On the ongoing subject of Patent Reform

The ongoing subject of Patent Reform has pushed my buttons a bit;
"White Board: Austan Goolsbee on Patent Reform"

The subject of the U. S. Patent system and far more generally, giving credit for the contributions of ideas and the development of physical means to explore application of those ideas, has been of interest to me. And decades ago I had read of calls for revision of the Patent system, although just how to do that were not described.

I recall back in the '60's when I had a couple ideas that I had suggested to my employer, who eventually wrote me a release for them, a friendly co-worker who had once worked as a patent lawyer, told me that a patent does not protect one's idea, it only gives one a right to sue those who use the idea after you have a patented granted on it. He said the only useful patents were for processes, and the patent also written to not include some key part of the idea so others could not really copy it from the patent data.

Plus even back then the cost of a patent was huge, many months of my salary. (My then-wife, who was very pragmatic and preserved only "#1," who I so desperately needed as my mate, always demanded my uncashed but signed paycheck, and in return I got $5 for lunches, and no other spending money ... she would not even allow me to buy a 4-function calculator while I was struggling to do my hobby project of calculating the materials stresses on my "Mooncable" anchored lunar tether to see if space-rated fiberglass would be adequate strength/weight ratio if designed with a constant-stress tapered cross-section, so I had months of hand calculation in my spare time and only had my slide rule as a help)

But later in the early 1980's when I worked for Shugart Corp, a division of Xerox, and had been promoted to have the Electronics Design/Development Engineer title (despite lack of a formal degree) I was in the loop to read the patent summaries that went around in the engineering department. Xerox and IBM had a mutual sharing of patents agreement, so the latest ones were listed there. I always really enjoyed reading those patent summaries, seemed to really brighten up my interest as a technically creative person by nature. Very stimulating reading. Those patents tended to be on electrical and mechanical things, which were both things I was long interested in and knew a lot about, so the patent summaries gave hints that instantly blossomed in my imagination for a few seconds, fun. So, I got a bit more acquainted with that subject.

And years before that, I had helped write the patent application wording that ultimately was granted, with the senior Electronics Engineer and I listed as the inventors, that eventually years later got granted. But I later heard that the company, Pertec Computer Corporation, only got the patent to prevent some rival company from seeing and patenting the idea and thus preventing Pertec ourselves from using it in our disk drives we developed and manufactured. (U S Patent 4,055,814 Abraham et al - I was the "et al" - "Phase Locked Loop for Synchronized VCO With Digital Data Pulses" - 1977.)

So, I have some awareness of the subject of patents.

I vaguely remember that back in the mid-1980's I had written up my ideas on how to possibly acknowledge all the idea inputs involved in making something new and useful. It went far beyond the original intent of the patent system. The patent system was originally created so as to give rights to the creator of some new product, often after years of tinkering on it, since there was a propensity for some other persons to just make money by copying the invention and selling it, cheaper because they had none of the costs of creating the idea and developing it into a manufacturable product, costs that would have had to be added to the product otherwise. Also the original patent was there with a time limit - 17 years I think - after which the patent would expire and everybody could then use its ideas; this encouraged inventors to disclose their processes in a patent, ensuring it was theirs for at least the 17 years, and to the larger system it meant that the ideas key to the invention would not be lost to civilization when the inventor passed away, as so often happened before then.

Yet as I pointed out above, a patent can be used to squelch the availability of an idea-based invention. This can be done by a company to prevent the use of a potentially rival technology, to keep it out of the competition; the patent would be gotten with no intent to actually make the products available to the customer base, but instead was gotten with the intent to prevent customers from utilizing those products, and thus would have to buy the company's established products. In 17 years the originator of the idea is likely to have perished from starvation or other neglect, so the advantages to such corporate stuff is likely to be permanent. There have been many stories floating around where this kind of thing was done, particularly in the automotive field, often said to have the motive of preventing fuel-saving mechanisms from being available to cars, so as to sell more of the highly profitable gasoline.

So, I think the subject of Patent Reform needs some heavy thinking and wisdom applied to it, far more than what is being now proposed by the Obama administration. But what they are dong is a good start, I think.

Perhaps I will re-think all the ideas I had for acknowledging all the idea input and craftsmanship involved in making an invention and producing it, and write them in this blog. I will let this urge stew while I go about my daily survival chores now.

Later - I need to point out that my purpose in this blog post is not so much as to point out rule changes needed in the patent system, but rather instead explore the need to find ways to encourage and support the idea-makers and creative crafts people that produce the innovations and inventions that are needed quite rapidly as civilization adjusts to its own expanding self, as humanity moves away from the animalistic hunter-gatherer predatory exploitative mode of life, and into the nurturing responsible mode.

Yet I realize that there is a tendency for some non-creative types of people to assume that inventions and their patents only come from the highly degreed (and highly paid) scientists & engineers who toil away in the bowels of some corporate lab, producing hugely complex and expensive prototype gizmos for the corporation to manufacture and make big profit for the investors; but exactly what the scientists and engineers focus on to invent for the corporation is only defined by the corporate managers, and the managers expect their defined patentable inventions to be produced as a result. Any other ideas the scientists and engineers might have are mere rubbish, wild cards, possibly disruptive jokers in the nicely laid out plans of the management staff, and are to be suppressed by every means. Management rules, period. Our system has painted itself into a corner, it seems to me.

Gone is the earlier notion that ideas for innovations and inventions come from the lone inventor who spontaneously comes up with ideas and then finds possible uses for them, preferably applied to some kind of endeavor he/she is interested in enabling happen. But that is the actual kind of thing I am attempting to encourage through reward of any and all who participate. This is what America needs to return to the fore in innovation. And yes, the corporate controlled scientists & engineers are also needed as part of that system too ... but just not being the top level of the system. The top level of innovation is the creative individual, whether a CEO or a janitor, an explorer of the nature of things, tinkerer with concepts and/or physical stuff with their hands, whose minds are busy integrating their lifetime of experiences to find matches of patterns produced in their mind, with patterns of needs and benefits that civilization would better thrive with as a result.

Most likely what is needed is to create a larger system to help promote and reword innovation of any and all types; the Patent System most likely would only be a subset of that system, dealing with only the aspect of protecting the efforts of those who toiled in mind and body to make some new innovative process or device that would help civilization, protecting them from those who would simply rob the invention and make it cheaper as a rival business to make money for themselves, not rewarding those who had produced the invention at all. Or, those business interests who would grab an invention's idea and patent it to prevent civilization from utilizing it, so as to maintain some pre-existing business products and services.

Exploring the mechanisms of how ideas come to be, seems a necessary step. Oftentimes we hear of ideas being produced in a generally similar time frame in far-apart areas of the world, too. Yet a patent is awarded to only one of them, excluding the others. How about a system that rewards all of those who independently came up with the same or similar ideas? Yet there are always copycats in the world; and indeed, our education system is based on copycatting the knowledge provided by others in the past eras; we tend to be thus conditioned to do that. And each innovation is built on other innovations, otherwise, to make a new Smartphone one would need to dig the raw materials out of the ground and figure out how to process the materials and put them together all the way up to the final assembly and test of the devices, all over again each time. So the ideas in innovation are actually a flow of ideas, being assembled this way and that in the mind or hand of the creative person, like clay that is squeezed in the fingers and the eye sees what it looks like as a result, and decides if that is interesting or not.

How to appropriately reward that kind of thing, regardless of when and where and who does it, seems to be the question.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home