From Text File to Map in 30 Minutes

I wanted to see where United States patent attorneys reside. Using data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office and a free account from Microsoft’s Power BI, I was able to create the two visualizations below in about 30 minutes. Pretty amazing. Let me know if you want any details on how to do this – I sketched out the process below.

Steps to Create Power BI Map Visualization

  • Grab data: text file of all active US Patent Attorneys can be found here: https://oedci.uspto.gov/OEDCI/practitionerRoster.jsp
  • Visit Power BI Getting Started Page https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/get-started/ so you can:
    • Download the Software (this allows you to author your visualizations); AND
    • Sign Up for a Power BI account (this allows you to publish your visualizations to the web)
  • Once you have downloaded the Desktop Power BI software, create a new report (File > New).
  • Click on Get Data > File > Text, and point to the file you downloaded (you need to extract it from the zip file if you have not already done that).
  • There are two types of maps in Power BI: maps and filled maps; I used maps that represents each node as a bubble.
  • For the top left map, just drag the City on to the Location box.
  • For the bottom left map, drag State on to the Location box, and drag State on to Size; click on the State under Size, and make sure Count is selected (not Count Distinct).
  • Finally, add a couple of tables to the right. For the top map, drag over City and Firm Name under values, and then click on the down arrow for Firm Name and select Count (this will aggregate for the city instead of showing all of the Firm Names along with their city).
    • I should have used registration number, instead of Firm Name, because this is actually a count of FIRMS by city, not a count of practitioners. Alas,  if that is the worst mistake I make today I am doing all right.
  • On the desktop, you can now click on the Publish icon in the top right.
  • Now navigate to the web version of Power BI and navigate to your app.
  • Under File select “Publish to Web”
  • Grab the “HTML you can add to your website” and paste this into a text view of your blog, and you are done. Super easy.

If you have published or stumbled upon some nice Power BI visualizations, drop them in a comment. I am a bit surprised this has not become more common. My prediction: data visualizations will become the norm in 2017, because all of these visualization tools are racing to become the standard, and are breaking down the barriers to adoption that have historically prevented people from jumping in (primarily complexity and cost). Exciting times.

Thanks.

Matt

Software People need Copyrights and Contracts (not patents)

As a patent attorney, I have something to admit: understanding patents is not as valuable as understanding copyright and contract law for software people. This may have been different a decade ago, before cases like Alice put software patent law squarely in the “nobody knows the rules” bucket. But I think that the changes in case law have only accelerated the shift in importance, and that copyright and contract have always been the driving forces for software.

Why is Copyright Law Important for Software Companies

Did you know that whoever writes software, by default, has rights to that software under 17 USC Section 201(a)? You have a brilliant idea, tell a contractor or employee what you need to happen, pay him or her handsomely for their time, and…they own the rights to the software.

Unless you contractually (and up front) negotiate rights to the software, the person who wrote the code can end up in a position where they can sell the code to a 3rd party, such as your competitor. Bummer.

Why is Contract Law Important for Software Companies

Think of contracts as legal systems that operate between the parties of the contract. So, if you do not like the default behavior of the US Copyright laws, you can enter into a contract where you define how rights are shared between the members of the contract. Instead of petitioning Congress to create a smarter system, you write up your own rules.

The first thing you should do is, for all of your employees and contractors, have them (as part of their employment agreement or a specific engagement agreement or statement of work) assign their rights in any copyrighted material to the company. Because this is done before wages are earned or fees are paid, there is consideration for this transfer of rights from coder to company.

Second, you can agree that any work that cannot be assigned to the company was created as part of “work for hire” arrangement.  You can learn more about a work for hire in Pillsbury Law’s article entitled “Work Made for Hire does not Generally Apply to Computer Software.” In short, work for hire grants employers additional rights, but may also create rights beyond the expectations/desires of the parties (particularly in California, where an employee relationship can be created when works for hire contracts are in place).

Conclusion

In short, the most important priority to keep in mind when hiring employees or contractors to write software is to have a framework in place that AS CLEARLY AS POSSIBLE lays out the rights afforded to each party. Most software developers understand that, when they are working for a company, the company owns that software. By creating a contract that reflects this understanding up front, confusion down the road can be eliminated.

If you have ideas about how to protect either software companies or software employees, I would love to hear about them.

Thanks.

Matt