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Re: The patent process [Was Re: Sharing the Family PC is Patent-Pending]

From: Stefan Monnier
Subject: Re: The patent process [Was Re: Sharing the Family PC is Patent-Pending]
Date: Tue, 11 May 2004 19:07:01 GMT
User-agent: Gnus/5.09 (Gnus v5.9.0) Emacs/21.3.50

> The "magic" mostly occurs in industries where there's a significant
> investment required during the invention process.

Not only that.  Other requirements for that elusive magic are: that the
investment can be recouped later, and that it wouldn't be recouped if it
weren't for the ability to patent some part(s) of the result of
the investment.

Many opportunities are not taken (patents or not) just because there's
noone willing or able to pay for it.  Subtropical diseases come to mind:
experience seems to strongly indicate that patents don't help a bit here.

Most other industries using patents seem to be able to make money on their
non-patented products just as well as on the others (Bayer's Aspirine being
a good example since the patent expired; computer programs are yet another
good example).

> If the inventor doesn't have a reasonable hope of being able to recoup
> that investment, he may give up on the development, and the same decision
> is likely to be made by all the competing inventors.

Most likely he'll just invest on something else.
Last I looked, there was no shortage of things to invent and of people eager
to invent.

> The end result would be that no one invents it, and society is poorer as
> a result.

Creativity is pretty deeply ingrained in human nature.  I'm really not
convinced it needs strong monetary incentives.  I think it's more important
to make sure nothing prevents it.  E.g. patent-heavy domains tend to stifle
inventivity because you keep bumping into patented-territory and the risk of
being sued is just too large.

> But there's often a "race" to be the first one to succeed and patent the
> result, because of the advantage that provides.  If the patent system
> didn't exist, they might not bother entering the race in the first
> place, since success wouldn't provide the hoped-for reward.

Gosh, you're right.  They might even collaborate instead!Egad!

> Many people jog for fun, but they don't usually run as fast as they can
> unless there's some kind of reward, like a gold medal (or they're being
> chased).  The carrot on the stick is a useful encouragement in many
> areas of life.

Sure, there's a place and time for everything.  I don't think patents as
used currently in computer science and pharmacology are either needed or
even useful for that.


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