Archive for October, 2009

A nudge at the Patent and Trademark Office

October 30, 2009

Of interest to lawyers, the PTO has switched the default procedure with respect to the handling of what are called Requests for Continued Examination, which are essentially appeals to the patent board to keep considering an application. Dennis Crouch of the Patently-O blog reports on this change:

In the past, one benefit of RCEs was that they were quickly examined as part of the theory of compact-prosecution – in essence, RCE filings were treated almost just like an office action response. Under a new procedure, the PTO will now be placing RCE applications in the same queue as divisional and continuation applications. Although that category is identified as “special new,” cases are typically taken-up more slowly than ones already on the docket and in-prosecution. According to a memo from Director Kappos, “The change to the docketing of requests for continued examination means that examiners are no longer required to act on a request for continued examination within two months of the entry of the request for continued examination on their docket. This change to the docketing of requests for continued examination is being made to allow examiners greater flexibility in managing their workload and allocating their time among requests for continued examination and new applications.”

Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner explains why he started writing about economics…

October 30, 2009

The reason that I started writing about economics, maybe ten years ago, is Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge. When one starts to read the behavioural literature, one gets very, very excited. It’s so sexy and counter-intuitive. The insights gained from behavioural economic research, when put in the hands of someone like Thaler, can work practically. For example, he came up with the idea that every time people get a raise, they should contribute a slightly larger amount to their pension and still take home more money at the same time. You basically hide the pain of saving more, and it works well for everybody. To design a good nudge, it helps to know what the research in behavioural economics has said in the past.

From New Statesman interview.

Assorted links

October 27, 2009

1. A cell phone targeted at elderly customers includes a dial tone that mimics a cordless landline. The sound is meant to tip off elderly users that the phone is working. (Hat tip: Justin Holz)

2. Debating the healthcare coverage mandate in the Washington Post. What does behavioral economics have to say?

3. Does showing pictures of a healthy salad give people an excuse to pick the fries? (Hat tip: Richard Kenworthy)

4. Safeway has instituted a health insurance premium surcharge for obesity. Or a premium discount for healthy living, depending on your frame.

Safeway CEO Steve Burd tells NPR that employees receive a discount on their health insurance if their body mass index is below 30 (a higher number is considered obese). “If it’s above 30, that means they pay about $318 more than someone who is in the other camp,” says Burd. “But the beauty of our plan is that if you make a reduction of, let’s say 10% of your body mass index, we write you a check at the end of the year for making that progress.”

(Hat tip: Christopher Daggett)

5. Street signs that tell you how many people have died on the road in the last year. Too scary? Is an absolute number useful? Would some kind of deaths per 10,000 drivers figure be better? (Hat tip: Simon Davies)

6. “Nudging recycling” is catching on, says the New York Times. (Hat tip: Suzanne Danforth)

A bleg for natural disaster nudges

October 24, 2009

Raymond Cheung (the man behind the organ donation iPhone app) also happens to work in the field of emergency management. Because inertia is such a serious impediment to emergency preparedness–for individuals and households, that is–Cheung wonders if readers know of nudges, or can come up with new ones, that will help people prepare for a possible disaster. Any and all ideas are welcome.

Switching the default rule to save state parks in Washington

October 21, 2009

Faced with a budget crunch and the possible closing of some state parks, Washington state legislators have switched the default rule on state park fees that drivers pay when they renew their license plates. Previously, paying the $5 fee had been an option for drivers. The state switched to an opt-out arrangement where drivers are charged the fee unless they ask not to pay it. For transparency, the state provides information to each driver explaining the reason behind the change. So far, the move has worked.

September’s $1.4 million total includes donations from people who paid their license tab fees early – in July and August – and from others who donated money using avenues other than the license-tab fee program. Some people are donating more than $5, Painter said, adding that “one person wrote a note saying that she was donating $50 to help make up for the people who don’t donate.”

The Olympian editorial board thinks the move is good for tough economic times, but isn’t sure it’s a long-term solution for the state park budget.

Hat tip: Jeff and Pam Marti

The organ donor iphone app is here – and it’s free

October 19, 2009

A few weeks ago Richard Thaler wrote this in his Economic View column about organ donation:

The key, however, is to make signup easy, and requiring people to make a choice is just one way to accomplish it. The private sector could help create other simple methods. Here is a challenge to Mr. (Steve) Jobs: Why not create a Web site — and a free app for the iPhone — that lets people sign up as organ donors in their home states?

Steve Jobs didn’t meet Thaler’s challenge, but Raymond Cheung of Serenity Integration did. “Basically, I was inspired after reading Dr. Thaler’s column,” he tells the Nudge blog. So he directed his team of developers to create an iPhone app called Donate Lives that lets users identify where they live, and then takes them directly to the state web site where they can sign-up to become an organ donor

The app was pretty simple to make, Cheung says. It took a couple days to build. Getting the free app approved on iTunes took a couple weeks. It’s available for download now, so head over to iTunes if you own an iPhone. “Even if a small fraction of those download the app and register, I’d consider it successful especially if it leads to even one more life saved,” says Cheung.

Advertisers or engineers. Whose ideas would lead to a better train ride between London and Paris?

October 16, 2009

Ad guru and friend of the Nudge blog Rory Sutherland spoke at the TED conference recently on the virtues of the value — specifically, the perceived value — that advertising adds to material goods. Rory’s comments are, per usual, entertaining and intelligent. He discusses a few of the examples covered on the Nudge blog (ie. speed limit signs) as well as plenty of others like Paris-to-London trains, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and a breakfast cereal called Diamond Shreddies. The clip runs about 16 minutes.

Hat tip: Gustavo

Musical stairs

October 9, 2009

Thanks to all the Nudge blog readers who pointed us to this terrific video from Sweden that asks: How can choice architects get people to use the stairs instead of the escalator?

For others curious about the background: The videos are part of something called the Fun Theory project (sponsored by Volkswagen it appears) that, according to its web site, is dedicated to coming up with fun ways to do things we otherwise wouldn’t, usually because of sheer laziness. Like throwing away the trash.

Assorted links

October 7, 2009

1) Many readers pointed to a story on a study about the effect of posting calories in fast food restaurants. Customers noticed the signs and thought they influenced their orders. But they actually ordered food with more calories. Reader Paul Zurawski wonders if customers would have eaten healthier if they had been asked to sign a receipt acknowledging their choices and calorie counts.

2) The top ten annoying alarm clocks. Clocky is No. 1. Hat tip: Daniel Lee.

3) Google’s PowerMeter now works with a handheld device that starts at about $200. What this means is that you would not need a utility company to install a smart meter in your building. Hat tip: Christopher Daggett.

4) The San Francisco airport has begun selling carbon offsets at the electronic check-in kiosks. Philip Frankenfeld has many catchy slogans for this nudge including “Pay dime. Help clime” and “You are now free to roam around the carbon”.

Addendum 5) A vase that lets you know when your flower needs watering. As water evaporates, the vase tilts. Hat tip: John Gibbard.