An Alternative Point of View on Personal Data and Patents

PDEC member Stan Smith offers this guest blog post on patents and Personal Data.  Stan holds a number of patents, and feels this is a genuine method of doing the right thing.  From time to time we’ve noticed that patent-holders raise hackles among those who champion open source, and feel there is a major difference between the two.  Stan’s take is very interesting.  It arose out of discussion on PDEC monthly Conference Calls and interaction with members of the PDEC Governance Committee.  Stan’s passion for his work and his commitment to serving and respecting the individual led to this blog post.  And read it all the way through to learn how Stan’s patents might be of value and benefit to you, as a member of PDEC.

An Alternative Point of View on Personal Data and Patents

Some people maintain they have a right to their personal information and that capturing their information for resale of it to others is tantamount to theft. They can perhaps accept that the entity providing them a service is entitled to a fair exchange for use of a service and that their personal data might be the price or the fee for that exchange; but if the data is sold off to folks they do not know or do not trust for reuse for purposes they are not aware of ahead of time – well that is just WRONG.

Some people maintain that they have a right to their own creative work and that capturing their creative work for resale of it to others is tantamount to theft. Wait a minute – isn’t a patent creative work? Isn’t it too a kind of personal information? Shouldn’t the creator of that patent be entitled to exchange it with any entity; give it away; sell it at an exorbitant price (there will be no takers, but it can be attempted); license it for a time? The government via the patent office and the copyright laws say there is a limit to this. You can only maintain your rights to this kind of personal data/information/property for a limited period of time. Well, maybe that’s reasonable. We can argue about what the right amount of time is. We can also require a person who lays claim to a creative product/data/information to prove that it is theirs, to prove that it is different – that it does not overlap the property of others. That is the patent examination process.

Now we get into the argument about innovation and the right of someone to coopt the innovation/patent for their own use and perhaps even profit from it. Isn’t that what we find so offensive when Google or Facebook or Uber sell off our personal information? It very well may offend us if someone buys/owns a piece of property in our neighborhood and they don’t even put a house on it. They let weeds run rampant. Their property poses a threat to the community. Well, we need to impose community standards on that property. We really can’t just arbitrarily take that property, can we? We really can’t just steal it – even if it would make a perfect spot for a garden or a farm or a factory. We can guilt them. We can tell them they need to offer their property up for the common good. We can incentivize them to improve or use the property by threatening condemnation or fining them for untidiness, but we can’t just take it.

A patent is an interesting kind of property. To get it, you have to expose it. It is not like a business secret – like the formula for Coca Cola. A patent requires the inventor to show everyone how it works and how it is different from the other stuff out there. Anyone can then figure out how to circumvent it, use it to inform themselves about the “art” or creative addition to human knowledge that it includes. Wow! It is in fact a public benefit. Its value – for licensing or for giving the patent owner a window to “farm” it by making his own products or tools using it – is subject to free market forces. Very American; very practical.

But then there are the hypocrites, the people who cry about the theft or cooptation of their personal information/property, but will not respect the property of others. They think patents are bad. For the life of me, I can’t quite get the logic unless it is that they truly endorse a right to trample on and use the property of others. Patent and copyright and other property rights are fair and just. They are social contracts – transparent, mutual, lawful, and require competency and performance.

The complaints about non-practicing entities are spurious – but because of my fear of social isolation I do want you to know I do practice – unfortunately not very well to this point – but I practice hard and regularly. But even a guy who owns a Stradivarius and never plays it is entitled to own it. If we go with the folks in the righteous “politically correct” herd who are irritated by the pioneers and innovators, we’ll go over the cliff or we’ll be corralled by the oligopolies who hate patents that prevent them from growing and expanding further and love patents that keep them in the cat bird seat. This is very political. I hope it is persuasive for you. Stop the hypocrisy. Embrace individual rights, even if these sometimes stand in your way and may prevent you from doing something you weren’t smart enough to figure out first. And if you were smart enough to figure stuff out, you should patent it. Do it as a good deed to share what you have been struggling with with a community of your peers. You can always give away licenses. Consider it a form of intellectual philanthropy if, like me, you are too incompetent at business to convert your IP into money or you want to see your ideas live and thrive.

Oh, and please note that this is copyrighted material; but I hereby entitle you to tell anybody anything in it and to quote it in whole or in part. One last thing, I believe the Founding Fathers had very similar ideas, and I want to give them a nod and a wink and my thanks.

Editor’s note: Stan told us that he is willing to license his patents for use by PDEC members.  Stan said he felt motivated to get the patents and have the processes in good hands, rather than in the hands of monoliths who lack concern for individuals and their personal data.  Stan truly embodies the spirit of PDEC!


Video: The Personal Data Locker

People often ask us to talk about how things will really work.

I think one of the best video’s articulating this is from David Siegel. He created the Video as part of the content for his book Pull. It demonstrates what the opening of your day would be like with your personal data locker.

Personal Data Locker Vision from dsiegel on Vimeo.

At the time of its publication he called for a Open Web Movement and Doc posted about that on our site.

WEF Report #3: Unlocking the Value of Personal Data!

The World Economic Forum released its third major report about Rethinking Personal Data: Unlocking the Value of Personal Data: From Collection to Usage. PDEC has worked with the WEF’s Rethinking Personal Data project since before its first gathering in the Summer of 2010. It is really gratifying to see this third report come out and continue to move the issue forward.

The Rethinking Personal Data work is now within a larger umbrella WEF’s calling “Hyperconnectivity,” lead by Bill Hoffman, the original steward of the Rethinking Personal Data project.

Unlocking’s executive summary highlighted what PDEC member startups have been building:

New ways to engage the individual, help them understand and provide them with the tools to make real choices based on clear value exchange.

and the path forward of

Needing to demonstrate how a usage, contextual model can work in specific real world application.

The report says we must solve simplicity and elegance of design for usability so people can see the data generated by and about them.
The last part of the executive summary calls for “stakeholders to more effectively understand the dynamics of how the personal data ecosystem operates. A better coordinated way to share learning, shorten feedback loops and improve evidence-based policy-making must be established.”
The Rethinking Personal Data project convened six face-to-face events leading to the report. I participated in four of them in 2012 on behalf of PDEC: March in San Jose, June in London, September in Tianjin, and October in Brussels.

One of the meetings’ themes was the challenge to rise to the Fair Information Practice Principles. The US FTC‘s FIPPs were written in the 1970’s when citizens raised concerns to Congress about how they were ending up on catalogue mailing lists. This offline model is not an ideal basis for how to address the economic opportunities of personal data and the challenges it presents today.

The second chapter covers the context of data use, where everything surrounding data use affects people’s privacy expectations and the choices of institutions using their data. It’s great seeing this level of nuance brought to a general business audience.

This report is notable for highlighting the role of the personal data store in initatives put forward by the UK, French and US governments that mandate Data Handbacks, that data created by an individual when transacting with a government or business should be given back to the individual.


A few paragraphs stand out for me in looking ahead and the opportunity for PDEC companies.

Potentially, markets can encourage a “race to the top” in which user control and understanding of how data is used and leveraged become competitive differentiators. Various trust marks and independent scoring systems will help stimulate this kind of response.

Given the complexity of choices, there is also potential for the development of “agency type” services to be offered to help individuals. In such a scenario, parties would assist others (often for a commission or other fee) in a variety of complex settings. Financial advisers, real estate agents, bankers, insurance brokers and other similar “agency” roles are familiar examples of situations when one party exercises choice and control for another party via intermediary arrangements. Just as individuals have banks and financial advisers to leverage their financial assets and take care of their interests for them, the same type of “on behalf of” services are already starting to be offered with respect to data.

The last section of the report outlines thirteen different use-cases for personal data by a range of stakeholders, including two PDEC startup circle companiesPersonal and


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Consumer Data Privacy in a Networked World was released by the white house.

The Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights provides a baseline of clear protections for consumers and greater certainty for businesses. The rights are:
Individual Control:  Consumers have a right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.

  • Transparency:  Consumers have a right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.
  • Respect for Context:  Consumers have a right to expect that organizations will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.
  • Security:  Consumers have a right to secure and responsible handling of personal data.
  • Access and Accuracy:  Consumers have a right to access and correct personal data in usable formats, in a manner that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the data and the risk of adverse consequences to consumers if the data are inaccurate.
  • Focused Collection:  Consumers have a right to reasonable limits on the personal data that companies collect and retain.
  • Accountability:  Consumers have a right to have personal data handled by companies with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.