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Cuban truck rafters seek political asylum in U.S.

HAVANA, July 30 (Reuters) - Twelve Cubans who tried to sail to Florida in a 1951 Chevy truck ingeniously converted into an amphibious craft are making a second attempt to get to the United States, this time as political refugees..

The group, repatriated to communist-run Cuba by the U.S. Coast Guard 10 days ago, applied on Wednesday for political asylum at the U.S. Interest Section in Havana.
"This is our last hope. We want to go. We love our country very much, but there is no future here," said Michael Lau Valdez, 25.

The nine men, two women and a three-year-old boy got halfway across the Florida Straits in the bright-green truck floating on twelve oil drums with a propeller attached to the transmission before they were intercepted by the U.S.. Coast Guard. They were making 8 mph (13 kph) in the Chevy.

"We weren't looking for publicity or money. We just wanted to get to the United States. We hope we can do that legally now," said Eduardo Perez, owner of the truck, which was sunk by the Coast Guard.

The group, all under 35 years, said they had not been harassed by Cuban authorities since their return to a Havana suburb, but they did not expect to find work again in Cuba.

They drove to the U.S. diplomatic mission in another 1951 Chevy truck to turn in their application forms.

U.S. diplomats hand repatriated migrants a form to apply as refugees if they feel they are being politically persecuted.
"These 12 felt that they qualified. Whether we as the U.S. government feel that they qualify is a different matter," said a spokeswoman for the U.S. Interest Section.

President Fidel Castro's government has not been known to allow repatriated rafters permits to leave Cuba legally.

The would-be-emigres said they will take to the sea again if they do not get U.S. visas, but next time in a faster craft.

- Dan Myers (last day of internship)


Method patents: aiding or stifling innovation?

Ran across a report from the Associated Press about the patenting of business methods--how something gets done rather than the thing itself--and how the world of the Internet has affected the debate.

On the one hand, you have Tim O'Reilly, who through his company (Global Network Navigator) essentially invented the Internet banner ad (or so it is claimed). "According to a landmark court decision handed down five years ago this month, O'Reilly may have been able to patent the idea as a 'business method' -- a move that could have changed the course of Internet history.

"But even if he could have, O'Reilly says he wouldn't have."

His argument is that patenting such ideas puts the clamps on innovation. "If I had been able to put a patent on that and collect from everybody else who did it, that would have held back the industry tremendously," he says.

Contrast that with Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com -- who considers himself a champion of innovation. He owns more than 200 patents ranging from online dating to running slot machines. He believes that patent protection--and presumably the money that can be made therefrom--spurs innovation. "If you want to give your house to the city for a public park, great," he said. "On the other hand, we shouldn't deny people the right to have houses."

From the AP article:

Experts say the 1998 "State Street vs. Signature Financial" decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was an acknowledgment that intellectual property was as much about ideas as about things. The U.S. Patent Office had been granting business method patents for years and the court simply signaled its approval.

But the decision inspired thousands to file patents on things like new kinds of credit card offers and methods for teaching a golf swing.


Patents are designed to encourage innovation by guaranteeing inventors some reward -- generally exclusive rights for 20 years. The idea must be considered useful, new and "non-obvious."

In computers, the definition of "obvious" is blurry. Programs are instructions telling a computer to do something. The "something" may sound obvious, but the instructions may not be.

That fuzziness has sparked concerns that too many "obvious" ideas are getting patented.

Among the criticized:

-- "One-click" shopping. . . .
-- Online auctions. . . .
-- Online DVD rentals. . . .


But O'Reilly says the computer revolution really is different.

"The Internet was very much a culture of leapfrog, not king of the hill," he said. "There was this sort of orgy of copying, which I think led to some pretty substantial innovation. As we see more patents, I see the innovation slowing down."

To patent or not to patent? That is the question!

Here's a link to the full article: Critics say method patents stifle innovation, by Justin Pope, AP Business Writer.

--Eric at UR

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