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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 22:20:32 GMT
User-agent: Gnus/5.09 (Gnus v5.9.0) Emacs/21.3.50

>> > 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.
> But no matter what he invents, without patent protection he's open to
> someone else simply copying it and under-cutting him (since the
> competitor doesn't have to recoup his development costs).  So it becomes
> difficult to make money inventing things -- it's much more profitable
> copying.

But we're talking about "making sure people invent", not "making sure people
make money".
In academia, most people spend their life inventing without much desire to
make any kind of money off of it.  We're paid to invent, not for the
invention.  Kind of like GPL programmers are paid to write the software
rather than being paid for the software itself.

As for someone else copying: most inventions aren't so easy to use, so as
the inventor you're generally in a unique position to actually make use of
it and a competitor would first have to spend time and effort to gain the
understanding, insight, and experience you gained while developing
your invention.  You already have an edge.  A patent might give you
additional one, but it's often unecessary.

The XEmacs team has complete, total access to the Emacs code along with all
the discussions that took place among the Emacs developers, and yet they
can't keep up "copying" Emacs (and not because they're idiots, mind you).
Copying is not as easy as it's made up to be.

> Yes, creativity is natural.  But how many people are so obsessed with
> creating that they're willing to go broke doing it?  Is someone going to
> develop a cancer drug as a hobby?

Most people working on cancer drugs are indeed pretty close to what you
describe: they're called "postdocs", working 80 hours a week for a US$30K
a year, and their only drive is to get a position as a professor (which is
getting increasingly like an unreachable dream).  Making money off of the
drug is something they may sometimes dream of, who knows, but I'm pretty
sure it's not one of their motivation.

> Someone else mentioned drugs that don't have a high demand, or are for
> third-world countries that can't afford to pay high prices.  In cases
> like these, not only does the government grant patents, they go further
> and provide tax incentives.

Indeed: there are other ways than patents to spur investments.

>> > 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!
> And then *all* of them go broke, since someone who wasn't even in the 
> race could copy what they came up with.

No, they just develop more complementary things instead.
E.g. instead of having competing patentwise-different toothpastes, you have
toothpaste and toothbrushes.


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