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

From: Barry Margolin
Subject: Re: The patent process [Was Re: Sharing the Family PC is Patent-Pending]
Date: Wed, 12 May 2004 09:03:13 -0400
User-agent: MT-NewsWatcher/3.4 (PPC Mac OS X)

In article <>,
 Stefan Monnier <> wrote:

> >> > 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

Have you noticed that many of the large patent portfolios are owned by 
universities these days?  This is how they're able to pay their 
researchers.  They used to do it mostly with government grants, but 
since the government has scaled back on this, they needed to find 
alternate sources of funds.

I.e. if the inventor is being paid to invent, then it's usually the guy 
paying him that expects to get paid for the invention.

> invention.  Kind of like GPL programmers are paid to write the software
> rather than being paid for the software itself.

Note that the other aspect of the patent process is that in return for 
the monopoly, you're required to publish the details of the invention.  
If you hire a programmer to work for you on software that you don't 
distribute (i.e. it's just for in-house use), there's no downside to GPL.

> > 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 is paying them that $30K -- they hope to make money off it (or 
they're the government).

I'm aware that hobbyists sometimes do produce important inventions -- 
personal computers came out of work people did in their garages.  On the 
other hand, there's no way that transistors, integrated circuits, or 
disk drives could have been developed in the same way.

Barry Margolin,
Arlington, MA
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