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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Filed Under: delay, innovation, patents, web cache

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  1. identicon
    out_of_the_blue, 15 Jul 2011 @ 3:29am

    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.

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