non-exclusive agreement means that the patent holder can license the technology to many competing companies at once. Some agreements may also stipulate that the licensee can “sub-license” the patent to others.

Patents may be “pooled” together and licensed in a single agreement. To manufacture a Blu-Ray disc player, for example, would normally require licensing over 100 technologies from 27 different companies. But this can be easily accomplished with a single license agreement via the “One-Blue” patent pool, which has a fixed $9.00 per unit fee for all patents needed to manufacture a Blu-Ray player.

While patent license agreements range from very simple to very complex, the main idea is that the patent holder promises not to sue the other party for using the invention. As such, disagreements that arise after a patent has been licensed typically fall into the realm of “breach of contract” rather than “patent violation”.

Defensive Publication

Oftentimes, an inventor wants to immediately put their invention into the public domain – either because of altruistic ideals or because it would not be economical to defend the patent in the prevailing legal environment. Defensive Publication is a strategy whereby an inventor publicizes all aspects of the invention in a public forum. With widespread availability of “prior art”, this strategy ensures that no one else will be able to patent the idea.

Pharmaceutical Patents

The majority of inventions can be commercialized fairly quickly, and the additional investment required to commercialize a product, over and above routine product development costs, is typically relatively small. Products in the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical industry are the primary exception, as FDA approval is required to ensure the safety and efficacy of these products before they can be sold to the public. FDA approval for a new drug requires a substantial amount of pre-clinical research and then three phases of clinical trials, which in total costs between $750 million and one billion dollars – and can take upwards of ten years.

Since the patent is only valid for 20 years from the date of filing, the ten years it takes for research and clinical trials means that the company needs to recoup their investment in the remaining ten years, which results in very expensive drugs for the relatively short period that they are “on patent”.

Critics of current patent law have argued that for pharmaceutical patents, the twenty year term should not start until regulatory approval is granted. This could substantially lower the cost of new drugs – but with the side effect that they would still cost more than generics for a longer period of time.

Many people take the opposing view, saying that pharmaceutical patents make drugs more expensive overall, and they should not be patentable. However, there is no doubt that without patents or other forms of legal protection on the large investment required to gain FDA approval, the medicines in question would never have gotten developed in the first place.

Other patent issues in the current business environment

The primary intention of a patent is to “allow the patent holder to have exclusive rights to make, use, or sell the invention for a specific period of time”. However, patent laws are written so that in reality the patent owner has “the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention”.

While the difference in wording is subtle, the impact on the business environment is tremendous. From a competitive standpoint, not caring about the “exclusive rights to use” an invention but having the right to “exclude others from utilizing” said invention has given rise to a business entity commonly referred to as a “patent pirate”.

A patent pirate (or patent troll) is a person or company who acquires patents with no intention to manufacture or market the patented invention (a “non-operating entity” without concern for their rights to utilize the patent); their only wish is to “exclude others” who may be infringing on the patent. This exclusion allows them to negotiate settlements for amounts that are far out of line of what the patent would normally be licensed for.

In cases of patent infringement, one remedy available to a patent holder is an injunction (a court order requiring the infringer to stop manufacturing, using, or selling products utilizing the patented invention). Under the threat of an injunction, a patent pirate can extort large amounts of money out of the infringing company no matter how incidental the violation might be.

One highly publicized case of patent piracy was NTP, Inc. vs. Research In Motion, Ltd (United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 2000). NTP had acquired patents from a bankrupt company, Telefind Corp, and subsequently sued Research in Motion (makers of the popular Blackberry mobile phone) for patent infringement. Although industry experts estimated that the value of the patents in question – even under extremely unfavorable licensing terms – was no more than $25 million, NTP used the threat of injunction (which would have shut down RIM’s entire global service for the Blackberry) to secure a judgment of $612.5 million (including interest, penalties, and punitive damages).

Another example was InterTrust vs. Microsoft (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, 2001), regarding patents for Digital Rights Management (DRM) software. The infringement was considered to be incidental by patent analysts, but InterTrust rejected all reasonable licensing offers and leveraged the threat of injunction against the Windows Operating System, Microsoft Office, and the Windows Media Player as a bargaining tool. In 2004 the two parties reached an out of court settlement, whereby Microsoft paid $440 Million for non-exclusive rights to a subset of the InterTrust patents.

When questioned about the seemingly outrageous amount, Brad Smith (senior vice president and general counsel of Microsoft) was quoted as saying “We still maintain there was no infringement. The agreement reflects our desire to avoid a preliminary injunction, during which time shipments of products which make up 85% of our revenue would be disrupted.”

Other companies that have fallen victim to so-called patent pirates include Apple, Motorola, and Google.

Many critics of current patent law promote the idea that a “non-operating entity” (a company that has no intention of marketing or commercializing products based on a patented invention) should only receive reasonable license fees, as they have no competitive products in the marketplace and therefor have no profits which are “at risk” of being damaged. Alternate proposals include eliminating damages if the violation started before the current owner acquired the patent (meaning that the prior owner didn’t care about the infringement, so implied rights are “grandfathered in”).

Should software be patentable?

The InterTrust vs. Microsoft case brings up a larger issue of software patents. When it comes to patents, software has its own unique set of issues.

Many USPTO applications for software patents are considered to be “trivial” routines that in and of themselves are just solutions to a problem – any competent software engineer could solve the problem if assigned to work on a project that required a solution to that particular problem.

Because of this, companies that develop competing products in parallel will oftentimes develop different solution to the same problem. “Company A” might think it’s just a few lines of code not worthy of a second thought while “Company B” might decide to patent their implementation. The line between “obviousness” and “non-obviousness” gets very blurry. This results in frequent cases of “incidental violation”, since it is impossible for a company to check every line of code to see if it might be infringing on someone else’s patent. In many of these cases, it’s not the actual invention that gets fought in court, but how broadly the claims are written and how they might apply to an independently developed solution to the same problem.

In addition, patents are occasionally granted for software routines that really should be classified as “mathematical algorithms”. Such routines are supposed to be exempt from patent protection as the general rule is that algorithms actually exist in nature and are only “discovered” rather than “invented.”

A very strong argument has been made that software is only a set of instructions for a general purpose microprocessor, which is the device that is actually doing the work. This argument says that the only truly patentable software is for routines that the modern day processor is incapable of doing using its pre-programmed instruction set. To make the software work, a new hardware device would be required to support the new instructions – and it’s the hardware that is the patentable item.

Another issue with software patents is that the examination process is too slow. The design cycle of modern software is very short, and oftentimes the product is obsolete before the patent is even issued.

One proposed solution to many of these problems would be to utilize “trade secrets” and “copyrights” rather than patents for protection of commercial software. This idea, which has many vocal supporters, means that the lines of code themselves would be copyrighted. Using someone else’s code would be an infringement on their copyright (or a violation of trade secrets in the case of an employee taking code with them to a new company), but a completely different software implementation of the same idea would be allowed.


The entire U.S. legal system is based on a philosophy of adaptability to change. Changes in society, technology, and our economy have been the impetus for updates to large sections of our laws – especially as they relate to business (development of the Uniform Commercial Code, for example).

There is no doubt that patents have had a tremendously positive effect on our society; the ability to protect inventions via patents has been a major component of our economic growth over the past century, as it encourages inventors to put forth the effort and ingenuity to design products that can become successful in the marketplace.

However, there is growing evidence that some portions of the legal underpinning of our patent system are in need of shoring up in order to continue to be effective in the modern business world.

In addition, this modern business world is global but patents are territorial by the nature of their legal protections. Applying for patents in every region is problematic and an invention might pass the bar for “uniqueness” in one country, but not in another. Many countries have insufficient legal protections, and lack enforcement of the laws they do have in place. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has made strides in this area, but more work is required.

In order to adapt to an increasingly global and interconnected environment, the USPTO will need to address these issues and continue to work with other countries and the WTO to provide a global environment that continues to promote investment in new technologies. History has shown that innovation and invention provides the economic growth needed for an economy to thrive, and protection of these inventions requires vigilance and vigorous enforcement of the laws.


  • Smith and Robersons Business Law, 15th Edition – pages 827 – 829
  • One-Blue patent pool,
  • Microsoft Press Pass, Statements by Brad Smith
  • US Patent Trademark Office glossary of Patent Terms,
  • article on Patent Assignments,
  • General Patent Corporation article on Patent Licensing,
  • Understanding How Damages Are Determined in Patent Litigation - Arnold B. Silverman, partner at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott,
  • Patents, Copyright, and Software - Ben Klemens, Brookings Institution Press, 2005
  • Wikipedia articles on: Patent, Patentability, Assignment_(law), Claim_(patent), Patent_troll, criticism_of_Patents, Software_patent_debate

Categories:   Economics | Miscellaneous
Actions:   E-mail | Permalink | Comments (0) | Comment RSSRSS comment feed

I Believe That Belief Is Irrelevant

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 05:44 by The Lunatic

In a previous article titled I’m a believer!, I proposed we should swap the traditional definition of who’s a believer and who isn’t – I suggested that a believer is someone who believes that the laws of physics are immutable and a non-believer is someone who doesn’t.

In this post, I’ll take a little different approach. I’ll go on record and say that what people believe in is irrelevant. I don’t care what you believe in. Heck, I don’t even care about what I believe in myself! Simply having a belief in something does not make it true.

What if I go around the world and convince everyone that the universe is governed by a Grand Orange Duck. And what the Grand Orange Duck really wants is for everyone to donate their ear wax to the famed Diamond Crucible. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out ... I really believe this is the truth! Once we have ear wax from every person on Earth, and the Diamond Crucible is full to the brim, the Grand Orange Duck will reveal himself to us and we will be allowed to marvel at his magnificent wings. It will be a glorious day indeed!

Even if I can get everyone to believe in the Grand Orange Duck (let’s just call it “GOD” for short), and convince every single person on Earth that they need to contribute some ear wax to the Diamond Crucible, that still doesn’t make it the truth.

Is this scenario really that far-fetched? How about this: The Mormons are very good at getting people to believe that there were white people on Earth before black people (Mormon scripture says that Cain, who killed his brother Abel, was so evil that God "cursed" him with black skin), and that More...

The Lunatic’s take on Daylight Savings Time

Sunday, 4 November 2012 22:24 by The Lunatic

Twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, we move our clocks either forwards or backwards to accommodate the change in Daylight Savings Time.

And twice a year, there are the requisite news articles written about Daylight Savings Time, explaining to everyone why we go through all this hassle. Then there are the cutesy and often misguided Facebook posts with statements like: “only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom, and have a longer blanket.” (which is what prompted me to write this particular article in the first place!)

So let’s get to the bottom of what Daylight Savings really is. First of all, however, we have to understand what midnight is. That’s right: midnight, the time that we’ve decided each day should start.

Technically, midnight is the time that is halfway between sunset and sunrise. It’s simple enough, but that definition needs some clarification. As the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Earth’s tilt causes daylight hours to shift with the seasons.

A better definition is that midnight is the time that is halfway between sunset and sunrise, at the equator, on either the fall or spring equinox (the only two days of the year when the sun is directly overhead at the equator).

Now we’re getting somewhere, but there’s one more wrinkle in this definition.

You see, the Earth is just over 24,000 miles around and More...

Raising Kids To Be Good Eaters

Friday, 4 May 2012 14:00 by The Lunatic

When my kids were born, in 1999 and 2000, I decided to conduct some scientific experiments on them.

Oh, don’t worry, it wasn’t anything too gruesome; all their limbs and internal organs are still intact. I just wanted to put some personal child-rearing philosophies to the test and see if I could turn them into healthy and conscientious eaters without any odd phobias or irrational dislikes of certain foods.

Fundamentally, I believe that kids’ eating habits are mostly formed between the ages of two and five, and having a pro-active methodology to respond to the typical food related tantrums that every kid goes through would help get through those critical years and make them better eaters.

Primarily, my belief was that all kids naturally go through short cycles of not wanting to eat certain foods, not liking certain flavors or spices, and that many times (not always) this is due to external influences – not being hungry, tummy upsets, a particular mood, or just being enamored with something that tasted good last week and not wanting anything else. One of the key ideas is that these usually are “short” cycles of likes and dislikes, but having an inappropriate response can extend the cycles or even artificially create a lifelong dislike of one certain food.

What I wanted to avoid was the typical parental response of coming to the conclusion that “my kids don’t like ... xxx”, when “xxx” really isn’t the problem.

When parents come to the conclusion that “my kid doesn’t like xxx”, they usually stop giving their child that particular food and let everyone know at school and at play dates that their kid won’t eat it – or they make a big deal about it at home and try to forcefully cajole their kid to eat the food in question. Both responses perpetuates the cycle and just makes it worse. Furthermore, I truly believe that it gives positive reinforcement and the child realizes that they get extra attention when they don’t like something.

So I would never say “My kids don’t like xxx”.  In fact, in their entire lives, they have never heard me say that to anyone. Instead, I would say “My kids eat everything, but I didn’t cook the xxx right the last time. I’ll make it better next time.”

The next time I’d make the offending dish, I’d change it a little bit and do something different.  I’d ask More...

I'm A Believer!

Friday, 27 April 2012 20:39 by The Lunatic

There is a pervasive and somewhat lopsided tendency in our society to separate fellow humans into the categories of being either “believers” or “non-believers”. The not-so-subtle implication is usually that there is something wrong with you if you are a “non-believer”.

Let’s play a little game; I’ll take the position that there really is something wrong with non-believers. But first, let’s swap the traditional idea of who is a believer and who is a non-believer.

For example, if I have a ball in my hand and I hold my arm straight out from my body and I drop the ball, I believe that the ball will always fall “down” – towards the ground. In our game, non-believers are the people who will say that god can make the ball go up, or sideways, or turn into a flying cheeseburger and flap its wings at the moon.

If we get all the non-believers on Earth to PRAY really hard, and ask god to make the ball go “up” when I let go of it, I still believe it will go down.

If you ask a believer why the ball will go down instead of up, the typical explanation you will get is that “gravity is a force that attracts two objects proportional to their mass”. In general, the answers that believers give you will have something to do with gravity, and the answers will be relatively consistent on average. Without some external physical force (a blast of air, or someone swatting it with a tennis racket for example), believers will say that the ball will drop “down” even if you conduct the experiment hundreds of billions of times, as long as the Earth and the ball have mass.

However, if you ask all the non-believers why praying to god doesn’t ever change the fact that the ball goes down when dropped, you will get a bunch of different, inconsistent, and largely contradictory answers.

One of the answers you might get is that ‘god doesn’t work that way’. I love that answer, I hear it all the time. I keep asking all the non-believers how god does work, and no one really seems to know. The fallback response, however, is this: “you have to have faith.”

Ok, I’ll accept that. I am a person of absolute unwavering faith, and I will gladly put the full conviction More...

Categories:   Religion | Science | Social Issues
Actions:   E-mail | Permalink | Comments (12) | Comment RSSRSS comment feed

Black-Scholes’ Dirty Little Secret

Tuesday, 6 September 2011 19:35 by The Lunatic

Back in 1973, two mathematicians named Fischer Black and Myron Scholes wrote a paper entitled "The Pricing of Options and Corporate Liabilities".  This became known as the “Black-Scholes option pricing model”, which earned them a coveted Nobel Prize in economics in 1997 (technically, Myron Scholes shared the prize with Robert Merton, another collaborator, since Fischer Black had passed away by that time).

The Black-Scholes option model serves as the benchmark for setting the price of a common stock option. All you need to know is the stock price, the strike price of the option, the time left to expiration, the current interest rate, and this tricky little thing called the volatility of the stock.

Ahhh, the volatility. There’s the rub. The volatility of a stock is calculated using an iterative process called a “cumulative normalized distribution function”. Basically, it looks at the variations of a stock’s up and down movement over a certain time period and offers up a percentage of the average movement. The volatility is an absolute measurement, which is different from a stock’s “beta” – the beta is a ratio of that particular stocks’ volatility as compared to the rest of the market, which is actually much easier to measure.

In my definition of volatility, I said that it relies on the variation of a stock price over a certain period of time. But what period of time should you use? One week? A month? Three months? Six months? A year? Maybe two years? The time period that you use can make a huge difference in the value of the option, but there’s no general recommendation for what period to use.

All of the other factors (stock price, strike price, time to expiration, etc.) are quantifiable values that can be specifically defined. The volatility, however, requires a bit of artistic interpretation.  If the stock was highly volatile nine months ago, but is more stable now, then measuring the historic volatility over the last six months is probably a good choice. Or not. More...

Categories:   Economics
Actions:   E-mail | Permalink | Comments (0) | Comment RSSRSS comment feed

An Apology to Mother Gaia

Wednesday, 13 July 2011 01:42 by The Lunatic

For the past billion years or so, every animal on Planet Earth has been in danger of being eaten by some other animal at one time or another.

Humans aren’t immune from the risk, of course; just because we’re at the top of the food chain doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be a tasty treat to something else. A hiker was eaten by a bear in Yellowstone park just last week, and a few times a year we hear about sharks that feed on an unlucky swimmer.

So I get a little perturbed by folks who tell me I shouldn’t eat meat because it’s unethical, or because we’re “exploiting” animals for our personal gain. Frankly, if every animal on the planet stopped eating other animals, all species would die out. The “Circle of Life” would come to a complete halt.

Someone asked me if I’m a vegetarian and I said, “No, but I mostly eat vegetarian animals!”

Granted, in our modern society, homo sapiens (especially the ones living on the North American continent) should cut back on meat consumption. But from a health standpoint, completely eliminating meat from our diet is going too far in the other direction.  We are omnivores and always have been, and we require a balanced diet. Unfortunately, some people balance their diet about as well as they balance their checkbooks and they end up overweight AND broke!

Even though I’m certainly not a vegetarian, I do have many issues with our “factory farmed” meat production. Not just because it might be considered “cruel” to animals, but because we are getting increasingly isolated from our food supply.  In the past 100 years, we’ve become the very first humans in history where the majority of the population doesn’t know where our food comes from, or how it’s grown and processed. As long as the grocery store is fully stocked and the local restaurant can serve a hot dinner plate in a timely fashion, we’re happy.  We don’t want to think about where it comes from – and if we watch a video of a butcher at work, it’s considered “gross” for some reason. Why is that?  For thousands of years, More...

Americans and their Guns

Thursday, 9 June 2011 00:20 by The Lunatic

I’m really tired of seeing these news stories, pretty much every single week lately, about some kid (usually under age ten) who gets their hands on a gun and accidentally shoots themselves, a parent, sibling, or their best friend.

It’s not so much that I’m against guns; but I’m certainly against the American attitude towards guns.

Everyone is so concerned about their “right” to own a gun. But with rights come responsibility. The question shouldn’t be “do I have the right to own a gun?” – the question we should ask is “am I willing to bear the responsibility of owning a gun?”

Pro-gun advocates often invoke references to Switzerland as a country where gun ownership is high and crime is low. I lived in Switzerland for a year and just recently moved back to the USA. In Switzerland, every adult male must serve in the armed forces for at least two years, and those that have received combat training are considered “reservists” – and as such, they are required by law to keep their military issued service arms at home in case of an attack by a foreign country.

The difference is the Swiss attitude towards the firearms. Gun ownership is for the protection of the country; it’s not for personal protection, not an item that is brought out and shown off to all your friends, not something that is brought along to the bank or grocery store, not something that you can buy and sell at a flea market or local shop, and certainly not something that is left lying around for kids to pick up and play with. It is not a “right” to own a gun in Switzerland, it is a responsibility, which they take very seriously.

The Second Amendment to the US constitution states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I know the issue has been bashed to death by the courts, and everyone has very strong opinions on More...

Categories:   Politics | Social Issues
Actions:   E-mail | Permalink | Comments (12) | Comment RSSRSS comment feed

Government Debt and Rising Interest Rates – A Dangerous Combination

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 18:41 by The Lunatic

Everyone knows that our national debt is completely out of control. But there’s an important issue that the press seems to be ignoring: the potentially devastating effect of rising interest rates.

The Federal Reserve is responsible for implementing our fiscal policy, but the Fed can not “set” interest rates – the overall market does that, based on supply and demand.  However, the Fed can influence rates by increasing or restricting money supply.  At the moment, just like in Louisiana and Mississippi, the floodgates are wide open. The bond market is awash in “virtually free” money, which is artificially keeping interest rates at historic lows.

But here’s the crux of the issue: with the floodgates open, the reservoir will eventually run dry – and the expectation is that interest rates will then rise. What happens to our federal budget when rates go up?  It could get really ugly really quickly.

Here’s why:

If you look at the chart in my earlier post, Trying to Make Sense of the Federal Budget, (the second chart, with the Social Security and Medicare numbers removed), you will see that interest payments on the federal debt clocked in at $218 billion in 2010, or 11% of our federal budget:


The weighted average interest rate of all the US debt currently runs about 2.07%.  Shorter term debt has a lower interest rate – less than .25% – and longer term debt has a higher interest rate – approaching 4.375%. When longer term debt is more expensive than short term debt, we have what is referred to as More...

Yet another blog article about Osama Bin Laden

Friday, 6 May 2011 17:36 by The Lunatic

It’s only been a few days since Osama Bin Laden was killed, and I can’t even count the number of news articles, opinion pieces, interviews, historical retrospectives, biographies, rants, and random comments I’ve read.

Most intriguing to me is the question of whether or not we should be celebrating someone’s death.  I’ve read a couple of interesting postings specifically on this subject, but it brings up some larger questions about humanity.

I’ve always considered the human race to be one big organism. Each individual person is like a cell in the human body, with their own specific job in life. But the overall total is what makes up the “body” of humanity. Some people do the majority of our thinking, some people do the majority of “manual labor”. Some people make it their life’s work to heal others, some provide food, and – just like the cells in our body – some handle the unpleasant tasks like hygiene and waste disposal.

And some people are like cancer. They grow up with the specific intent of killing others.

Some of these cancers are so insidious that they actually threaten the existence of all of humanity.

Our cells do fight back when threatened, and if they can’t handle the attack on their own, the heroes of our our body – the white blood cells, for example – come to the rescue. But sometimes, even more drastic measures are required.

If a patient has to undergo surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, the surgeon needs to cut out a little more around the tumor – removing some healthy cells in the process.  Consider that to be the equivalent to “collateral damage” in war (see my previous posting, Wrestling the Anaconda, for a humorous view of the “margins” that a surgeon needs to remove from around dead tissue during surgery ...)

Ok, it’s not a perfect analogy, but you get the idea.

The removal of Osama Bin Laden from the human collection was an extremely precise, laser accurate surgery – with very little collateral damage.  But 1) we left a lot of dead on the road to get to him and 2) he managed to infect others with More...