No Nation Was Ever Ruined By Trade

“Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts.  Our main imports are baseball players and acid rain.”

                                                                                        Pierre Elliott Trudeau

 

One of the accusations frequently leveled at environmentalists is that they are, much like meteorologists, hopelessly fickle.  People remember widespread reports in the 1970’s about the possibility of global cooling and the potential imminent onset of another ice age, when now all the talk is about global warming.  Or they recall something of Paul Ehrlich’s dire predictions that agricultural production would be incapable of supporting the world’s population, which they watched grow by more than a factor of two in concert with the development of an obesity epidemic.  Or they remember how the controversy over acid rain became such an issue between the United States and Canada, so jeopardizing the Canada – U.S. Free Trade Agreement that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney cynically wondered whether it would be necessary to go to war with the United States over the issue. 

No one talks about acid rain these days, at least not the way they used to.  But what changed? 

The impression that many in the public seem to have is that acid rain became an issue in the early 1980’s, when images of dying forests and lakes were widely circulated, and then withered away as climatologists shifted their focus to other issues.  The reality is, of course, very different.  Ever since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the effects of acidity in precipitation have been noted, with the term “acid rain” being coined by Robert Angus Smith in 1872.  It is associated with the emission of sulfur-, nitrogen-, and carbon-containing gases as byproducts of industrial processes that produce acidic compounds when they react with water.  And the reason it is not discussed as widely as it once was is not because the issue mysteriously vanished or because climatologists are opportunistically fickle, but because actions were taken to reduce its impact.

It was George H. W. Bush who had pledged to become the “environmental president” and who in 1990 supported what was then an innovative approach to reducing targeted emissions.  The basic idea was one  that had been studied theoretically by economists and which attempted to adapt market mechanisms as an indirect form of regulation.  Rather than dictate through strict regulation how emissions should be reduced, the Clean Air Act was amended to put those market mechanisms in place by establishing what has since become known as a “cap and trade” system.  The basic idea was to limit the aggregate sulfur dioxide emissions from different sources, but to permit allowances to be traded so that the market would be involved in determining which sources were permitted to produce emissions within the limits and at what levels.  There were many criticisms of the approach, most notably from environmentalists who fretted that it allowed large polluters to flex their economic muscle in buying permission to pollute. 

But the program is largely acknowledged to have been a success, not only achieving full compliance in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions but actually resulting in emissions that were 22% lower than mandated levels during the first phase of the program.  This was also achieved at a significantly lower cost than had been estimated, with actual costs now determined to be about 20 – 30% of what had been forecast.  The annual cost of having companies figure out for themselves how to reduce acid-rain emissions has been estimated at about $3 billion, contrasted with an estimated benefit of about $122 billion in avoided death and illness, and healthier forests and lakes.  

The success of the acid-rain program is naturally being considered as a way of addressing carbon emissions that are associated with global climate change.  Thus far, the United States has rejected a national implementation of cap-and-trade for carbon emissions, causing California to decide to implement it itself in accordance with its Assembly Bill 32, a copy of which can be found here.  Signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2006, the bill requires California to reduce that state’s carbon emissions by 2020 to levels that existed in 1990.  A copy of California’s plan to do so using an implementation of cap-and-trade can be found here

Part of what California seeks to do is to improve on a generally failed cap-and-trade program in Europe that began in 2005.  One of the more significant problems with the European implementation was that governments began the program with an inadequate understanding of the level of carbon emissions in their countries.  Too many allowances were issued, causing market forces quickly to force the price of carbon to zero by 2007.  In addition, a number of tax-fraud schemes and a recent theft of carbon credits stored in the Czech Republic registry have resulted in justifiable concern about the program that some worry will affect the California program. 

It is no surprise that the California program has been the subject of litigation, and last week a ruling was issued by the Superior Court in San Francisco agreeing that alternatives to a carbon-market program had not been sufficiently analyzed.  A copy of the ruling can be read here and a copy of the (much more informative) earlier Statement of Decision can be read here

There is considerable interest in the California program.  It is decidedly more ambitious than the more limited program implemented by ten states in the northeastern region of the United States and is being considered by some Canadian provinces as well as by some South American countries.  While last week’s decision certainly derails implementation of cap-and-trade in California temporarily, it is difficult to imagine that it will not ultimately be implemented after deficiencies in the studies have been addressed.  There is too much interest in it as a regulatory scheme that can have less adverse economic impact than other forms of regulation even while achieving the same overall objectives.

The Most Noble Ends

“I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

                                                                                           Ronald Reagan, 1980

 

It is no secret that Ronald Reagan took positions that were strongly opposed to abortion, at least at the time of his Presidency.  After he won the 1980 election, the first thing he said at his first press conference was that he would “make abortion illegal,” and he maintained a strong anti-abortion stance during his years as President.  He consistently opposed not only efforts to maintain the legality of abortion procedures in the United States, but also implemented peripheral policies that sought to advance the objectives of the so-called “pro-life” movement:  school authorities were required to notify parents if their children sought contraceptives at school clinics and workers at family-planning clinics who received federal funds were forbidden to present abortion as a medical option to pregnant women.  And, of course, he was opposed to stem-cell research. 

It is thus a particular irony that since her husband’s death, the most poignant of Nancy Reagan’s few comments on policy have been to advocate support for stem-cell research.  It was in 2004, just months after Ronald Reagan’s death, that she publicly responded to President Bush’s decision to limit funding for such research, criticizing his decision and expressing her opinion that too much time had already been wasted discussing the issue.  In 2009, she publicly praised President Obama for his reversal of the Bush policy. 

But Obama’s decision to lift restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research has not been without consequences.  I commented several months ago about the case of Sherley v. Sebelius here in which District Court Judge Royce Lamberth held that the Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibited federal support of such research, a decision that would have had even more impact on the federal funding of stem-cell research than even the Bush restrictions.  In light of the report in Nature last week that induced pluripotent stem cells — which, unlike embryonic stem cells, can be created without the destruction of embryos — might be rejected by a patient’s own immune system, it seems valuable to review what has happened with Sherley since last August.  A copy of the Nature paper can be found here (subscription required). 

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment is one that no Congress or Administration —Democrat or Republican —can credibly criticize since it has been passed by all as part of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations acts every year since 1995.  It has been passed not only with the signature of Republican President Bush, but also with the signatures of Democrat Presidents Clinton and Obama, after being enacted by both Democrat- and Republican-controlled legislatures.  After the District Court found that funding of embryonic stem-cell research violated the Act and refused to issue a stay until the appellate court reviewed the decision, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia itself stayed the action pending its review.  On April 29, the appellate court issued its ruling, vacating the preliminary injunction and allowing federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research to continue. 

In my earlier post, I commented that as “much as I personally support investigations into the use of embryonic stem cells because of their tremendous potential in the treatment of disease, I have difficulty faulting the Court’s decision.”  I found the language of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment unambiguous and dismissed attempts to parse it differently as “contrived.”  Two of the three judges on the Court of Appeals disagreed. 

The Dickey-Wicker Amendment states that “[n]one of the funds made available in this Act may be used for … (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero ….”  The reasoning of the two-judge majority is one that had been rejected in the lower court, namely to parse what the statute means by “research.”  Essentially, investigations into embryonic stem cells require two phases:  a first phase in which embryos are destroyed and the stem cells are derived; and a second phase in which experiments are performed on the already derived stem cells.  The argument accepted by the appellate court is that federal funding of the first phase is prohibited but not federal funding of the second phase since only the first phase constitutes “research in which a human embryo [is] destroyed.” 

To reach this conclusion, the majority notes the use of the present tense in the statute (“are destroyed” instead of “were destroyed”) and consults some online dictionaries for definitions of the word “research.”  I am always wary of these kinds of analysis, which can give the impression of constructing a post-facto rationale for a decision improperly made for other reasons.  Such analysis is too much like relying on the exploitation of loopholes and technicalities instead of principled application of the law as it was written.  I therefore find myself sympathetic with the dissent’s criticism that the judges in the majority have performed “linguistic jujitsu” and “taken a straightforward case of statutory construction and produced a result that would make Rube Goldberg tip his hat.”  A copy of the full opinion and dissent can be read here

Researchers are generally pleased with the ruling, but in many ways that represents a short-sighted view.  The problem with the Dickey-Wicker Amendment is especially apparent when the procedural posture of Sherley as it now stands is considered.  So far, the only issue that has been resolved is whether experiments involving embryonic stem cells are “research in which a human embryo is destroyed.”  The case now returns to the District Court for consideration whether such experiments are “research in which a human embryo … is knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero,” a question that potentially raises a host of different arguments.  While it is possible to take other procedural actions at this point — request a rehearing en banc by the full Court of Appeals or petition the Supreme Court to hear the case — those other actions almost certainly represent too much risk to stem-cell researchers. 

As difficult as it may be to do politically, it strikes me as much easier to find a way to avoid the annual ritual of having the Dickey-Wicker Amendment added as a rider to funding bills.

What is the Army Doing with your Baby’s Blood?

Like many, I used to love watching The X-Files. The appeal of the show was not just the intricacy of the plot, which had seemingly endless layers of conspiracy, but was also because of the clever way in which factual information was interleaved with fiction, almost making me “want to believe.” One of the most memorable scenes occurs in the show’s third season in an episode titled “Paper Clip,” an obvious reference to the post- World War II “Operation Paper Clip” program by the Office of Strategic Services to sanitize the histories of Nazi scientists so that they could obtain security clearances in the United States. Mulder and Scully find themselves in an abandoned mine in West Virginia. The cavern is filled with filing cabinets, housing “lots and lots of files,” as Scully so artfully described it. Inside the cabinets are smallpox vaccination records and tissue samples collected as part of the Smallpox Eradication Program, creating a comprehensive genetic database for every man, woman, and child born since the 1950’s.

It was creepy. And it made me think about the scar I have on my left shoulder from my own smallpox vaccination.

It is hard not to be reminded of that X-Files episode when reading the complaint in the case of Jeffrey Higgins v. Texas Department of State Health Services. Filed at the end of 2010, the case relates not to smallpox vaccination but to newborn blood screening. In an effort to aid parents in the identification of genetic disease of their newborn child, every state in the United States operates a newborn screening program, and many other countries have similar programs. Such programs began in the late 1960’s and have been expanded over the decades so that virtually all of the 4,000,000 infants born in the United States each year have their heel pricked to collect a few drops of blood around the second or third day of life. Exceptions are rare.

The screening is valuable and provides parents with important medical information that may allow infants born with genetic conditions to have those conditions addressed right from the beginning of their lives. But it is not much of a stretch to understand why medical researchers might have a broader interest in the collection of these samples. Rather than being concerned with a single infant’s condition, the availability of a comprehensive database of newborn blood samples would allow a wide variety of studies to be conducted, looking at patterns of disease that could have profound implications for addressing public-health objectives.

Indeed, in a report published this week in the journal Pediatrics, a copy of which can be found here (subscription required), the authors note the increasing research interest in newborn blood samples. A contract awarded by the National Institutes of Health in 2009 was specifically to develop a “repository of dried bloodspots that is either virtual or physical and comprised of those stored by state newborn screening programs and other resources.” There are certainly positive objectives that could only be reached with access to such blood databases. But the problem is that, in the same way that I found Mulder and Scully’s discovery creepy, many people are uncomfortable having their children’s blood stored in a government database.

This discomfort is justified. There are currently few laws that limit the type of research that may be conducted and most states have no requirement to notify parents that the blood samples may be retained and used for other purposes than the screening of their newborn children. It’s probably fair to say that most never even considered what happened to the blood after collection.

The Higgins case has its origins in an earlier case filed in 2009 when five families sued the Texas Department of State Health Services for the unauthorized storage and use of newborn blood spots. A settlement was negotiated in which Texas agreed to destroy some 5,000,000 newborn blood samples that had been collected and retained since 2002. The Texas legislature also acted — not to limit retention of samples but to provide express government authorization for future samples to be retained. Higgins was filed when it was later revealed that about 8800 samples had been turned over to an Armed Forces laboratory as part of an effort to build a national mitochondrial DNA registry. The stated purpose of the database is forensic, namely to provide a tool by which missing persons may be identified and to aid in the resolution of other difficult cases.

The complaint in Higgins, a copy of which can be found here, alleges that Texas has acted deceptively: “Defendants have knowingly, deceptively, routinely, unlawfully and without the knowledge or consent of the infants’ parents, sold, traded, bartered, and distributed blood samples … to private research companies, government agencies, and other third parties.” A report published by The Texas Tribune that can be found here seems to confirm that records now released by the state “show an effort to limit the public’s knowledge of aspects of the newborn blood program, and to manage the debate around it.” The Tribune skeptically describes “oversights” in response to its requests for information, a pattern of suppressing disclosure about activities related to the blood program, and efforts to “plant” information with sympathetic lawmakers.

I have no doubt that blood databases such as are envisaged have the potential for enormous public good by allowing researchers access to a body of information that is nowhere else available. But the privacy concerns are obvious. Of course people weigh these countervailing issues differently, but the only way to settle the tension between them is by discussing them openly and candidly. One benefit of cases like the one in Texas (and a similar one that failed in Minnesota in 2009) is that public visibility over blood programs is increasing so that that discussion can take place.

The Final Frontier

Circling the earth in the orbital spaceship, I marveled at the beauty of our planet.  “People of the world!  Let us safeguard and enhance this beauty — not destroy it!”   —Yuri Gagarin

Yuri Gagarin

It was 50 years ago today that the 108-minute orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin ushered in the modern space era.  On April 12, 1961, the 27-year old Gagarin made his way in the early morning to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in what is now Kazakhstan.  The launch pad from which he took off in the rocket that carried the single-man Vostok 1 spacecraft remains in use today:  the latest crew of the International Space Station was launched from the same site last week, and to this day cosmonauts ritually stop on the way to “take a leak,” just as Gagarin did that morning.  Gagarin completed a single orbit in his spacecraft before returning to Earth, ejecting himself from the craft at an altitude of about 4 miles and returning to land by parachute.  It was only a few years later, in 1968, that Gagarin would die in a routine training accident, shortly after he had been scheduled for a second mission into space. 

The launching of the “space race” is one that drew humanity together in a time when the world was plagued by the political divisions of the cold war.  To be sure, there was competition between Americans and Soviets in reaching landmark achievements in the exploration of space, but the world also saw the accomplishments of Gagarin, Armstrong, and others more majestically as the accomplishments of Man.  Many of my personal friends were influenced to pursue careers in astronomy and physics because of the excitement of exploration those role models exemplified.  And it is with a certain sadness that they note that it has been almost 40 years (December 19, 1972) since a human being walked on the surface of the Moon.  Like all things, the nature of Man’s relationship with space has changed, as perhaps most iconically exemplified at the moment by the planned termination of the U.S. Space Shuttle program. 

Today, the most pressing concerns for outer space are not its exploration as much as they are its commercial uses.  There are the numerous satellites that have been placed in orbit over the years to provide telecommunications services, resulting in the need to manufacture uplink and downlink terminals, transponders, mobile satellite telephone units, direct-to-home receivers, and other components in addition to the satellites themselves.  There is the use of satellite imagery in the fields of agriculture, geology, forestry, biodiversity conservation, military intelligence, and others, as exemplified by the GeoEye, DigitalGlobe, Spot Image, RapidEye, and ImageSat International projects.  There are the proliferation of satellite navigation systems in the form of global positioning systems in the United States, and the development of similar systems in Russia (GLONASS), China (Compass), and Europe (Galileo).  There is the current development of high-altitude platforms, which are quasi-stationary aircraft that may be deployed at altitudes of 17 – 22 km to provide services for several years.  There are even examples of space tourism as exemplified by Dennis Tito’s tourist flight to the International Space Station in 2001; several companies are now planning “economical” suborbital flights to altitudes of some 100 – 160 km so that tourists can experience the weightlessness and striking views of being in outer space. 

But where is outer space exactly?  The question is not an idle one and can have numerous effects because it defines what law is applicable:  is it the law as embodied in one of the five U.N. treaties related to space or is it a national aviation or other law of the sovereign territory “below” the relevant location?  Historically, the property law was deceptively simple:  “Cuius est solum, eius est usque ad coelum et ad inferos” (“the owner of the land owns everything up to the sky and down to the center of the earth”).  The simple idea that each of us owns all of the airspace above our homes is a quaint one but hopelessly unrealistic in modern times. 

As a principle of private ownership, usque ad coelum was soundly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Causby when Thomas Lee Causby complained that flights of military aircraft at an altitude of 83 feet to a nearby Greensboro airport during World War II were so frightening to his chickens that he was forced to abandon his farm business.  The Supreme Court held that the airspace was a “public highway,” and that while a landowner might be entitled to compensation from the government, he has no right to prevent use of the airspace.  A copy of the decision can be found here.

The doctrine retains relevance in the form of national rights.  The 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation asserts that “[e]very state has complete and exclusive sovereignty over airspace above its territory,” leading on occasion to international disputes when aircraft intentionally or accidentally enter another country’s airspace.  A copy of the Convention can be found here

But  just as Causby was frustrated by national rights superseding his private rights, so too nations may be frustrated by having a limit to the extent of their airspace rights.  The Outer Space Treaty rejects national rights over outer space, declaring that “the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.” 

So far, there is no internationally recognized limit where national airspace ends and outer space begins.  When the topic has come up in past international discussions, it has generally been decided that there was no current need for a hard definition.  Indeed, the topic was again one focus of the 50th session of the Legal Subcommittee of the U.N.’s Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space last week.  During that session a number of potential ways of defining outer space were considered, including both physical definitions and functional definitions.  The various definitions that have been floated over the years appear to be converging around an altitude of 100 km, particularly at the von Kármán line where the Earth’s atmosphere becomes too thin for aeronautical purposes.  It is at the von Kármán line that a vehicle would have to travel faster than orbital velocity to derive adequate aerodynamic lift from the atmosphere to support itself. 

It is worth noting that even at altitudes far greater than 100 km, there are already disputes.  The geostationary orbit has a period equal to the Earth’s rotational period so that satellites placed in that orbit appear stationary relative to the Earth.  It occurs directly above the geographic equator at about 36,000 km.  In 1976, eight countries through which the equator passes (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Congo, Kenya, Uganda, and Zaire) signed the Bogota Declaration to assert their claim that the geostationary orbit is a “scarce national resource” that is not a part of outer space.  Since the Declaration was signed, other equatorial nations have asserted claims of ownership to their overhead geostationary arcs.  Thus far, the Declaration has been ignored by nations wishing to place satellites in the geostationary orbit, and while the issue of the Bogota Declaration is repeatedly discussed at the U.N., it has been given no legal recognition.  A copy of the Declaration may be found here.

Even though only a handful of humans have been in outer space, it has always and still holds a fascination for us.  Just as we do, our ancient ancestors looked up at the sky — the Sun, the Moon, the stars — and saw reflections of every aspect of our humanity, whether it be romance or war.  To me, the legal issues of how we deal with outer space are, in their own way, just as fascinating as the scientific ones.

Not Contented With Things as They Are

Among lawyers, patent attorneys tend to be among the more reserved.  We mostly spend our days quietly crafting language to describe and protect inventions, and pride ourselves on the use of subtlety.  Sometimes our area of the law is described as “arcane.” But every now and then, our lives are thrown into turmoil by an invention of such importance that men will  lie, swindle, and bribe to get credit for it, not only for the immediate financial gain but also so that history will forever remember them as having invented something that changed the world. 

Alexander Graham Bell

Surely one of the most intriguing such stories involves three men:  Elisha Gray, Zenas Fisk Wilbur, and Alexander Graham Bell.  Schoolchildren still learn the story of how Bell, whose mother and wife were both deaf, was diligently experimenting with hearing and speech, leading him to develop sound devices and eventually the telephone.  They are reminded of Bell’s first words over the device to his assistant, “Mr. Watson.  Come here.  I want to see you.”  Perhaps they are even told the quaint story of how Bell himself viewed the telephone as an intrusion on his real interests and refused to have one in his study.   

But the drama surrounding Bell’s credit for having invented the telephone is far more interesting, at least among those who are attracted to scandal and intrigue. 

Bell’s patent application for the telephone was filed on Valentine’s Day, 1876, the very day that Elisha Gray filed his own claim with the Patent Office.  The Examiner to consider the application was Zenas Fisk Wilbur, known to be an alcoholic, and there are enough irregularities surrounding the application that people to this day wonder whether Bell (or his attorneys) conspired with Zenas Wilbur to defraud Elisha Gray from his rightful claim.   

There is Claim 4 of Bell’s patent, which can be found here.  One of the more important claims in the patent, it recites a feature that was not shown in any of the drawings Bell included with his application, but it is present in the drawings Elisha Gray filed that day.  More damning, the feature is described in seven mysterious sentences that were written into the margin of the application.  Allegations were made that Zenas Wilbur had shown Gray’s document to Bell’s attorneys and allowed them to make the insertions, ultimately resulting in Bell being awarded the patent.  It would be ten years later that Zenas Wilbur swore in an affidavit to the Congressional Telephone Investigation Committee that he had, in fact, been handed a $100 bill by Bell himself when Bell visited the Patent Office and Wilbur improperly showed him Gray’s material. 

To this day, no one is certain whether Wilbur was actually bribed.  In his affidavit, he recants statements made in earlier affidavits, claiming to have been “afflicted with and suffering from alcoholism” and that with his “faculties … not in their normal condition [he] was, in fact, duped.”  Nonetheless, the U.S. Supreme Court, even after Wilbur’s confession that he received a bribe, found in The Telephone Cases that Bell’s patent was valid and that he was the inventor of the telephone.  A copy of The Telephone Cases can be found here.  (It is worth noting the 2008 book by Seth Shulman entitled The Telephone Gambit.  Shulman reviewed Bell’s notebooks, which can be found here, and identified what he believes to be a “smoking gun” — a drawing in Bell’s notes that essentially duplicates a drawing from Gray’s confidential patent submission).   

Elisha Gray

People sometimes point to Bell and Gray, and argue about which of them actually filed first with the Patent Office.  They certainly filed on the same day, but there is some question which of them was actually first.  It is an interesting academic question, but is, in the end, largely irrelevant in deciding who deserved the patent.  At the time, and to this day, the United States uses a “first to invent” system rather than the “first to file” system used elsewhere in the world.  Under the U.S. system, a race to the Patent Office is less important than the timing of actual invention.  The U.S. is the last country in the world to use this system, with Canada and the Philippines having adopted “first to file” systems in 1989 and 1998.  The “first to invent” system can be more complex, entertaining the difficult role of deciding when someone “invented” something rather than relying on the simple and clear determination of who filed first with the Patent Office.  But at the same time, the “first to invent” system gives greater recourse to individual inventors and small startup companies who may have lacked the resources and machinery to file patent applications as quickly as larger corporations. All that may be about to change.  

 This week, Representative Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, unveiled the House version of the America Invents Act, a copy of which can be found here.  It includes significant changes in the U.S.’s patent laws, adopting many of the same principles found in a similar bill approved by the Senate on March 8, 2011.  The Senate version of the bill passed with a vote of 95–5, and the President has indicated his intention to sign such a bill if presented to him.   

The Act would alter U.S. Patent Law in a number of ways.  It expands the ways in which third parties can challenge patents within the Patent Office instead of resorting to courts.  It alters the importance of the U.S.’s unique requirement that inventors disclose the “best mode” for practicing their inventions.  It gives the Patent Office increased authority over the way it charges fees.  And in addition to a variety of other changes, it perhaps most importantly would convert the U.S. patent system into a “first to file” system.  It seems inevitable that these changes will occur, and with the House now poised to act, it will probably happen relatively soon.  The U.S. has long toyed with the idea of changing to a “first to file” system so that its patent laws are more harmonious with those of other countries.  There remain some issues to work through:  there are the specific details to be reconciled between the House and Senate versions, and there is the lingering question of whether a “first to file” system is Constitutional in the United States; some scholars insist that only a “first to invent” system is consistent with the language of the Patent Clause.   

When the U.S. does make the switch, patent attorneys will still be practicing in an arcane area of the law.  But it will be with the heat of the metaphorical race against our colleagues to the door of the Patent Office hot on our heels.