Monday, May 18, 2009

Patents - meant to enrich the inventor - or the public?

I had an interesting discussion yesterday with a younger gentleman, about 22 years old.

I mentioned that I had contacted US Senator Inhofe about several views, including patents. The discussion began with federal taxes, and one initiative to replace income taxes with sales taxes, applied to both business to business sales and sales to consumers, as many states do today. I felt that business organizations cannot be taxed, as a business *collects* taxes - makes their products and services more expensive. I also feel that patents should never have become the negotiable instruments that they have today.

I feel that a patent should only be issued to a living, breathing US citizen, or citizen of another nation for international patents. A business organization should not be eligible to receive, or to be sold, a patent.


My understanding of the intent of the patent system, was to enrich the public domain, indirectly.

The nation and community benefit from inventions that solve problems, that make use of resources, and that simplify tasks. To encourage this, inventions are needed. In addition, those inventions need to be made available to all, or they benefit very few.

Thus, for a limited period of years, the US Patent Office issues a patent on an invention. Today the inventor can use that patent, and a slew of lawyers, to permit others to exploit that patent, usually by assigning the patent, by selling it, or by licensing its use in return for royalty payments and licensing fees. At the end of the protection period, that invention enters the public domain, becoming general knowledge that anyone can use.

Copyrights originated in a similar fashion. The original post office was an arm of the United States Government, and what we call "postage" today was considered a tax - on the information submitted and quite unrelated to the costs of conveying mail from sender to recipient.

Because tax had been paid on that information - the letter, the manuscript (book as submitted to a publisher), the sheet music - it was considered to be a legal document - and the tax bought the author protection from unauthorized copying. Thus an author could send a book submission to three publishers, and only the one he authorized would be allowed to legally print the book for publication. Or music, or whatever. Presumably an article in a newspaper or magazine could not be used in a competing publication, without authorization from the original author - or they purchaser of that article from the author.

Since those early American days, courts have amended and modified and interpreted what is and is not copyrighted, and what that protection covers. Fair Use is a concept that says students studying material may make a copy for that purpose, of most anything, with exceptions. Someone buying a computer program could, usually, copy the program to their computer. Today there are lots of rules and exceptions, and most anything can be copyright just by someone claiming to have a copyright on it.

Expiration date.

My comment to Senator Inhofe's office was that those holding patent and copyright protections, have failed grievously in what I consider the responsibility inherent in being granted that protection - to actively publish material once the protected period has expired.

Unless inventions and thoughts and communications enter the public domain - the nation and community fail to benefit from encouraging the production of art, or the invention of new ideas.

The other expiration.

Since the intent of patents and copyrights are to benefit the author and inventor to encourage new ideas - then that protection, even if sold or licensed, should expire on the death of the author or inventor.

A company assigned a patent by an employee should see that assignment expire at the moment the employee leaves the company - and should not be subject to any form of non-compete agreement regarding the matter of the patent or other restrictions on the patent.

The MPAA and RIAA should be taken to task, and held accountable for the vast libraries of material they have failed to make public domain on expiration of their original copyright. Rather that being seen to "protect their interest", extending protections instead hurt the nation and community.

Elvis has left the building.

Elvis Presley died (maybe). Nothing done today will encourage him to continue producing music, movies, or promotional merchandise.

Cost of unexpired patents.

Patents and copyrights should be used to encourage the enrichment of the thought and art, and lives, of Americans. Companies formed to exploit patents via lawyer mobbing hinder the free working of a capitalist society, and cost the United States greatly.

There is a price to be paid, for protecting the interest of the inventor for a period - related work is hampered and made more expensive as people in related work try to identify patents that they may be infringing, try to arrange licensing, or work around techniques that have been patented. The software industry is but one example were well-trained lawyers have been able to hamper the interests of the United States for the enrichment of patent farms. Getting patents clearly and promptly, when expired, into the public domain limits the abuse and stifling effect that exists today - which hampers inventions and inventors that were supposed to be receiving encouragement.

Who is to benefit?

My friend wanted me to agree that patents were for the good of the inventor. But that is only true indirectly. The purpose of issuing and defending patents is to encourage inventors - to enrich the nation and community, on the expiration of that patent.

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