Saturday, May 26, 2007

Give me more ...

OSBC was an outstanding conference with some intelligent and thoughtful speakers such as Eben Moglen, breaking down the old tale that software patents makes sense.

I've argued for a long time that patents make no sense from a societal viewpoint when the time of independent discovery is less than the length of the patent and where alternative means of disseminating information for benefit exists (such as Open Source, Scientific Journals etc).

Patents can act as a spur for innovation but also as a choke-hold. Patents do make sense in some fields and have been used for specific societal purposes in the past.

I'm all in favour of a patent system, designed and used for the benefit of society - the common good. I'm not in favour of a mechanism which hinders innovation in society for the commercial benefit of the few. Now, there is the argument that invention and knowledge are totally separate things. Poppycock - that's semantics at its worst.

Invention is fundamentally the process which drives greater knowledge and it depends upon prior knowledge, experimentation and reasoning. Every time I try and solve a new mathematical problem, I'm experimenting with ways of solving it whether that's done in my head or on paper. If I discover a new way of solving the problem, I've invented a new method - my knowledge has expanded.

Invention is also not a commercial activity, it's a human one. There are many reasons why I might invent something new, plain old curiosity being one of them. Now I don't have to give my knowledge to others - it's my choice.

Patents are simply a societal means of encouraging the spread of such new found knowledge where it is of overall benefit to society that this happens. There is a cost associated with this, the provision of a monopoly, hence the principle of the greater common good.

We, as in society, give you this monopoly in return for the secrets of your invention because it benefits society as a whole to do so.

If it is likely that such new knowledge will be found and disseminate through society by other mechanisms during the lifetime of the patent then we shouldn't hand them out or we should limit the lifetime. We do need patents, but they need to focus on the common good for society and I feel we need to be a lot more demanding on our side of the bargain.

My view on more demanding patent discussions, wow stylee ...

[Thunder]: Can I have a patent for [idea] pls?
[Society]:Well only if it is likely that such knowledge wouldn't disseminate through society in the next twenty years.
[Thunder]: eh? WTF? You role playing or what?
[Society]: No you can't have a patent, it's an idea ... you don't actually think no-one else has either thought of or is going to think of this idea?
[Thunder]: Yeah
[Society]: On yer bike.
[Thunder]: UR old.
[Society]: lol

[Smerlin]: Can I have a patent for [scientific discovery] pls?
[Society]: Well only if it is likely that such knowledge wouldn't disseminate through society in the next twenty years.
[Smerlin]: No, it wouldn't.
[Society]: Hmmm, if we say no, you'll just publish it in a scientific journal anyway because of the enormous benefit and fame it brings you
[Smerlin]: No I won't.
[Society]: Yes you will. On yer bike.
[Smerlin]: twink
[Society]: lol

[Gollum]: Can I have a patent for [new software] pls?
[Society]: Well only if it is likely that such knowledge wouldn't disseminate through society in the next twenty years.
[Gollum]: eh? What's disseminate?
[Society]:Hmmm, if we say no, then if its really useful the open source community would probably build an equivalent.
[Gollum]: No they won't. They won't be able to work it out.
[Society]: Yes they will. In which case you'll just open source it anyway and hope to get the community involved.
[Gollum]: No I won't.
[Society]: Yes you will. It's in your interests.
[Gollum]: I'll stop inventing if you do that.
[Society]: Doubt it. Doesn't really matter if you do, there are a smart bunch of people coding out there.
[Gollum]: No, No, No. You need me ... give me the patent.
[Society]: Nope
[Gollum]: ?@!$%

[Valiant]: Can I have a patent for [device which teleports people between countries] pls?
[Society]: UR kidding right?
[Valiant]: Nope. U wan it? I'm using one now.
[Society]: Can u tell us how it works?
[Valiant]: u give me patent?
[Society]: OK
[Valiant]: thx
[Society]: This is really cool, we'd never have thought of that ... not in twenty years.
[Valiant]: yeah.
[Society]: thx
[Valiant]: np
[Society]: Wow ... that's amazing.
[Valiant]: lol. u want to go SM? Cath?
[Society]: sure

[Pixely]: Can I patent for [inkjet printing an interconnect between two electronic devices] pls?
[Society]: No
[Pixely]: Why?
[Society]: Because that's [soldering] via [fabrication]
[Pixely]: So?
[Society]: Well they aren't exactly new concepts.
[Society]: If we give you this patent that could seriously hinder future innovation and industry.
[Pixely]: Yeah but if you don't I won't tell you how I did it?
[Society]: I don't think it's worth giving you a monopoly for twenty years.
[Society]: It's a bit obvious
[Pixely]: Not according to my lawyer.
[Society]: Well we're not your lawyer.
[Pixely]: I've spent $$ making this!
[Society]: Well sell a product then.
[Pixely]: But some big company will just copy it.
[Society]: hmmm, ok we will give you a patent for 5 yrs.
[Pixely]: I want 20.
[Society]: 5
[Pixely]: 10?
[Society]: 5!

[Tweedle]: Can I patent [Selling Dog Food via the Internet] pls?
[Society]: No
[Tweedle]: Why?
[Society]: This is a joke right?
[Tweedle] No? It's a new business process!
[Society]: Bye