That anti-patent pamphlet I mentioned

Rui Miguel Seabra rms at
Tue Dec 17 10:16:12 UTC 2002

On Mon, 2002-12-16 at 18:40, Arnoud Galactus Engelfriet wrote:
> Rui Miguel Seabra wrote:
> > On Mon, 2002-12-16 at 18:12, Arnoud Galactus Engelfriet wrote:
> > > Patent law gives me that right, so I guess I have it. The
> > > idea being patents is to encourage (technological) innovation
> > > by providing a temporary monopoloy. Like the US constitution
> > > puts it, "to promote the science and useful arts".
> > 
> > I did not ask what law gave you that right, but *what* makes you think
> > you have that right and that it should be protected by law.
> I figured you did, but just after I finished the lecture on
> how patent law works. Sometimes I get carried away, sorry. :)

It's ok, but...

> Anyway, to clarify, I don't think any one has a natural right
> to an invention. Patents are purely an economic tool, to encourage
> the disclosure of innovations.

... you missed the point yet again. I did not ask you whether you have a
natural right to an invention. I asked you if: *what* makes you think
you have the right to make a lot of money out of an invention and that
it should be protected by law.

> > Science and other useful arts have developed rather well from the stone
> > age up to now, I'd say...
> Patent laws in one form or another have existed since the
> 1400s. It is interesting to see that almost every Western
> government since the 1700s has felt it necessary to get some
> kind of patent protection.

You're talking about a period that has little to do with what I said.
Did the romans or the greek use patents? They _did_ quite some
innovation and investigation, for instance.

> > > With my monopoly I am able to stop others from practicing the
> > > invention. This allows me to control the market, either by
> > > forcing competitors off the market or by making them pay me
> > > money (a license). So if I patent my invention, I can either
> > > be the only supplier on the market (and thus make big profits)
> > > or I can get lots of money from my competitors (and thus make 
> > > big profits). Like Abraham Lincoln said, "patents add the
> > > fuel of interest to the fire of invention".
> > 
> > How exactly can you tell you're not violating someone's patent while
> > implementing your "invention"?
> You study earlier patents that issued for your particular field.
> I know, today that's almost impossible due to the bad classification,
> but that's the idea. Or you make a reservation and you wait for
> someone to come after you.

Today that's impossible. Do you see any way to avoid that impossibility
on the thousands of software patents _already_ granted?

And if you wait, isn't that a little risky and not very wise? After all,
you can not only loose all your money, but still give almost gratis your
invention for some big guy, who will have no problem making money even
out of your blood ;)

> > If that someone has a patent that you violate -- yes, even without
> > intention -- can't he exhort that power in order to force you into
> > cross-licencing?
> Correct. But so can I, if he violates one of my patents.
> > What if that someone has thousands of patents and/or is already a big
> > business? Won't that mean that for some peanuts he got your idea, will
> > make money from it, and you're left sobbing in the corner?
> I would say that with a patent, you can sue the big guy and
> make him pay you for using your idea. The fact that "suing
> the big guy" is difficult has nothing to do with patents but
> with the legal system in general (particulary in the USA).

Put completely aside how hard or easy it is to sue. It is completely
independent to the problem: you can sue him, of course, but if he can
sue you for the N software patents you may be in violation, and win, he
might have to pay you 1000000 EUR, but you may have to pay him N*1000000
EUR. That means that you paid him (N-1)*1000000 EUR. How good is that,
business wise?

> > What if you don't have enough money to register the patent and someone
> > learns about it and registers that idea first? Won't you be left sobbing
> > in the corner as well?
> Well, if I publish it, no one can patent it anymore. But maybe
> I can try to find financial funding with the argument that with
> a patent, I have a monopoly so I can pay him back if the product
> takes off. 

If you publish it, not counting that you're talking about copyright now,
you will only have to claim that his patent is invalid. Why, that can
cost you hundreds of thousands of euros, and it does not have a well
defined end. You may spend that money and still loose...

> > > Well, of course you can ask the question why patent law
> > > works this way. I suppose the reason is that it seems to
> > > match the principles of capitalism: people are greedy and
> > > want to make money. So you offer them a way to make money,
> > > and you ensure that that way also has benefits for society.
> > 
> > Have you noticed that patent and copyright law protect monopolies? How
> > many other laws do that? I may be wrong but most laws are not favourable
> > toward monopolies...
> Correct. In fact, the EU had to come up with a special exception
> on the free trade clauses to allow intellectual property. But
> the idea is to give someone a monopoly in return for disclosure
> if his invention. This seems to be the best reward. We could give
> him a medal. They tried that in the USSR, but it didn't really work.

I haven't said that patents in general are bad. I can't properly talk
about all fields of development. I can think of a couple of sciences
that are patentable and don't seem to have beneficial effects on
society, but I can talk about software patents. You can develop whole
complex ideas (based on a couple or maybe some thousands of other ideas)
without spending a minute fraction of what some chemical labs do, for

> So probably we should give the inventor money. But how much should 
> we give? I don't know. So let the market decide. If the market
> does not like your invention, they won't buy it, and so your reward
> is small. If the market likes it a lot, you get a big reward.

You've heard of the Nobel Prize, haven't you? There are many other
prizes... There are also jobs as investigators... most universities
leave some free time for teachers to investigate... They live happy,
they publish, they are acknowledged and appreciated for their work,
etc... etc... why forbid _all_other_kinds_ of investigation just because
of the economically motivated investigation, which is far less that the
sum of the other kinds?


+ No matter how much you do, you never do enough -- unknown
+ Whatever you do will be insignificant,
| but it is very important that you do it -- Gandhi
+ So let's do it...?
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