Nobel Prize Winners Continue To Explain How IP Hurts Innovation

from the time-for-a-change dept

We've discussed multiple times in the past about how economics Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz believes that patents hurt innovation. Michael Geist points us to Stiglitz's latest speech, where he teamed up with John Sulston, a 2002 Nobel Laureate in Physiology/Medicine, to point out how the patent system is stifling innovation. It's great to see Stiglitz continue to point out the problems caused by the patent system (and great to see other Nobel winners noticing as well). While Stiglitz has normally focused on pharmaceutical patents, in this speech he also touched on software patents. While Stiglitz hasn't yet come around to believing that patents should be abandoned, he is quite convinced that they're doing plenty of harm in many cases, often locking up innovation and costing society a lot more than they benefit it.


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  1.  
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    Jake, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 11:00am

    I'm pretty much in agreement with Geist's points. The original purpose of the patent system was to force commercial and industrial interests to come up with their own new and innovative devices instead of directly copying someone else's; I think we can all agree that this benefits the economy, expands the sum of human knowledge and is generally A Good Thing. The fact that it's suffered rather badly from 'mission creep' is not necessarily an overwhelming argument for doing away with it altogether, though I must concede that this sort of mess is exactly why a vocal minority of the Founding Fathers thought the Constitution could do without provision for patents.

     

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  2.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 11:29am

    Re:

    I'm pretty much in agreement with Geist's points.

    Sorry, it's Stiglitz's point, not Geist's. I made a little edit in the post to clarify.

    The original purpose of the patent system was to force commercial and industrial interests to come up with their own new and innovative devices instead of directly copying someone else's; I think we can all agree that this benefits the economy, expands the sum of human knowledge and is generally A Good Thing.

    I'm not necessarily sure that's true. It assumes, for example, that by starting fresh every time people will come up with better ideas. I'd argue that much of the history of innovation is actually taking the ideas of others and improving on them. That doesn't exclude doing something entirely new, but there's no reason to force it.

    The fact that it's suffered rather badly from 'mission creep' is not necessarily an overwhelming argument for doing away with it altogether, though I must concede that this sort of mess is exactly why a vocal minority of the Founding Fathers thought the Constitution could do without provision for patents.

    Sure. But there are other arguments beyond mission creep for doing away with the patent system.

     

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  3.  
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    angry dude, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 11:46am

    Re:

    Hey punk

    What "vocal minority" are you talking about ?

    As far as I remember patents and copyright clause was one of a few clauses unanimously adopted by the drafters

     

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  4.  
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    Abdul, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 11:52am

    It's nice to hear big guns like Stiglitz now accepting the reality of what ordinary folks like us have long accepted. We still awiat for the time when Stiglitz will come out boldly and declare tha patent should be abadoned. The internet like many technologies thrives on innovation and whatever boundaries that are stiffling this innovation had get to give way.Patents are just after money and nothing else: Trolling for Dollars With Internet Patents(http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=562&doc_id=150187&F_src=flftw o)

     

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  5.  
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    angry dude, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:03pm

    Mudak

    every f***** little thing is about money in this capitalistic society

    Why don't you become an organ donor ?

     

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  6.  
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    angry dude, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:06pm

    Come on punks

    Listen to your teacher - Mike, the Great Master of BS

     

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  7.  
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    angry dude, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:09pm

    BS

    The Splendor of Your Bullshit

    Look, dude, poetically speaking
    Or not, your bullshit does not
    Impress me--no matter how you say it--
    Briefly or otherwise; just know
    That I am here to have fun, that's all--
    No matter what you think of my
    Use of language--whether drunk or sober--
    I express what's on my mind--


    And I don't need to throw chairs
    Or tables, or toilet seats into some
    Clever verses, calling out for some
    Panspermic universe; life is
    Mysterious enough, you know,
    And you can call me an idiot, et cetera,
    Et cetera, and that's just fine with me--
    For I enjoy my freedom from
    Your cerebral masturbation,
    Your enjambments and your
    Arbitrary breath stops--
    Doo me, shooby-doo-bee, doo-bop...


    No, I don't need your definition
    Of what's good poetry and what's
    Self-indulgent neophyte verse--
    Your bullshit doesn't matter in the least--
    No matter how many times you
    Revise it, over and over and over...


    It all adds up to nothing in the end--
    The sofas, the chairs, the pillows,
    That jar of mayonnaise that you left
    Open for that fly to snack on,
    Your stupid underwear, and your
    Girlfriend who left you for a more
    Good-looking writer, who knows
    How to play guitar--it's all irrelevant--
    Doo me, shooby-doo-bee, doo-bop, doo-hop...


    And you will talk about it
    Like some poetic zit on your butt,
    That you discovered while showering
    And composing your latest
    Masterpiece at 4 a.m.,
    Looking for that light at the end
    Of the tunnel...
    But there was nothing but cold coffee,
    Dry toast, and an empty bed,
    That was too small for your
    Giant ego.

     

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  8.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re:

    What "vocal minority" are you talking about ?

    Angry dude loves to deny reality.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080220/020252302.shtml

    "But grants of this sort can be justified in very peculiar cases only, if at all; the danger being very great that the good resulting from the operation of the monopoly, will be overbalanced by the evil effect of the precedent; and it being not impossible that the monopoly itself, in its original operation, may produce more evil than good."
    -- James Madison

     

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  9.  
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    Mr Rich, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:16pm

    All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Only rich, famous and dont=have-to-do-anything-for-rest-of-the life people can say that.

    If I have ideas and somebody is using them to make money then I want to be paid for it!

     

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  10.  
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    Jake, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re:

    I'd argue that much of the history of innovation is actually taking the ideas of others and improving on them. That doesn't exclude doing something entirely new, but there's no reason to force it.

    True, and I should have been somewhat clearer on that myself. In my view, a key prerequisite of making the patent system work is achieving some sort of consensus on what constitutes a big enough improvement on a particular design to justify marketing it as your own product; the ability to tell the difference in a double-blind test might be one way of doing it, albeit an imperfect one. (I realise that most 'generic' pharmaceuticals would fail that test, but preventing commercial entities creating their own miniature hydraulic empires is not what patent law is designed for either.)
    Ultimately, I think that if we can get patent law to work in accordance with its original function, the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages. Maybe that won't be possible, but I don't think we should write the whole thing off as more trouble than it's worth quite yet.

     

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  11.  
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    Wiley, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:22pm

    Re: All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Um, thanks for the pointless comments. But this article is about patents, not copyright.

     

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  12.  
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    angry dude, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:22pm

    liar liar shame on you

    Love to twist the historical facts, Mikey ?

    I stand by my original statement:

    The patents and copyright clause was UNANIMOUSLY adopted by the Constitution Drafters

    They are probably rolling over in their graves right now reading all the punk comments on this shitty blog

     

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  13.  
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    angry dude, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:26pm

    Re: Re: All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Hey lemming

    patents and copyrights originate from same clause in the Constitution aimed at encouraging creators by giving them some limited exclusive rights in their creations
    Copyrights are for books, music etc.
    patents are for inventions

    Same concept dude
    Go get you GED or become an organ donor

     

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  14.  
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    Kyros, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:33pm

    lol Angry Dude

    You spout a lot of words, but you sure as hell have yet to offer any evidence. Big words, no proof? And nice poetry,

    but taking prose
    and adding in line breaks
    doesn't make a writer
    a poet.

     

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  15.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ultimately, I think that if we can get patent law to work in accordance with its original function, the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages. Maybe that won't be possible, but I don't think we should write the whole thing off as more trouble than it's worth quite yet.

    Fair enough. If someone could present some evidence that a properly working patent system actually would work better than none at all, I'm all for it. I just haven't seen any such evidence yet.

     

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  16.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:45pm

    Re: liar liar shame on you

    Love to twist the historical facts, Mikey ?

    I provided a quote from Madison. How is that twisting historical facts?

    I stand by my original statement

    The original claim was that there were founding fathers who were concerned about the risks associated with such monopolies. You denied that. I provided proof.

    Yet you stand by your statement?

     

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  17.  
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    Wiley, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Yes, they do originate from the same clause of the Constitution, but that doesn't make them the same. I assume you came from a mother and father, but that doesn't make you human. See? Different things. If you wish to continue to prove that you're a complete moron by conflating copyright with patents, then please, continue to make your pointless comments.

     

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  18.  
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    eleete, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:56pm

    Re: Re:

    "taking the ideas of others and improving on them. "
    That's illegal under the current system, and that is it's failure.

     

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  19.  
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    angry dude, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Blya pridurok

    get lost before I get too angry

     

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  20.  
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    eleete, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re: liar liar shame on you

    He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
    Thomas Jefferson

     

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  21.  
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    eleete, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Come on punks

    He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

     

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  22.  
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    eleete, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 1:03pm

    Re: lol Angry Dude

    He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

     

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  23.  
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    Willton, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "taking the ideas of others and improving on them. "
    That's illegal under the current system, and that is it's failure.


    Incorrect. The patent system does not protect ideas. Patent law only protects certain embodiments of ideas. By only protecting the embodiment, it allows others to design around the patented technology, thus expanding the public's wealth of knowledge.

     

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  24.  
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    Wiley, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 1:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Why? Will your little tiny head explode?

     

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  25.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Incorrect. The patent system does not protect ideas. Patent law only protects certain embodiments of ideas.

    In theory, not in practice.

    By only protecting the embodiment, it allows others to design around the patented technology, thus expanding the public's wealth of knowledge.

    Uh, not quite. What it does in preventing people from improving on those "embodiments of ideas" (which in practice is no different than the idea itself) is LIMIT the improvements that can be made, thus DIMINISHING the public's wealth of innovation.

     

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  26.  
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    MLS, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Nice quote...though it was directed to a different issue, as you will quickly note by reading the first paragraph of the article from which it was taken.

    You might also take a look at Madison's notes re authors and inventors that appear in Federalist Papers No. 43.

    If you are goint to quote Madison, at least do it in the proper context.

     

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  27.  
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    Mr Rich, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 2:06pm

    Re: Re: All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Hey Wiley,

    You have the biggest head in the world. Your head is so big it has its own gravitational field. Your head is so big it took Lucian Freud 5 years to draw.

    Just replace "head" with "yo mama" and enjoy!

     

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  28.  
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    Willton, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    In theory, not in practice.

    No, in practice. A patent on a blue car does not prevent you from using or making a car.

    Uh, not quite. What it does in preventing people from improving on those "embodiments of ideas" (which in practice is no different than the idea itself) is LIMIT the improvements that can be made, thus DIMINISHING the public's wealth of innovation.

    Ah, but you are wrong. Patent law does not prevent others from improving upon certain embodiments of ideas. All it does is allow a patentee to exclude others from making or using one particular embodiment. It does not prevent one from building a better mousetrap.

     

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  29.  
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    Wiley, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: All because some hippies dont want to pay for their music and movies

    Who are you, angry dude's mom? Tie your apron tight.

     

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  30.  
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    MLS, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 2:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "In theory, not in practice."

    This seems to be one of your favorite retorts whenever someone makes a point that is difficult to dispute.

    Perhaps the next time you make the overly broad generalization that patents stiffle innovation I will speak up with:

    "In theory, not in practice."

    "Uh, not quite. What it does in preventing people from improving on those "embodiments of ideas" (which in practice is no different than the idea itself) is LIMIT the improvements that can be made, thus DIMINISHING the public's wealth of innovation."

    Here is my chance..."In theory, not in practice."

     

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  31.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No, in practice. A patent on a blue car does not prevent you from using or making a car.

    That's a nonsequitor. What does that have to do with what we're discussing?

    Let's look at a very real example. Please explain how NTP's patents do not make it much more costly for anyone to offer wireless email.

    Ah, but you are wrong. Patent law does not prevent others from improving upon certain embodiments of ideas. All it does is allow a patentee to exclude others from making or using one particular embodiment. It does not prevent one from building a better mousetrap.

    I am afraid that, once again, you are incorrect here. Yes, patent law absolutely prevents people from improving on emodiments of ideas. All the time. I hear from businesses nearly every day talking about how they cannot work on this or that project because they know that the patent holders in that space would make it way too costly for them to do so. In a very, very real sense, it absolutely IS preventing people from building better mousetraps by making it SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive to do so.

     

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  32.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 2:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Uh, not quite. What it does in preventing people from improving on those "embodiments of ideas" (which in practice is no different than the idea itself) is LIMIT the improvements that can be made, thus DIMINISHING the public's wealth of innovation."

    Here is my chance..."In theory, not in practice."


    Other than the fact that I've pointed to evidence of it in practice.

    So, you can't really use that phrase when there's no evidence to back it up.

     

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  33.  
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    Craig, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:00pm

    Re: Re:

    I'd argue that much of the history of innovation is actually taking the ideas of others and improving on them.


    Imagine ignoring the ideas and work of someone like Leonardo da Vinci and starting from scratch. Imagine not adopting and adaption Roman rule of law, Roman architecture, the Roman monetary system et al. ad nauseum.

    History is rife with examples of ideas leapfrogging off of the backs of an original. I can't say whether patents are "good" or "bad", I just know that we can't progress as a society without taking from and building upon the lessons of the past or previous incarnations of something useful.

    I think we are looking at the horse from the wrong end here anyway. The concept of corporations being legal entities and therefore, by law, forced to act in the best interest of shareholders is really at the basis of most of these issues. CEOs are legislated to do whatever it takes within the laws of the land to protect shareholders, not society.

    Change how corporations are obligated to operate, and you will change the world and debates like this will be moot.

     

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  34.  
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    bigpicture, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:18pm

    Re: Re: How IP Hurts Innovation

    If an entity spends time and money on R&D and intends to produce a product from that research, then morally, commercially and every other way they need economic protection until they have sufficiently profited from the risk that they took. And in the past this "from concept to market" process took much longer than it does today. In the 50s car models for five years hence from the today, were on the drawing boards of the today. I believe this time span is just over a year today. So one suggested revision to the patent system is SHORTEN THEIR MAXIMUM LIFE way down, so everything is in "public domain" in less than 5 and maybe 3 years.

    Then what about the abuses side of the System and the parasite Patent Trolls, which scare or otherwise hamper prevent innovation, there needs to be a patent invalidation law, if a patent holder does not produce or intend to produce a related product in a certain period of time, the patent goes into "public domain". For example the government of this country grants mineral rights leases on defined tracts of land, but you just can't buy a lease and then sit on it. You have specified time periods in which to demonstrate the various development and investment steps, or you loose the lease, and no refunds.

     

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  35.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 10th, 2008 @ 3:39pm

    Re: Re: Re: How IP Hurts Innovation

    If an entity spends time and money on R&D and intends to produce a product from that research, then morally, commercially and every other way they need economic protection until they have sufficiently profited from the risk that they took.

    Why do they need protection? If they can't profit in the market, that's the market telling them something, and they should respond by adjusting the product.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 4:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You point to situations that for the most part are so far from the norm that even mentioning them in any serious discussion is downright silly. Perhaps one reason for your doing so is that you continuously rely on sources who plainly haven't a clue about what matters such as patent law actually entail.

    But, you will retort, "They are distinguished scholars whose work is backed by solid, empirical data", to which I will retort "Yes...lots of data, virtually none of which is relevant to the question at hand."

    In case you need a backup retort, it will likely come in the form of "Even the Founding Fathers agree with me!" Of course, comments noting inaccuracies will be ignored or dismissed out of hand.

     

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  37.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 4:48pm

    Re: Blue Car vs Car

    Willton wrote:

    A patent on a blue car does not prevent you from using or making a car.

    Under the present US system, I'd like to see you try. You can virtually guarantee that the holder of the blue-car patent would come after you and threaten you with a lawsuit. Even if ultimately they might lose, can you spare the effort and expense of fighting it out in court? Much easier to settle and pay them something.

    They would probably argue that, regardless of the colour of your car, there was still some element of "blueness" in the ingredients of the paint, and therefore you were infringing on their patent. Certainly there'd be no way you could dismiss them out of hand.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 4:59pm

    Re: Re: Blue Car vs Car

    Given the general tenor of your comments, I take it you are not a fan of patent law. Let me guess...you are a programmer.

     

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  39.  
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    Willton, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 5:24pm

    Re: Re: Blue Car vs Car

    Under the present US system, I'd like to see you try. You can virtually guarantee that the holder of the blue-car patent would come after you and threaten you with a lawsuit. Even if ultimately they might lose, can you spare the effort and expense of fighting it out in court? Much easier to settle and pay them something.

    A claim like that? I'd absolutely fight it out in court, get the claim dismissed, and I'd get attorney's fees to boot for such a frivolous claim.

    And don't forget that the patent holder has costs too.

    They would probably argue that, regardless of the colour of your car, there was still some element of "blueness" in the ingredients of the paint, and therefore you were infringing on their patent. Certainly there'd be no way you could dismiss them out of hand.

    Patent law is not copyright law, where such esoteric arguments can be made. Patent law specifically requires that every element of the claimed invention be met by the allegedly infringing article in order to find infringement. Thus, if the patent calls for a blue car, and I have a car that only has "some element of 'blueness,'" that is does not meet the element of a blue car.

     

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  40.  
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    LTDLP, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    Wow

    Apparently it is debatable whether IP hurts innovation ...

    But there is no question as how it affects your checkbook.

     

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  41.  
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    Kiba, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 6:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Is patent laws so hard to understand?

     

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  42.  
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    Kiba, Jul 10th, 2008 @ 6:12pm

    Re: Re: Re: How IP Hurts Innovation

    I don't need "economic protection" in order to try to write new games for profits...or build a wiki site for that matter.

    So does redhat and other entities. Their stuff can be ripped off and sold on the street. There is litterally no protection from the competition.

     

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  43.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re: Re: Blue Car vs Car

    Right. But it's more likely that, instead of patenting "a blue car," they would patent "four-wheel suspention," "four-door body design," "two-door body design," "incorporating a trunk in a body design," "incorporating an engine access hood in a body design," and "applying blue paint to a body design." Even if they can't nail you on the blueness of the car, they can get you three or four times over with other piecemeal patents. And that is how patents work in practice; you patent components of useful items so that you can make claims whenever someone else makes a useful item.

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 11th, 2008 @ 5:37am

    Re: Mudak

    Why don't you become an organ donor ?

    Mostly because I'm using them all right now, but you can have them when I'm done, if you want.

     

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  45.  
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    Willton, Jul 14th, 2008 @ 6:47am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: How IP Hurts Innovation

    I don't need "economic protection" in order to try to write new games for profits...or build a wiki site for that matter.

    So does redhat and other entities. Their stuff can be ripped off and sold on the street. There is litterally no protection from the competition.


    Typical words from a programmer. Perhaps you should look at the broader scope of inventions, not just software.

     

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  46.  
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    Mike (profile), Jul 14th, 2008 @ 11:19am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: How IP Hurts Innovation

    Typical words from a programmer. Perhaps you should look at the broader scope of inventions, not just software.

    I'm confused as to how that matters. After all, we keep hearing supporters of the patent system insist that software is no different than any other invention.

    But the *key* point is that Kiba's response clearly puts lie to your "proof" that patents are necessary. He shows that there are plenty of incentives to create that go beyond patents.

    And your response? Those don't count.

    Yeah, right. Very convincing.

     

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


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