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Mailbag time (first appeared in InfoWorld)

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The ole mailbag has been pretty full recently, so let’s dive right in.

When I suggested killing the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) altogether, on the theory that far from promoting innovation it’s now inhibiting it, I created quite a stir. Let me propose a compromise: have patents expire sooner. After all, everyone knows business cycles are shorter than they were when the PTO was founded.

But if you doubt it’s seriously broken, two factoids

  • According to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, celebrity yoga masters have trademarked most of the holy words of the discipline
  • The Register (www.theregister.co.uk) reports that last year the PTO granted a patent to one Lawrence Lockwood which in theory covers all forms of electronic commerce, plus all ATMs. Lockwood licensed his patent to Pangea Intellectual Properties LLC, which might politely be described as a lawsuit factory. Rather than pursuing companies big enough to crush it in court, Pangea is badgering smaller companies, figuring they’d rather pay than waste time and money fighting. Maybe it should patent the technique.

Several readers complained about my bringing Franklin Delano Roosevelt into the column, because discussions of public policy don’t belong here. Fair enough, except for two concerns: First, when the subject is leadership, as it frequently is, the best examples come from either newspapers or history books. I’ll do my best, though, to emphasize the relevant leadership techniques, not the political positions. The other concern? FDR died six decades ago. I figured that made it history.

And finally, my critique of Emotional Intelligence also disturbed some correspondents. Many told me my characterization — that it promotes social graces over hard skills — mis-represented the book; more misunderstood my point. For the former, I promise another read. To the latter: Yes. EQ, the author’s execrable term for the emotional parallel to IQ, is important, as I’ve said many times. For managers, EQ is a required skill, in fact — part of the job. The book, though, says managers should consider EQ to be as important as core skills among the staff who do useful work.

Before you decide, imagine you’re running a startup company that’s going to create a piece of software for sale. Which would you hire: a social misfit who’s also a “code god”? Or a really nice, well-met soul who can’t find his own backside with both hands and a map?