Is patent law doing what it was intended to do?

Patents were intended to protect the one who had struggled to create something new and achieved it, from the horde of copycats.

Copycats, from the bully sitting next to you as a schoolkid - who passed his tests by copying your answers, and you had better not try to hide your answers - could start from where the innovator left off, and without that life resource being used up in struggling to create the innovative thing in the first place, they could run with the idea and make their fortune with it, never compensating the actual originator who made it possible to exist.

It is an ancient problem. It was generally ignored; the upper crust tending to be formed of bullies who had no interest in supporting those who had been ripped off. So the innovators, who had found a way to make something new, would do their best to hide their secret means from the prying eyes of others; so as to protect their business making and selling their innovative thing. But when those innovators grew old and passed away, the special goodie that they had made and sold, vanished from the market and no one else knew how to make it anymore; and so everyone had to do without that special something from then on.

That was something that got the attention of the bullies who ran things, when they got deprived a bit, that way.

So a compromise was set up, where the innovator would be granted a limited time to exclusively make and sell his/her innovation-based product, if they would disclose how to create the innovation. I think it was seventeen years, in which it belonged to the innovator; thereafter it was free for all to copy.

The rulers of the land thought they had wisely solved the problem, providing for everybody's needs by issuing patents. And, it all sounds reasonable: 17 years of protection for your idea, your answer on the school desk test; then it is given away for free. The copycats could still make their fortunes by making the innovator's thing, except they had to wait some years to do it. And the snoops did not need to spy to steal the innovator's ideas anymore; it was all there, disclosed in the patent.

But instead of peace and prosperity resulting, there were fights over who would get the patent. Innovations have to be built out of the things already available, and so the search for new ideas for innovations went on being done by multiple people, often times. The early days of electronics often involved many quite angry disputes over who came up with an idea first, for example.

And all our innovative ideas are built on a vast legacy given by others of the past. Hippocrates, Pythagoras, Archimedes, Newton, Einstein, Jobs, and millions of others, put much of their lives into making the bricks out of which we now build our innovations. They are gone now, and best we can do is give a blanket silent mental thanks to their lives and their gifts to us, with which we strive to build anew, much as they did in their time.

Yet without the promise of a patent protecting you, there was little use in doing the long involved work of finding a way to create a new and useful thing, since the copycats, who often were also tough bullies - or hired them - stalkers & assaulters, would just grab away any success one had.

Nowadays, The start of Apple Computer by a couple of guys in a home garage, could not create the personal computer line that many of us so cherish. There simply are too many folks incredibly skillfully snooping and able to invade one's workspace while you are gone shopping, to keep anything secret and documented long enough to get a patent to protect the innovative thing. Huge corporations with almost endless deep pockets can hire industrial spies, to make sure nothing happens to challenge the huge corporation's business technological base, their "intellectual territory." Protects their investors; what else do you want?

Another way the huge corporations protect their existing intellectual property technological base, is by making sure that no one comes up with something better. This is done by requiring workers in technological fields, to sign an "employment agreement" that not only keeps them from stealing the company's intellectual property - the "employment agreement's" apparent intent - but also steals any and all ideas about anything that the employee might suddenly think of on or off the job. Those hands-on workers are the ones most likely to come up with lateral field ideas for innovation, since they are fascinated by the potentials of innovation, and are ever matching up their background knowledge with whatever they encounter in life, on or off the job. And so they are the ones most likely to come up with the really innovative new approaches. To prevent them from leaving and starting their own company based on their own innovative idea, the "employment agreement" forbids them from doing that. Thus, the nation is deprived of countless advances that would have solved problems and made life more bountiful. But it protects the various big employer's profit bottom line. The employee, who most likely is living with little surplus income from the job, cannot get patent protection from his/her innovative idea, which has nothing to do with their job or what they have seen others do on the job there. The employer claims ownership of all such ideas for innovation, but has no interest whatsoever in developing or making the new thing available to customers; so the idea is just dead, right there.

So, is the patent system achieving what it was intended to do? Imperfectly, at best.

The gaining of patents has merely become a game tool among businesses, patents mere pawns in their monopoly business games.

Gone is its original intent, to protect the innovative folks from predators.

Yet for sure, some businesses will hire a bunch of engineers to strive to produce a management-defined specific innovative thing; and that specific innovative thing deserves a patent's protection in the classical sense.

Yet the original intent of the patent system, to prevent loss of innovative product knowledge, and eventually make it fully available to all, by granting the originator exclusive right to produce the products utilizing that innovation but for a specific limited time only, has resulted in not only the "patent agreement" technique for suppressing innovation, but also the widespread "industrial espionage" against the backyard home inventors, making sure nothing becomes patentable by them, and thus unable to get financing for making their new product; the innovation dies right there, and thus all the consumers lose what might have been, as a result.

America has come a long way since the U S Patent system was set up. Could there be a major revision devised, so as to both reward innovation, yet also make such innovation immediately available to all?

This is something worth thinking about.

Some things seem headed a bit in that direction already. Open-source software, for one. Creative Commons licensing, for another. Yet these do not reward the innovators; they merely are some means for enabling some innovations not to just die due to strangulation by the intellectual-property-territory tools of big business, who would simply have grabbed any loose ideas and patent them as if they had done the work - sometimes patenting just to prevent others from utilizing the ideas. Copycats have free use of the innovative ideas, but now they need to acknowledge their sources for the ideas their products are based upon. At least the originators get their name mentioned, even if no other reward. And, that often is enough thanks.

Yet, sometimes an innovative idea is taken and run with, by a talented person skilled in actualizing such innovations, and squeezing hordes of money out of it, by them knowing how to manipulate the system. That kind of skill and effort surely deserves reward for making new product available to the consumer. They sometimes become billionaires over such doings.

And I wonder, how fair is it that they are billionaires due to their excellent business skills having achieved; yet the original innovative concepts on which their fortunes were based, get only Creative Commons names mentioned, but those innovators may be living in poverty.

This does not lure people to do the work of coming up with innovative ideas for solving problems or enabling new opportunities in our lives.

Maybe the system needs some new inspection, and wisdom applied, to match the world as it is now.

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