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Re: The patent process

From: Barry Margolin
Subject: Re: The patent process
Date: Thu, 13 May 2004 11:04:05 -0400
User-agent: MT-NewsWatcher/3.4 (PPC Mac OS X)

In article <>, (Chris Kwan) wrote:

> I disagree here. Patent is virtually a western invention with less
> than 300 yrs of history if I am correct. The easterners created many
> inventions and shared many ideas openly by making available the text,
> including pasta and making of paper and silk. Of course one would
> argue that only limited people may have accessed to these text so in a
> way is a barrier. But the fact still remains many inventions
> particularly in medicine were tested and challeged by a series of
> trial and error in the past. Many modern medicine particularly those
> that look for active elements were sourced from ancient manuscripts
> for example, resistance to malaria ?

Patents are indeed a relatively recent invention, but that may be 
because they're only a recent need.  Hundreds of years ago, many of the 
inventions like the ones you mentioned were necessities of life.  It 
doesn't take much encouragement to develop technologies that make life 
possible, but improvements and conveniences are a different matter.

Also, because travel was harder and the population smaller, communities 
were much smaller.  Craftsmen mostly worked for themselves and sold to 
their local communities, so competition was not a problem.  If someone 
hundreds of miles away copied your invention it didn't matter to you, 
because his customers were not potential customers of yours.

It has also been argued that one of the reasons why the US became the 
source of so much technology development in the 19th and 20th centuries 
is because of our patent system.  Yes, there has always been invention, 
but the rate over the past couple of centuries in the west has been a 
quantum leap beyond previous times.  Some of this can be attributed to a 
general "industrious spirit" of Americans, as well as developments 
necessary to open up our frontiers (guns, railroads).  Unfortunately, 
it's difficult to tell the precise cause-effect relationships -- it's 
not possible to perform a controlled experiment to see what would happen 
in a country just like the US but without our patent system.

Barry Margolin,
Arlington, MA
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