05 March 2006

Dubious Gains

While there are good legal reasons that their cases got to the places where they did, the fact that our legal system pressures Research In Motion to pay more than $600 million, as it just did, to pay off a company whose patents have been declared invalid by the Patent and Trademark office leaves you asking what is wrong with our legal system.

Likewise, it is hard to make sense of an economic system that rewards a nearly illiterate stripper to the tune of $85 million, which Anna Nicole Smith is likely to receive upon a Supreme Court victory, for a fourteen month marriage to a dotty old man half a century her senior. The problem is not in the legal analysis, if as the court that gave her the court believed, her husband's family took extraordinary measures to thwart his donative intent, the logic of the ruling is sensible. But, should vast fortunes like that come down to the whims of marginally competent of old in their waning years? Donative intent has its place, but it isn't obvious that it should have as dominant a place as it does in our existing legal scheme.

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