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Albert Einstein’s 1905 paper setting forth the special theory of relativity is one of the most famous scientific articles ever written. Peter Galison’s influential book, Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time (2003), demonstrates that Einstein’s paper was fundamentally shaped by his work as a patent examiner by showing that arguments previously seen as abstract thought experiments were instead derived from Einstein’s work on patent applications for devices that coordinate clocks. Moving beyond Galison’s insights, we can see portions of Einstein’s paper as reflecting the quasi-judicial role of a patent examiner. Like trial judges, patent examiners must apply settled legal principles to new factual settings. A close look at the structure of the 1905 paper shows a similar effort to apply settled physical principles to an open problem. Einstein’s own writings show how he appreciated the analysis of “concrete cases” found in legal materials.

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93 Geo. L.J. 319-333 (2004)