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Old 06-17-2010, 11:14 AM   #12
Worldwalker
Curmudgeon
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A lot of people are forgetting the original purpose of patents.

The original idea was to spread knowledge and ensure it wasn't lost. Prior to patents, a lot of devices, processes, and so on, were trade secrets, especially in the days of the guilds. That's why people are still trying to re-invent things like the way Antonio Stradivari treated the wood for his violins, for example. The patent was a trade-off: You tell everyone how you did it, and in exchange, you get a short-term monopoly on doing it that way. If Stradivari had been able to patent what made a Stradivarius violin so special, violin makers might still be making them today. And with the information in the patent being public, other inventors could further develop it.

Somewhere along the line, this got warped into the idea that the first person (or, far more often, corporation) to get to the patent office has a moral right to a monopoly on the use of their idea -- no matter what it is. Patents were turned from a tool for the dissemination and preservation of technological knowledge into a weapon of corporate warfare. Patents are granted on things that do not "promote the progress of science and the useful arts" in any way, which are not only obvious to a person with ordinary knowledge of their field (which is supposed to be the standard) but to the average layman with little knowledge of that field (but more, apparently, than most patent examiners), and are used primarily as a way for corporations to destroy smaller (and quite possibly more inventive) rivals.

Take Amazon and the one-click patent: Was that a non-obvious idea? No. Was it something that would be lost if not preserved and made available to all future inventors? Hell no. It's a "process", yes, but only in the simplest terms, not in the sense of the process of treating the wood for the world's best musical instruments. It's a concept. It's something that anyone who knows it exists can duplicate. So it would not be lost to the ages without a patent. Nor is it something that Amazon would not have created without a monopoly on its use; there is no more incentive required to encourage the creation of a "buy this thing" button in online stores than there is to encourage the placement of cash registers in brick-and-mortar stores.

The purpose of patents is not to benefit the patent-holder. It's to benefit everyone else, and the benefit to the patent-holder is the compensation for the loss of secrecy that benefits society as a whole. It is not, or at least was not intended, to be a weapon for those patent-holders to cause widespread harm and disrupt, rather than promote, progress.
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