Ideas Are Everywhere... So Why Do We Limit Them?

from the gladwell-missing-the-point dept

Malcolm Gladwell is a truly fantastic writer. However, sometimes he gets so interested in making a story sound good that he misses the real point. His latest piece for the New Yorker starts out as a puff piece on Nathan Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures (which gets way too many puff pieces), but then turns into a much more interesting article about how just about every major invention or scientific or mathematical discovery came from multiple, entirely independent people at almost exactly the same time. As Gladwell points out -- rarely is it about "genius," but about the fact that all of the previous work in the field naturally leads to this end result -- and if it wasn't one person discovering it, someone else would. The article lists out big name invention after invention that all have "multiples" -- multiple entirely independent individuals who came up with the same thing at the same time. Not only that, but almost always the person who gets credit for the discovery isn't actually the person who discovered it. In fact, someone even coined a term for it: Stigler's Law: "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer."

Gladwell uses this to talk up what Myhrvold is doing, suggesting that Intellectual Ventures is really about continuing that process, getting those ideas out there -- but he misses the much bigger point: if these ideas are the natural progression, almost guaranteed to be discovered by someone sooner or later, why do we give a monopoly on these ideas to a single discoverer? Myhrvold's whole business model is about monopolizing all of these ideas and charging others (who may have discovered them totally independently) to actually do something with them. Yet, if Gladwell's premise is correct (and there's plenty of evidence included in the article), then Myhrvold's efforts shouldn't be seen as a big deal. After all, if it wasn't Myhrvold and his friends doing it, others would very likely come up with the same thing sooner or later.

This is especially highlighted in one anecdote in the article, of Myhrvold holding a dinner with a bunch of smart people... and an attorney. The group spent dinner talking about a bunch of different random ideas, with no real goal or purpose -- just "chewing the rag" as one participant put it. But the next day the attorney approached them with a typewritten description of 36 different inventions that were potentially patentable out of the dinner. When a random "chewing the rag" conversation turns up 36 monopolies, something is wrong. Those aren't inventions that deserve a monopoly.

What Gladwell misses (though others have discussed it in detail) is that while ideas may be a dime a dozen, executing on those ideas is what's difficult. Innovation isn't idea generation. Innovation is taking an idea and making it do something useful. Yet, in giving monopoly rights to Myhrvold and his friends, we make it much more difficult for others (even those who discovered the same things totally independently) to help actually make them useful.

In the end, the Gladwell article inadvertently makes the best case against Myhrvold's Intellectual Ventures, while hyping up the company at the same time. It's a strange disconnect, and it's too bad that Gladwell, like so many others, fell so under Myhrvold's spell, that he missed the real story he held in his hands.


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  1.  
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    Joe Smith, May 7th, 2008 @ 3:26pm

    NTP and RIM

    The RIM and NTP litigation is an example of the difference between a bare idea and the ability to create a viable business model / product.

    NTP claimed a patent on an idea they could not make work in a financially viable way. RIM working independently on a similar idea found a successful way to bring a product to market. The real value was created by RIM and yet they had to pay $612.5 Million to NTP: a tax on success to support welfare for failure.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2008 @ 4:15pm

    Ideas are worthless. I get more and more angry every day at this nonsense. I am driven to work and think harder, harder, so that I can produce ideas and give them away for free just to protest.

     

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    barren waste, May 7th, 2008 @ 4:40pm

    Ideas are anything...

    ...but worthless. Each new idea has a potential worth of billions, yet the people who get that money are rarely the people who were involved with producing the idea. That said, if you cannot find a way to make money off from your idea you might just be better off selling it to somebody who can. The problem with the patent laws is that after the idea is patented the general populace cannot continue to improve the idea. In other words, the system designed to promote invention and innovation is actually stifling it. Should people be compensated for thier wonderful new idea, sure, but not to the point where that idea is made into a demi-god and is then untouchable by anyone else.

    Now, let's say that Farmer Bob has a wonderful new idea to improve the efficiency of his milking machine. Because of patent law Farmer Bob can implement this wonderful labor saving idea, but he cannot profit from it. Why should the machine's producers have a say over what can be added to thier machine? The add-ons will improve sales of the machine and Farmer Bob will make a pretty penny as well. Yet, this is illegal. Why? Farmer Bob isn't stealing from the machine's producers, he's making the machine more valuable. What mores are stepped on, who's rights are wronged?

     

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    Josh, May 7th, 2008 @ 4:43pm

    Good Point

    Great point here. I know that as a master's student, I'm always considering if a problem/idea has been thought of. Given some research and forethought, most ideas aren't exactly unique.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2008 @ 5:30pm

    Re: Ideas are anything...

    Yes, the people who get the money rarely produced the idea. Let me tell you a secret. Ideas are worthless and people who arent producing billion dollar businesses come up with good ones every day.

    The only people that profit from their ideas are people that know how to profit from ideas. The key ingredient is not the idea. The key ingredient is the profit.

    I hate to sound circular, but thats how it is: you profit.. from ideas.. by making... profit. If you dont do that, then you get NOTHING. Nor do you deserve anything. Because any other person might have come up with that idea, and what makes you so special?

     

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    Ray T, May 7th, 2008 @ 6:09pm

    Implenting

    Brought up in England, at one time I thought that a patent could only be granted if a person had actually executed a working model. I don't know if the patent laws there are different than America's, and it was probably just an assumption on my part.

    But the more I think about it, the more I feel in principle that a simple idea and its documentation should be rejected as a candidate for patent; there should be a working implementation to prove the inventor was doing something with it.

     

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    barren waste, May 7th, 2008 @ 6:12pm

    Re: Re: Ideas are anything...

    First, the person who first comes up with an idea is special for just that reason. They were the first to see a problem and fix it. That is something noteworthy is nothing else. Millions upon millions of people see millions upon millions of problems, only a few have the capability to come up with answers for those problems. If that weren't true, the problems would already have been solved.

    Second, your statetment that, "The only people that profit from their ideas are people that know how to profit from ideas." is not only false, but wrong on many levels. There are still a few who manage to rise above the system that stands against them and produce a new product without a major corporation's involvement. The fact that you believe that the inventer is incapable of seeing how to impliment the idea shows how truly mind numbing our current system is. The biggest reason that so many inventers fail to impliment is because of market and legal pressure applied by the agencies designed to protect the status quo. A status quo the inherently squashes invention and innovation.

    Invention and innovation are impossible without a broad ranged and inexpensive educational system, opportunity, and a system of rewards. We have the educational system, for the most part, but opportunities are scarce and rewards are almost non-existant. With our system, not only are you restrained from working with the most lucrative products, you are punished for enhancing them. Please explain to me how this increases the rate of invention and innovation. Not only that, but our system also sets the playing field so that, for the most part, only those who have already succeeded may do so again. That supports your circular logic, but also proves how wrong the system is.

    Let's take the Cricut die-cut machine as an example. Somebody had an idea to make a die-cut machine, for scrapbooking, that is not only affordable but portable. Excellent idea, and the proof is in the sales. But, because of the patent, John Doe from Utah, who has an idea to make it even better, can't set up operations making a similar product with his innovations. Instead, in order to make any profit from his innovations he must sell, at a vastly decreased worth, his ideas to Cricut. Nice! Cricut gets to legally stomp on the competition and because of this nobody is interested in advancing the machine. Thus we see the system ensuring the status quo, rather than promoting invention and innovation.

     

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    MLS, May 7th, 2008 @ 7:39pm

    Once again.....

    In an all too predictable and continuing diatribe against patents, once more Mr. Masnick demonstrates his lack of substantive knowledge of the patent law.

     

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    stovo, May 7th, 2008 @ 7:55pm

    SHWINGWORTHY!

     

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    Sal, May 7th, 2008 @ 8:02pm

    Re: Once again.....

    You obviously did not get the point of the post. He knows very well how patents work, but is trying to convince you that it is not how patents should work. I see that backing up a claim complicates and confuses some readers, but the point is this: ideas should not be patented and monopolized. Is that too hard for all you flamers to understand?

     

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    MLS, May 7th, 2008 @ 8:09pm

    Re: Re: Once again.....

    I did get the point of his post. Based on it and numerous other posts he has made about patents, it is only too clear that he speaks in broad generalities that are largely incorrect. Those who look to him as an authoritative source would be wise to look elsewhere.

     

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    Mike (profile), May 7th, 2008 @ 8:13pm

    Re: Once again.....

    In an all too predictable and continuing diatribe against patents, once more Mr. Masnick demonstrates his lack of substantive knowledge of the patent law.

    In an all too predictable and continuing blind defense in favor of patents, once more MLS demonstrates his lack of substantive knowledge of the process of innovation.

    See how easy that is?

    Might help if you added something substantive to your response, rather than just ripping on me. It's easy to say "you don't know crap." It's hard to back it up. In the post above I try to explain one of the problems with the patent system, with backup info. Your response? "Nuh-uh."

    Very convincing.

     

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    MLS, May 7th, 2008 @ 9:13pm

    Re: Re: Once again.....

    I do not recall ever saying anything in defense of patents. You must have me confused with someone else.

    Regarding the "process of innovation", I would say I have more than a passing familiarity with how it works from the moment that an "idea" is formulated until the time it rolls off the assembly line as a feature of a marketable product.

    You asked for a substantive point. There are many to choose from trying to point out much of the misinformation that finds its way into articles and posts to such articles. Perhaps you can explain to your readers the difference between an "affirmative" right and a "negative" right. That would be a good first step towards a meaningful discussion of the law.

    I am well aware of all the warts and blemishes associated with many features of the current patent laws, and work closely with both legal and business organizations to craft approaches that address where the law strays from its stated purpose.

     

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    Nicole, May 7th, 2008 @ 9:30pm

    A service can be innovative.

    Gladwell uses this to talk up what Myhrvold is doing, suggesting that Intellectual Ventures is really about continuing that process, getting those ideas out there -- but he misses the much bigger point: if these ideas are the natural progression, almost guaranteed to be discovered by someone sooner or later, why do we give a monopoly on these ideas to a single discoverer?

    These are all good points, and I'm glad that someone else has addressed them, but, as you pointed out, Gladwell is a fantastic writer, but not an IP expert. Perhaps he dipped into some subject matter that he wasn't qualified to pontificate on. It can take a lot of thought and discussion to take a solid stance on IP policy.

    What Gladwell misses (though others have discussed it in detail) is that while ideas may be a dime a dozen, executing on those ideas is what's difficult. Innovation isn't idea generation. Innovation is taking an idea and making it do something useful. Yet, in giving monopoly rights to Myhrvold and his friends, we make it much more difficult for others (even those who discovered the same things totally independently) to help actually make them useful.

    This is where I disagree. IV is more than an idea generation factory. It's an idea generation factory that identifies useful ideas and provides a viaduct between his in-house inventors and larger establishments that might lack resources or inventiveness to do the same thing as fast or as well as IV. That may sound like it's taking away from the mom and pop shops. But IV has built in mechanisms for that as well: independent inventors can collect revenue from their ideas with resources provided by IV that they may otherwise not have access to. Innovation is taking an idea and making it useful. But that doesn't mean making it useful has to mean making a product. Making it useful can mean providing a service as well, which IV does for the IP community as well as the market as a whole.

     

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    Mike (profile), May 7th, 2008 @ 11:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Once again.....

    I do not recall ever saying anything in defense of patents. You must have me confused with someone else. Regarding the "process of innovation", I would say I have more than a passing familiarity with how it works from the moment that an "idea" is formulated until the time it rolls off the assembly line as a feature of a marketable product.

    Just as I have a pretty thorough understanding of the patent system. But, my point wasn't to be accurate in my comment, it was to point out how silly your comment was by mirroring it -- because your comment, was equally as inaccurate as my comment was.

    And, of course, you missed that.

    Perhaps you can explain to your readers the difference between an "affirmative" right and a "negative" right. That would be a good first step towards a meaningful discussion of the law.

    Um. I think most people understand the difference already, but I don't see how it changes the discussion in the post or makes it any more meaningful. I get the point you're trying to make: patents are a negative, rather than affirmative right. i.e., they're a right to *exclude* others, not a right to anything themselves. Blah blah blah.

    My guess (correct me if I'm wrong) is that you think this somehow means that a patent is not truly a "monopoly." I can disagree in great detail, but I'd rather not delve into this if I've made the wrong assumption from your rather obtuse comment, which seems designed more to make people think you are smart, rather than to add anything of value to the conversation. Being pedantic doesn't help your argument.

    If you want to disagree with me, then back up your statements. Don't make some dumb comment about not understanding something that we all clearly understand. Don't make assumptions about my level of understanding, either. It won't serve you well in these discussions.

     

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  16.  
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    Mike (profile), May 7th, 2008 @ 11:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Once again.....

    I did get the point of his post. Based on it and numerous other posts he has made about patents, it is only too clear that he speaks in broad generalities that are largely incorrect.

    Hmm. And you're accusing *me* of broad generalities? If you're going to accuse me of being incorrect, I would think that would require (at the very least) that you point out something I said that is factually incorrect.

    Those who look to him as an authoritative source would be wise to look elsewhere.

    And instead, they should trust you? The person who has contributed nothing to this thread other than statements saying I'm wrong, without pointing to a single thing I said was wrong? Very convincing.

     

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    Mike (profile), May 7th, 2008 @ 11:57pm

    Innovation is taking an idea and making it useful. But that doesn't mean making it useful has to mean making a product. Making it useful can mean providing a service as well, which IV does for the IP community as well as the market as a whole.

    And, in doing so, blocks others from innovating as well.

    That's my problem with it. As the Gladwell article makes clear, the ideas themselves are not the key point. IV does little (from what we've seen about them to date) to help in the implementation. It tries to separate that and raise up the "idea generation" part to a new level, pretending that it's that spark of genius that's valuable, when it is not.

    Let the market figure these things out without gov't granted monopolies and you get a much more efficient system.

     

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    barren waste, May 7th, 2008 @ 11:59pm

    Re: A service can be innovative.

    "Making it useful can mean providing a service as well, which IV does for the IP community as well as the market as a whole."

    Marketable services are products. And by filing patents, Myhrvold lessens the chances of further product enhancement. Competition within markets is fierce, and if a company cannot keep up with the market it is quickly relegated to the great trash heap known as bankruptcy.

    I fail to see how a system that LIMITS, what you can, and cannot, do with the products within your market, PROMOTES invention and innovation. If you wish to see innovation within the field of car safety, you don't tell them what vehicles they can work on, what changes they can make, who they can and cannot sell thier product to, and how they are to go about doing all of this. That is a perfect way to promote failure, but not so great for success.

     

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  19.  
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    Wesley Parish, May 8th, 2008 @ 2:23am

    folk-lore wisdom

    In a German fairy-story I last read ages ago, a prince - Germany must have been overflowing in them in that age; they have my sympathy - was asked by two quarrelling magical beings - a witch and a female woodspirit - to decide who had the rightful possession of a magic ring.

    The prince told the two quarrelling beings to do something with it, to prove they knew it well enough to use it.

    The witch tried, and was repulsed by it; the woodspirit tried as well, and succeeded. Consequently the prince said, "Owing to various US-enforced IP treaties on patents and suchlike, I am awarding this magic ring to the first contestant, who has failed to do anything meaningful with it - because if I don't, the US will inflict severe trade sanctions on my little princedom and even invade to establish a IP treaty enforcement regime and try me for treason a la Queen Liliuokalani of Hawai'i ... so long, dear, and trust you understand the meaninglessness of your ability to actually do something meaningful and beneficial with your knowledge ..."

     

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  20.  
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    Ian Ward-Bolton, May 8th, 2008 @ 4:18am

    Patents make life worse

    Patents and Advertising are two of the most harmful ideas ever invented, and are both due to a fear-driven competition mindset. Life would be much better if people cooperated and we would all be happier too.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2008 @ 4:20am

    Re: Once again.....

    Does it make you feel good to be full of so much negativity?

     

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  22.  
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    Charmine Charlie, May 8th, 2008 @ 6:00am

    Re: Once again.....

    MLS, speaking as someone who gets all his discourse on IP from the stories featured on this blog and in their comments, I urge you to realize the important role you play in correcting any errors you see. For someone like me, I won't just spontaneously learn how Mike's understanding of patent law is wrong. Someone needs to point it out. And when no one does, Mike remains that authoritative source you urge people not to think he is.

     

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  23.  
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    Amazed that this matters, May 8th, 2008 @ 6:09am

    Wow, IV is not even relevant...

    First, most players in the IP industry are watching to see if IV will do anything of meaning. While claiming they won't sue, they have done nothing to execute or reap profits on the war chest of the estimated thousands of patents they've accumulated.

    Second, in retrospect, the Supreme Court and blog 'bully pulpits' like this one have made IP based models, most notably IV, one of the worst financial bets of the past ten years as a sector. IV can't get injunctions and may face having assets they bought get determined obvious by the courts and wiped away. As a result, Nathan will have to be a start up genius to create meaningful value from the ideas they are cranking out. [Yeah, negative sentiment flows to Washington and gets enacted to law or made precedent by the Courts.] Score: Techdirt = 1, IV = -10

    Third, this thread substantiates a lack of interest in honoring inventive people. Money and recognition aside, but in the work they do. Seriously, this idea is saying that inventors are essentially machines that do the job that will get done eventually and no one is special? Motivating, boy, I want my son to be an inventor someday. Nah, it'll get done by someone at the same time somewhere, he should just eat McD's and go play XBox some more. Monopoly? Give me a break, with years to reviews, new hurdles making getting a patent much harder, and a weakening litigation system, how can you even be concerned with the 'monopoly' granted at this point?

    Finally, on this rant of IP and patents v. commercialization. I'm looking forward to the 'run and gun' better-get-your-product-profits-before-everyone-else-does offense that companies are facing and the decreasing profits that come with it.

    Understand where you're going with these rants and don't mind the perspective, but at least acknowledge that times have changed.

     

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  24.  
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    gregory, May 8th, 2008 @ 6:13am

    gladwell a good writer? yeah, for the reader's digest maybe... his niche would not exist in an america that was not so dumbed down ... sad, really, pap for the masses

     

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  25.  
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    angry dude, May 8th, 2008 @ 6:17am

    blah, blah. blah...

    Another horseshit from Mikey

    innovation, invention, finite goods, infinite goods, T-shirts... looooooooots of t-shirts...

    Why don't you find a better thing to do for yourself ?

     

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  26.  
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    gregory, May 8th, 2008 @ 6:34am

    you do know there is a group mind, don't you? ... and that no one invents anything new, that they just listen in to the group mind, and talk about what they heard ... (ipr is really silly, based on several fallacies, but that is for another day

    ideas come into being on their own, and as you point out, many minds will connect simultaneously when the time is right

     

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    angry dude, May 8th, 2008 @ 6:36am

    Re: Patents make life worse

    Dude,

    if you live in this (still) great country called USA I suggest that you consider getting out and moving to some communist country (alas, only few choices left, like Cuba or North Korea)
    Patents are prescribed by the Founding Fathers in the original US Constitution as a means to promote progress in money-driven capitalistic society

    Think you are smarter than Founding Fathers ?
    Then suggest something else other than patents that would work to promote the progress, smartass
    Patents are here to stay because they are necessary for continued progress

     

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  28.  
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    angry dude, May 8th, 2008 @ 6:41am

    techdirt lemmings

    The hive mind of techdirt lemmings ?

    It doesn't do any good for them, unlike the hive mind of insect colonies like ants, bees and termites

     

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  29.  
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    gil garcia, May 8th, 2008 @ 7:03am

    gladwell

    that was a disappointing post. not only do you sound envious & cheap, but your "argument" fails to convince. sorry, but gladwell is 1000 times the writer/reporter you are. with all due respect, have you EVER gotten out of your PJs to report a story? no, i didn't think so.

     

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    chris (profile), May 8th, 2008 @ 7:04am

    Re: blah, blah. blah...

    Why don't you find a better thing to do for yourself ?

    dude, you're posting on his blog. that begs the question: what are you doing for yourself?

    guys like you come here every day to talk about what an idiot you think mike is, if you have all the answers, where's your blog?

    where is your vast and glittering pile of goods? where are your successful patents that have improved life for someone? even if you tried and failed that would be something, but all you and the other detractors do is complain complain complain with no real evidence or insight.

    mike and his crew post here every day and the content is free, i mean, they're walking the walk. techdirt probably hasn't made him a millionaire, but he keeps doing it so it must be worthwhile.

    where is your successful blog with people wanting to hear your ideas? where is your nomination for a webby?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2008 @ 7:37am

    Mike, I thought that I'd coined the term idea squatting to describe what you're writing about here. Bu then I found that someone else had already discovered the term.

     

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    MLS, May 8th, 2008 @ 8:42am

    Monopoly of Ideas

    "Ideas Are Everywhere... So Why Do We Limit Them?"

    The simple answer is that our laws do not limit "ideas". Copyright law is limited to the expression used by an author to communicate an idea, and patent law is limited to a specific embodiment of an idea. In neither case is protection afforded to an idea per se.

     

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    Nicole, May 8th, 2008 @ 9:58am

    Re:

    IV does little (from what we've seen about them to date) to help in the implementation.

    Anyone have any first (or second) account experiences as an inventor working with IV? I'm curious... I'd like to see some substantiated evidence either way.

     

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    LP, May 8th, 2008 @ 11:32am

    Ideas, what are they good for?

    ...if these ideas are the natural progression, almost guaranteed to be discovered by someone sooner or later, why do we give a monopoly on these ideas to a single discoverer?

    Patents don't exist to encourage scientists to have more ideas. Ideas are cheap, and scientists already do this alot -- it's a temperamental attribute that explains why they become scientists. Patents exist to help commercialize ideas -- bring them out of the lab. This process, the process of making ideas into actual useful things, is really really expensive (~$1B for a new drug) -- having a limited market exclusivity is a good incentive to invest this kind of money in an idea. It isn't a perfect system -- sometimes independent inventors get shafted -- but it works to incentivize companies to incorporate new technology.

    Note that this rationalization is probably limited to bioscience and other industries where the cost of incorporating new technology is huge, and makes much less sense in the context of IT industries, where ideas can easily be turned into marketable products. This is why the proposed Patent Reform Act of 2007 occasioned such a schism between the sectors.

     

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    Nicole, May 8th, 2008 @ 12:03pm

    Re:

    One more note; you say that IV does little (from what we've seen about them to date) to help in the implementation. Maybe...but IV has done little (from what we've seen about them to date) to block others from innovating either.

     

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    angry dude, May 8th, 2008 @ 12:32pm

    Re: Ideas, what are they good for?

    Dude, you don't know squat about patents

    Patents exist with the ONLY purpose of promoting the progress of humanity by encouraging people to publicly disclose their inventions and discoveries (as opposed to keeping them as trade secrets) in exchange for limited-time exclusive rights

    That's all to it: nothing more and nothing less

     

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    Ian Ward-Bolton, May 8th, 2008 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re: Patents make life worse

    No, I do not live in the USA. I live in the UK. The whole of Western society is messed up due to our focus on competition.

    Without patents, progress would be made because humans naturally want to make progress. Ever noticed kids doing drawings or writing stories for free? Why do they do it? Why do people work on open source software for free? Because they want to make a positive contribution.

    Patents are all about greed. And please don't give the example of some fool who spends ten years working on his own, inventing something fantastic, who then is entitled to lots of money for it via a patent. If he shared his idea with others, it would have been better, and he could have finished it sooner, bringing benefit to mankind sooner. If you have trouble understanding this, let's pretend the invention was a cure for cancer. Should you wait ten years to get that out there or should you cooperate with others and get it done sooner?

    Another thing: ideas people who want to milk one idea via a patent are just scared that they won't come up with more ideas. If you really are that good, you will look to coming up with new things to make money, rather than squeezing money out of something you've already done, which might as well be given away for free for the good of humanity.

     

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  38.  
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    Mike (profile), May 8th, 2008 @ 7:28pm

    Re: Monopoly of Ideas

    The simple answer is that our laws do not limit "ideas". Copyright law is limited to the expression used by an author to communicate an idea, and patent law is limited to a specific embodiment of an idea. In neither case is protection afforded to an idea per se.

    Tell that to everyone who has been sued for coming up with an interesting idea and trying to implement it, only to find someone else has the patent on a tiny part of it.

    Tell that to RIM who had to pay $612 million for making email wireless.

    Tell that to the folks at various companies who are holding back from bringing out the next great product because they know they'll get sued for patent infringement.

    Sorry. Patents *do* limit ideas.

     

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  39.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 8th, 2008 @ 7:31pm

    Re: Ideas, what are they good for?

    This process, the process of making ideas into actual useful things, is really really expensive (~$1B for a new drug)

    First off, the $1B is a lie. Read Merrill Goozner's book for an explanation on that... It's much, much, much lower in reality (under $100 mil in most cases).

    having a limited market exclusivity is a good incentive to invest this kind of money in an idea.

    The economic research suggests otherwise. In fact, it suggests that patents are much more costly than helpful in most cases. Check out the new Bessen & Meurer book for details.

    sometimes independent inventors get shafted -- but it works to incentivize companies to incorporate new technology.

    Again, the evidence suggests otherwise. When doing actual studies on changes in patent law, there is NO evidence that it leads to greater incentives to innovate.

    Note that this rationalization is probably limited to bioscience and other industries where the cost of incorporating new technology is huge, and makes much less sense in the context of IT industries, where ideas can easily be turned into marketable products.

    I agree that the argument is stronger in areas where the capital costs are high, but much of the evidence suggests that, even there, patents are unnecessary.

     

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  40.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 8th, 2008 @ 7:33pm

    Re: Re:

    One more note; you say that IV does little (from what we've seen about them to date) to help in the implementation. Maybe...but IV has done little (from what we've seen about them to date) to block others from innovating either.

    To date, Nathan has not sued anyone -- but he's certainly said that he's leaving that option open.

    But that's not the same as saying he's not blocking others from innovating. Just knowing that certain patents are out there can limit others from innovating, knowing that it makes innovating in that area much more expensive.

     

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  41.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 8th, 2008 @ 7:35pm

    Re: Re: Patents make life worse

    Patents are prescribed by the Founding Fathers in the original US Constitution as a means to promote progress in money-driven capitalistic society

    Angry dude, why do you keep bringing this up, when we've shown what the Founding Fathers *actually* said about patents, noting that they should only be given in the rarest of circumstances, while also noting the very real risks that handing out patents would give?

    Then suggest something else other than patents that would work to promote the progress, smartass
    Patents are here to stay because they are necessary for continued progress


    Hmm. You know, we *have* suggested plenty of things that would work to promote the progress, while pointing to study after study after study showing why patents do *not* promote the progress.

    Funny that you don't seem to notice in your rush to insult us.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    MLS, May 8th, 2008 @ 9:29pm

    Re: Re: Monopoly of Ideas

    Patents do not limit ideas, and I am quite surprised you would even entertain a contrary view. Patents can on occasion have an impact on what a company eventually decides to roll off the assembly line, but then there is nothing preventing them from doing a work around should such a situation arise. In fact, this is precisely what patent law encourages.

    RIM is not a stellar example for any number of reasons, not the least of which is its entire litigation strategy. When initialy offered a license by NTP, a time when matters such as this can be settled amicably and at relatively modest cost, RIM chose to "bet the farm" by playing hardball. It lost, and has no one to blame but itself. It is interesting that NTP is criticized for asserting its patents against RIM, but not one mention is made of all the patent infringement cases RIM has filed against others.

    Patents are a fact of life in the business world, and all the carping in the world is not going to make them go away anytime soon. Learn to go with the flow, secure the services of a lawyer who actually understands the patent system, and one will find that the dire consequences of patents are so overstated that arguments that do have merit get lost in the anti-patent rhetoric.

     

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  43.  
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    Mike (profile), May 8th, 2008 @ 11:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Monopoly of Ideas

    Patents do not limit ideas, and I am quite surprised you would even entertain a contrary view. Patents can on occasion have an impact on what a company eventually decides to roll off the assembly line, but then there is nothing preventing them from doing a work around should such a situation arise. In fact, this is precisely what patent law encourages.

    That's twisting the truth and you know it. Patents absolutely limit ideas and I pointed out why. Do you think that RIM might have spent $612 million innovating as opposed to handing it over to a bunch of greedy lawyers?

    Patents limit the ability to implement ideas and they limit the ability to build on and learn from implementing ideas. They're a deadweight loss to innovation and society. There's simply no way you can credibly claim otherwise.

    As for the whole "it makes you work around" thing, that's also ridiculous. Why should someone need to do a workaround, if there's a better solution -- especially if they were invented independently? The idea that everyone should have to do things a different way makes absolutely no sense.

    If that were true, why do you not support rules that say only you can practice patent law? After all, everyone else can find something different to do. And wouldn't that make them more innovative by limiting their choices?

    And, that way you drive to work... only you should be able to drive that route. Everyone else should be innovative.

    Sorry, MLS, but I don't buy it.

    RIM is not a stellar example for any number of reasons, not the least of which is its entire litigation strategy

    Actually, that has nothing to do with anything, but nice try... RIM's litigation strategy may have been boneheaded, but it doesn't change the fact that they were forced to pay a ton of money for invalid patents on an idea that everyone agrees they independently invented to the estate (and lawyer) of a guy who failed to innovate where RIM had succeeded. It was about rewarding the marketplace loser, and I can't see how anyone can support that.

    When initialy offered a license by NTP, a time when matters such as this can be settled amicably and at relatively modest cost, RIM chose to "bet the farm" by playing hardball.

    Yes, when someone tries to extort you, you should always play ball, huh? Great life lessons from MLS.

    And when people try to walk all over you, you let them. Because it's just not worth the hassle.

    Are you such a pushover?

    It lost, and has no one to blame but itself.

    Or the judge who refused to wait a couple weeks to see if the USPTO would invalidate the patents, even though it said it would.

    It is interesting that NTP is criticized for asserting its patents against RIM, but not one mention is made of all the patent infringement cases RIM has filed against others.

    Ah, yes. Very interesting. Other than the fact that you're wrong.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20050316/1011212.shtml

    And I quote: "Of course, in some ways, it's only fair for RIM, who has been one of the more aggressive companies in suing others over their own patents. So, now they're getting a taste of their own medicine."

    The title of that post? RIM Gives In To NTP: Live By The Patent, Die By The Patent

    Not one mention, huh?

    MLS, you can come here and make false statements all you want, but it might help if you first used the search engine to make sure what you accused us of is actually, I dunno... true?

    Otherwise, I might have to call you on it.

    Patents are a fact of life in the business world, and all the carping in the world is not going to make them go away anytime soon. Learn to go with the flow, secure the services of a lawyer who actually understands the patent system, and one will find that the dire consequences of patents are so overstated that arguments that do have merit get lost in the anti-patent rhetoric.

    Ah yes. Here we have an awful system, but why point out that it's awful? What good could that possibly do? Go with the flow... accept extortion. Embrace it! Don't worry that it's harming our economy at the worst possible time. Why let that bother you?

    Sorry. If I see something wrong, that's causing incredible harm to our economy, I'm going to speak up. Not go with the flow. You may want to be a doormat, but I'd rather stand up for the right of people to innovate (and yes, I'm talking about an "affirmative" right, which is all too often denied by the "negative" right of patents).

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Rick Gellert, May 8th, 2008 @ 11:54pm

    Invention

    gentleman,

    I seem to be uniquely qualified to offer an opinion about this discussion topic, yet how smart can this man be? At the ripe young age of 56, I find myself living in a 1984 sport coach RV. Fortunately the RV I live in is in a heated warehouse that is also my workshop. Northern Illinois winters would be really rough living in an old RV. Really it is my choice to live this way because I have not made enough money as an inventor to afford a house and have toys like many of you do. Yet I love what I do.

    My name is Reinhard R. Gellert, and I am the inventor of the Venus II. The patent number is 5,501,650 which is titled the human response stimulator, and also is the first patent in the history of the United States containing a line drawing of a human penis.

    It took the better part of three years part-time just to create a machine that gives men orgasms as intensely and as often as desired. It took another three years to get the patent and to bring the product to market. I sold the rights in 1998 for $125,000 after finding that this machine did not produce enough revenue to sustain our small company. it is currently manufactured by Abco research, website Sybian.com.

    Since then I have continued being a mechanical contractor, and tried to bring another product called fuse-light birthday candles to market. That great product flopped after $200,000 and three years of full-time effort. Several patents are pending, but I wonder why we are still pursuing them.

    Three to four times more patents are being issued each year now as opposed to in the mid-90s. Regrettably, true innovation is less common with each passing year. The US PTO seems to have forgotten that the two critical elements for granting of patents still are novelty and unobviousness. Novelty in patent law means a lot more than just an incremental improvement. Unobviousness means that if you challenge 12 people skilled in the art to figure out how the invention works, 10 will be clueless.

    All of you need to know that if you become an inventor your investors-if you're lucky enough to have any-will insist on your product having patentability. Trust me, a patent is nowhere close to guaranteed success or riches. Want to get rich? Be a doctor or lawyer.

    Regardless, I still keep on trying. I am disappointed that so many meritless patents are getting awarded, and am even further disheartened that the original purpose of patents has become distorted to the benefit of large corporations, and to the detriment of innovation.

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    MLS, May 9th, 2008 @ 9:15am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Monopoly of Ideas

    Patents are a fact of life under our political system, and all the economic studies ever published stating/suggesting they are harmful matters not a whit unless cogent arguments are presented to Congress (together with campaign contributions). In large measure the same can be said of the literary musings of academics that for the most part are theoretical and not reflective of the "real world".

    You may pull your hair out over the antics of lobbying groups with financial and political clout, but all that will do is ensure you make an early pilgrimage to the Bosley Hair Restoration Group.

    "Going with the flow" is not capitulating. It is simply the recognition that the most effective way to achieve one's goals is to understand a system, and then use that system to one's advantage. From experience I have learned that the easiest way to affect change is to work from within. For example, an issue that has recently arisen to the forefront in patent law is the "business models" being pursued by patent holding companies. While some are certainly legitimate to the extent they are pooling resources to facilitate taking a product(s) to market, many have no such inclination. As to the latter, they seem to be little more than the land speculators most of us tend to villify since they do nothing to improve the land for a more productive use.

    Want to make the patent system fall more in line with your economic arguments? Try to identify those parts of it that could/should be changed, and then marshall the resources of respected business organizations having the interest and clout to move forward with your proposal(s).

    Do I think the system is perfect? Of course not. Do I believe changes need to be made to scale back its excesses? Of course I do. In order, however, to implement my ideas I need a forum that will actually listen. The ABA, the AIPLA, and a whole host of other organizations (legal and business) having "A" in their name provide such a forum.

    Believe it or not, but there are many like me who do believe that the excesses of the patent and copyright systems need to be curtailed so that the law returns back to why it was created in the first place. While patent law does have many excesses, its excesses pale in comparison with what is happening over on the copyright side of the ledger. The "Sonny Bono Act" is a prime example. The PRO IP Act you talk about in another article is yet another example, one I call the "Sonny Bono's Wife's Act" (she is one of its co-sponsors in the House).

    I do not mean to lecture, nor do I mean to demean your economic views (though I do disagree that "progress" is measured by more than just "economics" and that patents/copyrights are not property). I am just trying to point out that railing about injustices standing on the outside looking in is not likely to have any meaningful effect on changing the system.

     

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  46.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), May 9th, 2008 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Monopoly of Ideas

    Patents are a fact of life under our political system, and all the economic studies ever published stating/suggesting they are harmful matters not a whit unless cogent arguments are presented to Congress (together with campaign contributions).


    You don't think that recent efforts (failed, yes, but closer each year) towards reform didn't come from some of those more recent studies? You don't think companies who contribute to campaigns and lobby haven't been paying attention to this discussion?

    In large measure the same can be said of the literary musings of academics that for the most part are theoretical and not reflective of the "real world".

    Ah, yes, let's brush off numerous peer-reviewed studies that all come to the same conclusion as "literary musings" and "not reflective of the real world."

    Quite convincing.

    "Going with the flow" is not capitulating. It is simply the recognition that the most effective way to achieve one's goals is to understand a system, and then use that system to one's advantage.

    What makes you think I'm not?

    From experience I have learned that the easiest way to affect change is to work from within.

    What makes you think I'm not.

    This argument always makes me laugh. People seem to think that speaking about things and effecting change are somehow mutually exclusive.

    Want to make the patent system fall more in line with your economic arguments? Try to identify those parts of it that could/should be changed, and then marshall the resources of respected business organizations having the interest and clout to move forward with your proposal(s).

    See above.

    You really think that because I write about stuff that somehow precludes the other things?

    Bizarre.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    MLS, May 9th, 2008 @ 9:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Monopoly of Ideas

    Mr. Masnick,

    Please let me assure you that nothing I may post is in any manner intended to denigrate either your opinions or your character. Mine are general comments for the most part, with an occassional digression into what I believe to be are either more accurate characterizations of what the law is or to try and provide some form of perspective based upon my experience over the 30 years I have practiced what many are prone to refer to as IP law.

    Importantly, one of the reasons I have over the past several weeks perused to articles posted by you and your colleagues is to try and get a "feel" for where you and others who may share views similar to you are coming from. While in several regards I may disagree with the views expressed in some of the articles, that does not in any way mean that I dismiss them out of hand. To the contrary, they are informative and useful.

     

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  48.  
    identicon
    Gheorghe Matei, May 10th, 2008 @ 12:39pm

    The most software invention from now forever

    It's very simple to discuss. After a life of work and studies, living with $200/month, I have a fundamental invention in software! What can I do? I can teach you for $0.00! You can gain $1000000000. It's OK!!!!!!!!! Many people think that inventions come from the sky. No!!!!!!!!!!!! Sacrifices and humiliations.
    In addition: An innovation means 1%, 2%. An invention is a (r)evolution. You think about transistor in hardware. An invention is a vital thing. The current software model is horrible. IBM? Microsoft? SUN? Oracle? Open Source? Maximum Complications and Payments! Maximum expenditure!
    Fire! Fire to the current software model!!!
    Beyond Any Imagination! That is Beyond Elites, Luminaries, Gurus, Experts, Analysts, CIO, CEO, and so on. I talk about a fundamental invention in software:
    The Informational Individual as the final frontier of the software concepts, the unique universal concept of the Informational Society.
    http://gheorghematei.blogspot.com BRAINERS CLUB.

    The current software model is a danger for the human society. We must start an invention in software!

     

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  49.  
    identicon
    Michael F. Martin, May 12th, 2008 @ 1:40pm

    Rebuilding the division of labor between inventors and entrepreneurs

    IP is a limited exclusive right to an inventor's time, not a limited exclusive right to a thing. Lawyers, business people, and politicians should consider how the patent law will affect the activities of inventors. We would promote the progress of arts and sciences better by building legal and financial institutions that recognized the benefit of a division of labor between inventing ideas and building things.

    See brokensymmetry.typepad.com for more.

     

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  50.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 19th, 2008 @ 12:28am

    Who's talking about "Monopoly of Ideas"

    The article is good and differentiates quite well I find.
    except for the concept of "Monopoly of Ideas".

    Assuming that random "ideas" or "words" are the core of intellectual property rights and assuming therefore that a body of poetic work for instance "owes" to everybody, would be of course a very "poor" characterization both of Art and of property.

    Does anyone assume that physical property in fact stretches over random molecules? (But then of course, electricity cannot be sold, houses cannot be rented)

    It's quite an ugly concept.

    Patent is monopoly over a FUNCTION (not an idea) in fact, therefore it could be considered indeed to conflict with free will principles I believe. No matter what "founding fathers" say (I live in "socialist" France so I'm not sure personal freedom should be granted to Americans only)

    Copyright is monopoly over one's own IDENTITY resources, gained through homesteading. Therefore it cannot hurt any individual freedom principle... just like trademark wouldn't.

     

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  51.  
    identicon
    Artisan, May 19th, 2008 @ 12:33am

    Who's talking about "Monopoly of Ideas"

    The article is good and differentiates quite well I find.
    except for the concept of "Monopoly of Ideas".

    Assuming that random "ideas" or "words" are the core of intellectual property rights and assuming therefore that a body of poetic work for instance "owes" to everybody, would be of course a very "poor" characterization both of Art and of property.

    Does anyone assume that physical property in fact stretches over random molecules? (But then of course, electricity cannot be sold, houses cannot be rented)

    It's quite an ugly concept.

    Patent is monopoly over a FUNCTION (not an idea) in fact, therefore it could be considered indeed to conflict with free will principles I believe. No matter what "founding fathers" say (I live in "socialist" France so I'm not sure personal freedom should be granted to Americans only)

    Copyright is monopoly over one's own IDENTITY resources, gained through homesteading. Therefore it cannot hurt any individual freedom principle... just like trademark wouldn't.

     

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  52.  
    identicon
    Alvis, May 21st, 2008 @ 3:57pm

    New Ideas Are Redundant, Systems Must Adjust

    Great piece Mike. Your analysis is spot on, Gladwell certainly seems to have missed the more important story: as we quantify simultaneous idea formation we begin to realize the patent system is out-dated. I am optimistic that a combination of web-based records of everything, social media approaches, evolving semantic web apps, evolving AI, humans ascending the hierarchy of needs and the growing realization that idea formation is highly redundant will catalyze the formation of a new system. (See this Future Blogger response.) Similarly, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the various possible solutions.

     

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  53.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 30th, 2008 @ 9:42am

    Re:

    ur a pussy

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
    identicon
    SMP, Nov 12th, 2008 @ 2:50pm

    Re: NTP and RIM

    What is more is that NTP's patents were found to be invalid subsequently. RIM knew they were but were forced to pay out in order to prevent being forced out of business because of an injunction granted to NTP due to the presumption that patents are valid unless otherwise proven - despite the fact that statistically, the majority of software patents granted by the US patent office turn out to be junk patents which are subsequently invalidated.

     

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  55.  
    identicon
    vaughn nebeker, Dec 22nd, 2008 @ 12:20pm

    anti-carsanomia...

    have a reality cheack. i used to makr orphen drug's for five MD's plus a pharmasest... the serpent veniouem i use targeit a carsanomia 100% percent [so the phnomia ] is right. the delooting out of the tocken. was enuff to pass USFDA... so the scince was right. I even put in a safty margen [ in adding exstria delotting out the tocken over speck's]... in doing the drug ths way when USFDA thow it out it only kill's people. the hang up is the five docter's died of old age, an i have to renetwork... a cleanicel senior master lab tech with 30 years exsprince..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  56.  
    identicon
    Jagex, Feb 11th, 2009 @ 10:07am

    COME AND PLAY

    Come to Runescape.com and play, or we will find you!! and rape every one of you

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  57.  
    icon
    DWagner (profile), Jul 8th, 2010 @ 5:12pm

    Patent monopolies are neccesary to develop the inventions!

    If we didn't have the patent system and I develop an idea/invention. Once I tried to bring it to market, if it was a good idea, people with the capital would step and take it over, making my time/effort to develop the idea wasted. At least with the patent system the person with the patent has an incentive to develop it.

     

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  58.  
    identicon
    darryl, Nov 7th, 2010 @ 6:46am

    "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer."

    "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer."

    Really, or is it you just cant think of any ?
    We know you have limited knowledge. So I will help you again !!!.

    Edison Effect
    Faraday cage
    Faraday Effect
    Bose-Einstein condensate
    Buckky Balls
    Ohms Law
    Haylies commet
    Sheumaker levi 9
    cromption effect
    Dewer Flack
    Murphy's Law
    Tesla Coil
    Plank constant
    Hisenburg principle
    Kirchoff Law
    Doppler Effect
    Newtonian Telescope
    Dobsonian Telescope
    SeeBeck Effect
    Einsteinium (an Element)
    Dunlop (tyres)
    Ford (cars I think)
    Plank length

    Thats just off the top off the head, im sure there are thousands more I do not know.

    So when you say "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer."

    You really mean that you do not know of any, there is a difference.. Seems often you dont know alot..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  59.  
    identicon
    darryl, Nov 7th, 2010 @ 6:50am

    Lets all join in ... !!!

    Moores Law (computer speed increase)
    Von Neuman (CPU structure)

    Lets see how many you can come up with !!! :)

    Seems None so far.. LOL

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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