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 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.