The Rundown
9:16 pm
Mon March 24, 2014

Economy & Innovation Rundown: Building Cities And Taking Down Trolls

We all know that St. Louis is unique in many ways — our passion for baseball; our obsession with bricks; our Arch.

What does a giant rubber ducky have to do with economy and innovation? Read on to find out.
What does a giant rubber ducky have to do with economy and innovation? Read on to find out.
Credit (Credit: flickr/Hiroshi Nishino)

It turns out, the region is even unique when it comes to gentrification. Two area academics wrote about their research on St. Louis gentrification in nextSTL.com.  They say the preconception about gentrification is that upwardly mobile whites move into urban neighborhoods and push out the largely minority, low-income population that lived there originally.

That model may be true for San Francisco or Boston, but not St. Louis.

“We found that rebound neighborhoods in St. Louis come in many different types and no neighborhood fits the classic gentrification model well. For example, some rebound neighborhoods are in inner–ring suburbs. The suburb of Maplewood, for example, has modest brick-frame housing stock but it has revitalized by creating a funky, pedestrian-friendly retail street with a local brew pub as an anchor.”

The article also pointed to a few St. Louis neighborhoods where the gentrification was spawned by the long-time residents, not new arrivals.

The question of how change happens in the first place was addressed in another nextSTL.com article.  This one was written by journalist/activist Sylvester Brown, founder of the The Sweet Potato Project

In the article, Brown describes having the group of young people he works with explore two neighborhoods: the Central West End and a part of north St. Louis along a stretch of Natural Bridge Avenue. The students were told to observe the different businesses, the signs, the clientele.

You can imagine the outcome. The kids were dismayed at the lack of cleanliness on the north side and the abundance of stores selling lottery tickets and booze. What’s more, Brown writes, they seemed convinced that there was nothing to be done to change the face of St. Louis’s north side.

But then they take a trip to Chronicle Coffee, a black-owned business in north St. Louis, where the group was impressed not only with the shop itself, but with the development happening around the shop. That’s when the warm-fuzzies take over as the kids get a whiff of how change can happen and how they can be part of it. 

Trolling for dollars

On a wholly different matter, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., recently introduced legislation designed to crack down on so-called “patent trolls.” That’s a term used to refer to companies that don’t produce anything themselves, but that make their money by buying up patents and then suing or otherwise bullying other companies for patent infringement.  

The proposal echoes President Barack Obama’s agenda on the issue. As described in McCaskill’s news release:

... the Transparency in Assertion of Patents Act (available online HERE), would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help fight back against these deceptive practices by requiring minimum disclosures in letters sent by patent trolls to businesses that allege patent violations and make various demands (commonly referred to as "demand letters") and allowing the agency to specify for businesses exactly what constitutes a deceptive demand letter.

The reason Obama, McCaskill and several other lawmakers are trying to clamp down on patent trolls is that it’s a major hindrance to entrepreneurial growth. Patent trolls frequently prey on smaller companies that don’t have the resources for the legal battle of defending their patent. 

The New York Times profiled one small-business startup that was shut down by the patent trolls. 

The public radio show “This American Life” did a story a few years ago about one of the companies that does the trolling. I definitely recommend taking the hour-long, auditory journey to learn about the issue.

And the St. Louis Business Journal recently held a panel discussion about the issue and how patent trolls are adversely affecting start ups in the St. Louis area.

While legislation struggles to pass Congress and people continue their hand-wringing over the harm caused by trolls, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases involving patent trolls. Both cases take on the question of paying attorney’s fees. As a rule, lawsuits are considered “exceptional cases,” then the losing side can be required to pay the legal fees to the winning side. At question in the Supreme Court cases is whether patent infringement lawsuits can be considered "exceptional."

Scotusblog does its usual thorough job of trying to interpret how the justices will rule, based on the oral arguments it heard last month. 

A really big bathtub is needed.

Finally, I leave you with a little joy. 

I suspect you’ve seen one of the 250 fiberglass birthday cakes around town — the ones that are decorated in all kinds of fun ways — all to celebrate the 250th anniversary of St. Louis’ founding.  It’s a fun thing. But you know what would be even more fun?

A giant rubber ducky on the Mississippi River.

Artist Florentijn Hofman creates giant urban installations, and his latest has been floating around the world delighting people everywhere. Currently, it’s in Taiwan, but I see no reason why we can’t get the ducky to St. Louis. It's been touring the world for the past six years. St. Louis isn't on the list of places it will visit yet, but it could be.

Here’s a BusinessWeek article about the duck and its artist-creator.

Hofman's giant rubber ducky paid a visit to Pittsburgh in 2013. Perhaps he'll visit the newly redesigned Arch grounds in 2015?
Hofman's giant rubber ducky paid a visit to Pittsburgh in 2013. Perhaps he'll visit the newly redesigned Arch grounds in 2015?
Credit (Credit: Flickr/Denis Bocquet)