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Patents out of control?

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posted on Dec, 16 2005 @ 09:14 AM
I'm certain that there are a number of people who read this forum who are professionally involved in the creation of new ideas, original media (such as articles), patents, copyright, etc. I'm not limiting this discussion to those of you who are such "intellectual property originators", but I'd like to get your input, too.

The number of patents, copyrights, etc has been growing rapidly, and the rate at which it's been growing has also been growing. Things that grow along such a curve often come up against a "boundary condition" where things change. I'm wondering if the world of "Intellectual Property" is reaching such a critical point.

Yesterday I read about a patent awarded to Microsoft which gives them ownership of the idea of clicking on a hyperlink to pause a video. This not the first patent of its kind. In recent years we've seen patents on the very idea of "clicking" on a "link" for any reason, and it was only the wise decision of a court that didn't hand practical ownership of the internet to this patent holder.

Ideas are being patented on a vast scale, and interestingly, the actual innovator who came up with the idea is almost NEVER the owner of the patent, but rather it's some company who bought the idea.

We are seeing drug companies whose patents for a particular medicine runs out so that it can be manufactured by generic manufacturers, so they research a drug, sometimes less effective and market it to compete with their previous drug.

We're all aware of the battles over open source software, and file-sharing programs which are not in themselves illegal but can be used to break the law. The entire music/movie/publishing industries are in seige mode trying to figure out how to keep huge profits flowing to their shareholders (to a much lesser extent, to the artists themselves). Some of them, like Sony, have become quite aggressive in their attempts to limit the way their products can be used, in fact, breaking the computers of their customers to make sure they don't upload a song to more than one iPod (see the rootkit scandal).

My question is this: Is the very model of Intellectual Property the best way to insure protection for people who innovate? Do they even need protection? Is a system where some banker who owns a copyright or patent gets all of the profits from an idea and the originator gets nothing the best way to stimulate innovation? If tomorrow someone were to upload every book, record and movie to the Internet, would that be the end of writing, music and cinema? Can you suggest any better system to do what "Intellectual Property" does?

Please share your thoughts. [All comments become the property of vuoto ltd, N.A.]

posted on Dec, 16 2005 @ 10:34 AM
I agree that some of this is getting out of control -- and that there are a lot of "junk patents" showing up in the patent offices. Copyrights are a different matter and I'll get to them in a minute.

Part of the problem the patent offices are running into is the proliferation of information that is causing a boom in speculative patents. Clerks aren't trained mathemeticians and if someone submits a junk patent that includes math, they really can't evaluate it.

As an example, here's someone who filed a patent on HTML "frames"... but was probably not (looking at the date) the person who originally created HTML frames. Just click on the link in the article listed here and read the patent. oy! :

There needs to be a stricter review of them.

Copyrights are a different matter. They are words (as in an article, poem, novel) or or news item or music or art or video created by one person. Since this is not restricted, anyone can be a creator and really SHOULD have a say in who uses the things they make. So I support them and urge people to file real copyrights on material they produce.

posted on Dec, 16 2005 @ 03:07 PM
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.

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