I've had this debate a few times about patents, both on and off ATS. On one hand, patents are used to protect inventors so that they get recognition
and financial benefit from their ideas. On the other, I feel that patents also manage to stifle further research.
As an example, take everyone's favourite scientist, Nikola Tesla. From wikipedia:
Tesla's work for Edison began with simple electrical engineering and quickly progressed to solving the company's most difficult problems.
Tesla was offered to undertake a complete redesign of the Edison company's continuous current dynamos.
After Tesla described the nature of the benefits from his proposed modifications, Edison offered him US$50,000 if they were successfully completed.
Tesla worked nearly a year to redesign them and gave the Edison company several enormously profitable new patents in the process. When Tesla inquired
about the $50,000, Edison replied to him, "Tesla, you don't understand our American humor," and reneged on his promise. Edison reportedly offered
to raise Tesla's salary by $10 per week as a compromise - at which rate it would have taken almost 100 years to earn the money Edison had originally
promised. Tesla resigned on the spot.
As you can see, Tesla got royally screwed because he didn't have the patents, even though the ideas were his, and he deserved the credit for them.
Here's another example from a different angle; I read about this guy a year or two ago in some science magazine, quite an interesting story. (too
long to quote, so go read it
The article discusses how Shuji Nakamura invented the blue laser diode. He and his employer, Nichia, who funded his research, sell $200 million worth
of blue LEDs a year. I'd say that's fair. They invented it and put up the capital to produce it, they should benefit out of it.
Here's the problem. Because they own the patents, this poses a hindrance to other companies who want to work in this area. Also, because of the
money involved, Nichia doesn't want to divulge the exact method by which they manufacture blue LEDs. This means other companies could end up
re-inventing the wheel, so to speak, and wasting effort researching something that has already been done, rather than something new. (maybe a violet
LED, for example?)
Here's a final example, that my professor in optics this term told our class. When he was working on his PhD, he was studying wave-matter
interactions at material boundaries. He made some quite interesting new discoveries during the course of his research, and he foresaw that he might
be able to make some money with his ideas. He decided to apply for a patent. Imagine his shock when the patent office rejected his idea, because
someone had already registered it with them.
Someone had read a scientific journal in which my professor had published, said 'hey, thats a
good idea', and patented it. The patent already registered had diagrams and figures ripped straight out of my professor's research, and there was
nothing he could do about it, even though it was his work.
vuoto: Can you suggest any better system to do what "Intellectual Property" does?
Unfortunately, I cannot, unless you get rid of all the 'Edisons' and guys like the one who screwed my prof. If we didn't have people like that, we
would have no need of patent laws.
In regards to copyrights (applying to movies, books, music, etc) I fully agree with what Byrd said, and refer you to her comments. If I write a
novel, for example, I should get the credit and the money for selling it, along with my editor and publisher, since they help bring it to market.