Would Photography Have Been Different If It Had Been Patented Up?

from the who-needs-patents? dept

Reader Murdoch points us to one of Wired's regular "this day in tech" history pieces about how Louis Daguerre revealed all of the "secrets" to making daguerrotypes, which was the basis for photography, in 1839. Rather than a "patent" to lock up the offering, the French government gave Daguerre and his partner, Isidore Niepce, pensions in exchange for freeing the knowledge -- with each receiving the equivalent today of $30,000 per year -- a decent, but hardly huge sum. And with all that information public, suddenly everyone started innovating on the idea and trying to improve it, leading to modern photography.

Also, as you read the details, you could see how it could have even made sense for Daguerre to have freed up the idea anyway, without the government pension:
With a flurry of advance publicity, Daguerre and Arago made the technical details public on Aug. 19. They also described Niepce's earlier processes, heliography and the physautotype, but presented the daguerreotype alone as having a future.

And what a future! Within days, opticians and chemists in Paris sold out of the supplies needed to make cameras and plates. Improvements to the process followed within weeks. Daguerre's instruction manual was translated into a dozen languages within months.

No one wanted to have a portrait painted; everyone wanted a daguerreotype. Studios opened all over Paris. "Daguerreotypomania" spread from Paris to the rest of France, then across the continent, across the channel to England and across the Atlantic to America.
Notice how the freeing of the ideas not only led almost immediately to important improvements, but it also drove all sorts of business opportunities in related scarcities. In theory, even without a pension, you could see how the inventors could have lined up a partnership or investment to help sell the supplies needed to make the cameras and plates -- which quickly became a lucrative business. or, certainly, they could have helped set up or financed the "Daguerreotypomania" studios as well.

It's yet another example of where freeing an idea, rather than limiting it, actually resulted in much greater innovation and much greater economic activity. That's what promoting the progress is supposed to be about, but it's funny how it's the lack of patents that seems to do that more than patents.

Just as a thought exercise, what do you think would have happened if Daguerre had been able to patent the concept instead. Would there have been such a rapid pace of innovation? Would there have been as many sales? Would studios and such a mania happen all over the world? I would bet that all of that would be quite unlikely.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2010 @ 9:59pm

    "Would Photography Have Been Different If It Had Been Patented Up?"

    We would still be using low resolution black and white cameras with film that you must develop in a darkroom.

     

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    Jay (profile), Aug 25th, 2010 @ 10:22pm

    We'd have a literal dark ages...

    We talk about James Watt. I think we have other inventors that we can discuss that loved stopping ideas.

    Edison caused more people to move west to avoid his patents. I find it ironic how that's had more of a freedom in Silicon Valley and yet Hollywood wants to lock everything down...

    There's a lot of other ideas that should be flying around right now but unfortunately, they aren't. I don't think we have to go too much into that...

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2010 @ 10:40pm

    Olive leaf

    Interesting.

    Photography like any art is just that. I met with someone yesterday who had a number of good camera bodies and lenses in a cabinet. So they had lenses in a corner cabinet, and the one handed to me was a 15mm and it went down to a 2f, and I asked "I'm here to fix your immediate needs of a website, but what is it that you really want to do, and how can I help?"

    So it was interesting because it reminded me a lot of the bitching that happens here. People given the opportunity, will share different ideas, different concepts, different goals. Look at the sudden increase of story quantity over the past two weeks.

    Shit, Mike churned out 8 stories to bury the noon-ish Google Article on Friday, which is much higher than average... :-)

    Sure, we need advertisers. But the truth. The truth always wins.

    Maybe we need to move this discussion to Mike's dungeon.

     

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  4.  
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    mike allen (profile), Aug 25th, 2010 @ 11:17pm

    noted not a large sum but a living sum for life. interesting that the french Gov. did this not a copyright board.

     

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  5.  
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    Darren, Aug 25th, 2010 @ 11:35pm

    Do we need to make software an art?

     

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  6.  
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    scott, Aug 25th, 2010 @ 11:45pm

    14 years

    You do realize patents are fairly short lived - 14 years in the US.

    Do you really think a 14 year delay would dramatically alter modern photography? I assume there were 20th century photographic advances that were patented and possibly helped get photography where it is today.

    I don't mind patents. I can wait for them to expire. DMCA copyright durations are nuts though -- works are supposed to enter the public domain at some point.

     

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  7. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 25th, 2010 @ 11:47pm

    Indeed comments are supposed to be art intended for a specific audience. When someone becomes selfish about their display, it is noted.

    I have to ask:
    Do you know how to write a screenplay yet?

    I sent you some ideas. Check that Moderated folder you use. It must be getting big.

     

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  8.  
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    darryl, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 12:14am

    1839, anything this milenia ?

    I would not be calling that a victory for your idea of a patent free world.

    They did not 'just give up the information' they basically sold the patent rights or IP to the french government.

    So what, if the government chooses to make it public that is their right, as they own the 'rights' to it.

    So getting him to announce the 'discovery', was icing on the cake for him, and a nice way to give a name to the technique.

    Sure, it might of been a hit for the time, its something new, when before that all there was was paintings.

    So they needed a method of reward for their work before they were willing to make that information public.

    Like today, most need that reward to fund their work, and to live... Without some kind of reward system things dont get done..

    He obviously felt that commercialisation of that was not for him, and that the money for selling his idea was enough.

    What or how is that different to the present day patent system, where if you come up with something good, that people are willing and want to use, why should you not be rewarded in some way for what you have done to help society ?

    1829, Hmm, that is a LONG time ago, is that how far back in time you need to go to find examples of why patents are no good ?

    what other examples, mabey from this milenium can you show us ?

    What about Kodachrome, or the 'Instamatic' if you want to talk photography were they patented,, Yes, were they HUGE hits,, YES..

    Or,,, the transistor, quite sure that was patented, do you think the speed of progress in solid state technology has been greatly hampered by the publishing of the patents for the germanium transistor ?

    I dont think so... Did the patent on the transistor stop development on the integrated circuit ? NO..

    So you have to go well over 100 years in history for your examples, but neglect to mention the almost infinite number of technology advancement success stories, that have resulted from out existing patent system.

    The "for's" are vastly overwhelming the "against's".

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 12:44am

    Daguerre made an exception, keeping patent rights for the UK. So Fox Talbot had an umbrella for developing his (almost finished) other photo process -- the neg-pos one that became dominant for the net century or more.
    Bengt-Arne Vedin

     

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  10.  
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    Ken Loh (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 1:01am

    Progress "Due to" or "In Spite of" Patents?

    @daryl

    Thanks for offering the other side of the coin to the topic.

    Would you be able to elaborate on how the progress that you have cited were due to patents and not in spite of them?

     

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  11.  
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    Jay (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 1:19am

    Re: 1839, anything this milenia ?

    It was one time that I felt you might actually pay attention to your own words and have a good battle.

    Now I feel sorry for you. You're stuck giving one large diatribe that you can never fully back once someone's debunked it.

    It's kinda like being a disc player stuck on repeat.

     

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  12.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 2:43am

    Re:

    Fox Talbot did patent his process and caused a huge backlash. Eventually he was persuaded not to renew his patent and photography was able to move on.

     

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  13.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 2:53am

    Re: 1839, anything this milenia ?


    Or,,, the transistor, quite sure that was patented, do you think the speed of progress in solid state technology has been greatly hampered by the publishing of the patents for the germanium transistor ?


    Didn't bother to check did you - just in case the facts didn't support your theory. Well I did (took no more than 30 seconds) the best reference is here

    Seems to me that the patent system's main effects were to cause a falling out between the original inventors - and btw it doesn't seem like they were interested in the financial reward - just the glory.

     

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  14.  
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    trix, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 3:22am

    Re: 14 years

    14 years is a very long time. Maybe back then it would've been fine, but in todays extremely fastmoving world, 14 years are just far too long.

     

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  15.  
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    Nuke, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 5:07am

    Calotypes and Daguerrotypes

    This is a really bad example.

    For one thing, Daguerre and Niepce did not give up their patent, they sold it (to the French Government, as others have pointed out). Niepce was the scientist; Daguerre was the entrepreneur who saw (but vastly underestimated) the money to be made by it.

    But more importantly, the Dageurrotype, while it had a brief day, was a technical dead end. Photography soon turned to the Calotype negative-positive method invented (before the Daguerrotype) by Fox Talbot. It remained basically that, obviously with vast imp

     

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  16.  
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    Nuke, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 5:07am

    Calotypes and Daguerrotypes

    This is a really bad example.

    For one thing, Daguerre and Niepce did not give up their patent, they sold it (to the French Government, as others have pointed out). Niepce was the scientist; Daguerre was the entrepreneur who saw (but vastly underestimated) the money to be made by it.

    But more importantly, the Dageurrotype, while it had a brief day, was a technical dead end. Photography soon turned to the Calotype negative-positive method invented (before the Daguerrotype) by Fox Talbot. It remained basically that, obviously with vast improvement, right up until digital.

    Fox Talbot around 1840 was a dilettante and had told few people (Herschel was one) about his invention, but when he saw the money being made in the "Daguerromania" he went public with his calotype method - patented! - and went into business. Sadly, he became obsessed with protecting his patents, and tried to claim that the subsequent improvements, like the Scott-Archer wet plate method, should still bring him royalties.

    Photography developed along the line Fox Talbot pioneered despite his patents.

     

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  17.  
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    angry dude, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 5:18am

    I am ready to give up my patent

    Where is my pension, Mikey ?

    To hell with the pension, just reducing my NJ property tax by 50% (currently at 10K a year) would be enough

    Welcome to modern capitalistic society, where everybody wants to rip off everybody else, patent holders included

     

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  18.  
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    darryl, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 5:54am

    patent system's main effects were to cause a falling out between the original inventors OH NO.. a tiff..

    Or,,, the transistor, quite sure that was patented, do you think the speed of progress in solid state technology has been greatly hampered by the publishing of the patents for the germanium transistor ?


    Didn't bother to check did you - just in case the facts didn't support your theory. Well I did (took no more than 30 seconds) the best reference is here

    Seems to me that the patent system's main effects were to cause a falling out between the original inventors - and btw it doesn't seem like they were interested in the financial reward - just the glory.


    Oh really, so the patents on the transistor caused a 'falling out' between some people.. No wonder we never see transistors in use today then !!!...

    I wondered why.. thanks for letting me know.
    That the failure of the solid state technology industry, (including moores law), caused a falling out between co-workers. (as if that just NEVER HAPPENS)..

    BTW: I really wanted to try to want to follow you link, but I just could not be bothered.. If you need others to talk for you, fine but its better if you speak for yourself..

    Alot more credability there..

     

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  19.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 6:08am

    Re: 14 years

    14 years would mean that digital cameras were just now coming out. There would be no such thing as a camera phone let alone the 5 megapixel one in the iPhone. I wouldn't have the point and shoot camera I have now.

    But that's just assuming there would be no other patents after the original 14 years were up. Daguerre may have continued inventing and innovating and gotten more patents for the new items, thus stalling development even further.

    That extra 14 years wouldn't have just affected photography, where do you think movies (AKA moving pictures) came from? Films would be at least 14 years behind the times. This would also cause CGI to be delayed slowing one force for computer development.

    Damn, the butterfly effect is a bitch.

     

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  20.  
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    Modplan (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 6:10am

    Re: patent system's main effects were to cause a falling out between the original inventors OH NO.. a tiff..

    Darryl: Can't be bothered to read any thing that debunks his view of the world.

    Not really surprising, but thanks for the confirmation.

     

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  21.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 6:15am

    Re: Re: 14 years

    considering the average lifespan was much shorter then, 14 years was a much longer time to wait.

     

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  22.  
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    ChrisB (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 7:06am

    Re: Re: Re: 14 years

    > considering the average lifespan was much shorter then

    Be careful how you interpret life expectancy charts. Life expectancy at birth is distorted by high child mortality. If you compare life expectancy at 10, this is what you get (for white males):
    Year, Life Expectancy
    1850, 58
    1900, 61
    1950, 69
    2000, 75

    A definite rise, but not as dramatic if you compared life expectancy at birth, which goes from 38 (1850) to 75 (2000).

     

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  23.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 12:49pm

    Re:

    Way back then $30,000 would have been a huge sum.

    In the end Daguerre made more from his development and the rapid commercialization of it that he ever would have from a patent on it.

     

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  24.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Calotypes and Daguerrotypes

    Still Daguerre made a nice living off it given the time period it remained the only development method and photographers, developers and Photoshop have been trying to recreate the look since.

    Remember that while it didn't cost a lot to set up a shop it was Daguerre and Niepce who were the experts on it and ended up teaching the ins and outs of it. For a fee, of course.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 1:58pm

    Daguerre

    OOPS! Three different discussions all blended together - result, information mush!
    1. Would Daguerre have opened up his invention without the money? I don't know - do people throw away $30,000 per year times two for two indeterminate lifetimes just for the fun of it? If they do, mention my name; but I won't hold my breath. Meanwhile, the patent system, properly applied, was intended to do what the money in question did. The fact that our system is seriously broken does not reflect on the wisdom of what the French government did - essentially, grant a special kind of patent!
    2. "Notice how the freeing of the ideas not only led almost immediately to important improvements, but it also drove all sorts of business opportunities in related scarcities."
    Yes, apparently because the French government allowed a type of patent - the fact that it was a more intelligent system than the one we have is not the point.
    3. "Notice how the freeing of the ideas not only led almost immediately to important improvements, but it also drove all sorts of business opportunities in related scarcities. In theory, even without a pension, you could see how the inventors could have lined up a partnership or investment to help sell the supplies needed to make the cameras and plates -- which quickly became a lucrative business. or, certainly, they could have helped set up or financed the "Daguerreotypomania" studios as well."
    In a similar situation (steel manufacture) Carnegie took the idea without giving the inventors even a credit, much less any money.
    I question the sanity of investors who would pay someone else to make a fortune when they could just take the idea from them - why give Daguerre any money for any reason, when you could have it all to yourself? Your idea of what the term "businessman" means sounds more like charity - and as a top executive for 25 years, let me assure you that my charitable work never interfered with business (take Bill Gates for example - a "great white shark" in business, but all heart as a philanthropist.

     

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  26.  
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    Tek'a R (profile), Aug 26th, 2010 @ 6:01pm

    Re: Re:

    -- with each receiving the equivalent today of $30,000 per year --


    The actual amount would of course have been lower. This is simply making the conversion to todays money to prevent comments like "a 20 dollar pension?! that guy was insane!"


     

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  27.  
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    Danny, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 9:21am

    Not a real comment.

    I just want to chime in to say that I misread the title and thought it asked, "Would Pornagraphy Have Been Different If It Had Been Patented Up?".

    But actually now that I think about it what if certain sex acts in porn had been copyrighted/trademarked/patented etc...?

     

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  28.  
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    Ronald J Riley (profile), Sep 9th, 2010 @ 12:15pm

    TechDIRT FUD

    http://www.westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi

    What cost $30000 in 1839 would cost $596861.92 in 2009.

    Also, if you were to buy exactly the same products in 2009 and 1839,
    they would cost you $30000 and $1501.85 respectively.

    More FUD. Mike says "with each receiving the equivalent today of $30,000 per year -- a decent, but hardly huge sum."

    So the pair received about 1.2 million in today's dollars per year. That is a very nice deal, better than the deal a majority of inventors get today.

    If the government started handing out these kinds of rewards, 1.2 million a year for twenty years (remember that the example was for life) most inventors would be happy settle.

    Ronald J. Riley,

    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
    President - Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (810) 597-0194 - (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2010 @ 1:45am

    Re: TechDIRT FUD

    More RJR MisMathematics and word play. TODAY they would have earned $30,000 per year. Not $1.2 million dollars. Then they received the $1,501.85 you also quoted, but failed to state it as the number. Didn't make for good Mike FUD.

    If you're going to try and make shit up, at least make it believable.

     

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