How The Patent System Is Like A Broken Web Cache

from the kills-the-pace-of-innovation dept

Rick Falkvinge has posted a thought-provoking piece that analogizes the patent system to various forms of web caching and their impact on discussions. As he notes, in online discussion forums and blogs, if there’s a delay from when your comment is made to when it appears, the conversations tend to be slower and less involved. It gets really bad when all comments need to be moderated and that’s because you don’t get that immediate fulfillment. Honestly, one of the reasons why I think Twitter took off at the level it did was because it felt so realtime (and became more so over time).

And yet, the patent system is quite different. The whole basis is that you have to delay things.

You can observe the same phenomenon on moderated blogs, but on a much tougher scale. There, it can take hours for people to be able to build on and improve upon ideas, as the bottleneck is that much thinner. If somebody needs to manually approve a comment in a particular location, that?s basically a guarantee that there will not be a meaningful improvement of ideas in that location.

Now, imagine a twenty-year web cache server. If you come up with a good idea, people won?t be able to improve on your ideas and take them to the next level for twenty years. Another twenty for a total of forty years before you could respond in turn. You suffer. They suffer. The exchange of ideas as a whole doesn?t just suffer, it crawls to a near-stop, its velocity measurable only by laser precision measurements.

If five minutes of wait time kills the rate of ideas as much as it really and actually does in all our experience, what would a timescale of decades do?

The obvious retort is that innovation is different than a discussion. But, that’s not really true. So many studies on innovation have shown that it’s an ongoing process and that a big part of that process is often communication with others (not even directly about the innovation at hand) to replenish ideas and to keep things fresh and moving forward. It actually has many characteristics of a discussion.

So, with that in mind, Falkvinge’s point is even stronger than you might think. He goes beyond just arguing that innovation is slowed down for the twenty year patent delay, to basically say that innovation is stifled to a much greater degree, because the necessary participation, experimentation and idea generation by others is so stifled, that they don’t even take part.

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Comments on “How The Patent System Is Like A Broken Web Cache”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Only true when "improvements" are trifling.

You are generalizing from a mess in which there’s an actual patent for an MP3 player on a washing machine. That should be tossed out after reading, the fee not only kept but doubled with fine for stupidity in “contempt of patent office”.

But as there’s no way out of bureaucratism (including that at corporations which file stupid patents) except by revolution, it’s intractable.

As to last paragraph: no, I think it arguable that being forced to find other ways to implement the same idea can actually help. It’s only when the ideas aren’t very fundamental that the tangle arises. And you’re discussing this as if the problem is totally of information flow: meanwhile, the Chinese are just manufacturing without regard to patents, and the US manufactures less every day.

A closely associated problem is the maturing of educational institutions that produce only weenies who’ll never get near manufacturing: they regard “ideas” as widgets. Focusing on an essentially irrelevant area with a silly analogy — have you never heard of queuing analysis? — is just more ivory tower blather, academics pretending that they’re engaged in trying to find a solution, when in fact they’re just a drain on those who produce.

AdamBv1 (profile) says:

Re: Only true when "improvements" are trifling.

As to last paragraph: no, I think it arguable that being forced to find other ways to implement the same idea can actually help. It’s only when the ideas aren’t very fundamental that the tangle arises.

I would have to disagree because there always seem to be people out there so say “yeah that works and everyone is doing it but there just has to be a better way”. You do not always have to force people to find different ways and forcing people to find different ways to do something does not always make actual improvements because alternatives are sometimes unworkable at a current technology level.

So while I understand how you can think the patent system is helping is create a diversity of ideas and solutions I think you will find that thanks to how human nature and creativity works you would find all these alternatives out there anyways when there are needs for them.

David Muir (profile) says:

Rethinking the Patent Office

Wouldn’t it be cool if the search for prior art that’s done as part of the patent process should allow for instant discussion among inventors? The moderation (fly-on-the-wall style moderation, not “approval” style moderation) would be done by the patent office, with two resulting benefits: the patent office would be educated about how original the filing actually is (because now they are often clueless) and the inventors with the filing would be able to actually stand on the shoulders of giants, while those giants would be given a chance to improve their own ideas.

The patent office would hold a repository of ideas upon which inventors could draw, as opposed to being the keyholders for a series of padlocks put on any particular innovation.

Of course, this would also have to happen in conjunction with some sort of change to the law reflecting non-exclusivity and implementation notions. Ideally, those who execute on an idea are free to profit from it, but everyone else is free to improve upon it.

Mike says:

Patents & Delay

I’m not sure I buy this. Among other things, many small inventors file for patents around the time that they bring a product to market. Thus, the contribution to the “discussion” is not slowed in any meaningful sense by the delays at the patent office. If anything, the patent application acts like a transcript of that contribution.

There are exceptions to this, of course. Certain patent applications publish long before a product comes to market, if it ever does. Many Apple patents fit into this category: designs and “new” features crop up in news reports discussing things filed in Apple applications. There is no shortage of irony to me when I read about new Apple features disclosed on slashdot, for example, that were revealed in a patent application.

But like many transcripts, logs, cache files, etc., few people bother to look. Then they’re all hot and bothered when an application filed 7 years ago claims a feature they implemented as a second comer.

Coreigh (profile) says:

Original purpose of patents

Was not the idea of Patents conceived to protect a given innovator from having his designs/plans/ideas stolen and used by others? People or organizations with few resources could hold the rights long enough to get to market or license the rights to another? The deep pockets in the world have simply side-stepped this and are (trying to) patent anything and everything conceivable so that IF they or anyone ever decides to bring something to market they already hold the patent. Talk about stifling innovation! Shouldn’t you have to show intent to actually USE the patent (produce or license) AND be required to FORFEIT said patent if you do not produce or license within a set period of time (that is FAR less than a typical patent life)?

Oh in an ideal world … what would we have to get excited about?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Original purpose of patents

Stolen by corporations… such as when it is standard practice for the corporation to take ownership of all ideas; instead of merely tolerating a compulsory zero fee license to use the idea of the inventor that was in their employment at the time?

In a free market ample competition would allow someone to bypass those asking unreasonable fees and/or terms; but honestly isn’t there always /some/ unemployment? Not to mention things like H1B visas for the US…

patent litigation (user link) says:

falkvinge faulty

I disagree with the Falkvinge post because it relies on the faulty premise that ideas are somehow stifled by the patent system. In fact, this is not the case, due to the publication requirement, which mandates publication of the contents of patent applications. Because of this requirement, members of the public have access to all of the ideas underlying a patent or patent application; they are only prevented from using the specific technology as implemented. And, if they are creative enough, they can find a way around such limitations and use the published ideas as springboards for their own inventions.

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