Which Would You Rather Have: The Planet, Or A Patent?

from the decisions,-decisions dept

One of the more controversial approaches to the already controversial field of climate change is geoengineering, which Wikipedia defines as "deliberate large-scale engineering and manipulation of the planetary environment to combat or counteract anthropogenic changes in atmospheric chemistry."

Some people are concerned that such large-scale interventions might produce large-scale disasters. That makes small-scale experiments exploring the underlying technologies an important first step before taking this route. Unfortunately, it seems that one geoengineering experiment has been called off because of patents:

A field trial for a novel UK geoengineering experiment has been cancelled amid questions about a pre-existing patent application for some of the technology involved.

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE) project is a collaboration among several UK universities and Cambridge-based Marshall Aerospace to investigate the possibility of spraying particles into the stratosphere to mitigate global warming. Such particles could mimic the cooling produced by large volcanic eruptions, by reflecting sunlight before it reaches Earth’s surface.
As the article quoted above goes on to explain, the main issue here is a potential conflict of interests:
a patent application that was submitted by Peter Davidson, who runs the UK consulting firm Davidson Technology on the Isle of Man and was an adviser at the workshop that gave rise to the SPICE project, and Hugh Hunt, an engineer at the University of Cambridge, UK, who is one of the SPICE project investigators. The patent is for an "apparatus for transporting and dispersing solid particles into the Earth’s stratosphere" by "balloon, dirigible or airship" technology related to the SPICE field trial.
UK funding bodies require possible conflicts of interest to be declared when applying for grants, whereas here the patent application apparently only came to light a year into the experiment. Part of the project is continuing -- things like climate modelling and analysis -- but the most innovative element, the field trial, has been cancelled.

This episode shows one of the problems with trying to marry "pure" science with commerce, and the tensions that can arise between sharing knowledge freely and trying to make money by restricting access through licensing. It would be regrettable, to say the least, if the exploration of ideas that might play a role in addressing climate change were blocked because of patents.

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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 7:33am

    Spice

    geoengineering experiment
    Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering (SPICE)
    global warming

    Just so they don't turn the whole planet into a desert, I'm all for this.

    'cause ya know, the SPICE must flow.

     

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    Machin Shin (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 7:47am

    Climate Engineering

    Is it just me that is really bothered by the entire idea of "climate engineering". I mean, stop and think about what is going on here. You have a bunch of scientists who are out there trying to change weather patters.

    These are the same guys who cannot tell you reliably if it is going to rain today or not. Yet these guys want to go and start altering things?

    In order to responsibly alter a system you first must understand the system you are playing with. Our planets eco system is a VERY complex system that we do not fully understand. What these scientists are trying to do could have untold side effects.

    It kind of makes me think of a high school kid who just got a Honda Civic from his parents so he sets out and is going to "sup' it up". He doesn't know a thing about cars but hey, he can drive one so how hard could it be to add a NOS system right?

     

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      Ben (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 8:31am

      Re: Climate Engineering

      We're already "climate engineering" by dumping millions of tons of CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere each day. Setting up an experiment to determine if there is a way to mitigate the affects of the existing influences on climate by engineering another (presumably more controllable) influence would seem to be a "good thing" (tm).

       

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      Anonymous Coward, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:04am

      Re: Climate Engineering

      Personally I don't care, that is why I see RV's as terrestrial habitats that can be made to function as spaceships, the first moon base will be constructed on earth first, now there is a good reason to invest in space stations, so you know what it will take to create a self contained environment that is independent of its surroundings.

      No I am don't think the world will end tomorrow or at the end of this year(2012), no I don't believe in UFO's, no I don't believe in the lizard people either, no I was never abducted, I just think that no matter what people do it will always be the natural course, Cyano bacteria oxygenated the world for us and died making their environment deadly to oxygen intolerant organisms. Like yeast humans are using up all their resources and we may die in our own waste and change the planet to other organisms to flourish, something will happen, either we learn to create our own self contained environments and stop depending on what mother nature gives us or we will die eventually, they messing with the natural system is just a natural occurrence that may or may not speed up the process along, but eventually this environment will become toxic to us in some form or another.

      That is why I don't see a big problem with it, because we learn to manipulate it or we will die, at least you die trying and if it gets messed up before people can create their own little safety bubbles to live in, well that is just bad luck.

       

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        Suzanne Lainson (profile), May 27th, 2012 @ 11:52am

        Re: Re: Climate Engineering

        Like yeast humans are using up all their resources and we may die in our own waste and change the planet to other organisms to flourish,

        I've been thinking about this a lot lately. There may be no reason to assume that humans are meant to continue on this planet. Life as we know it maybe temporary in the greater scheme of things. Something will continue to grow on Earth, but it may not be our species.

         

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      PolyPusher (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 11:02am

      Re: Climate Engineering

      "investigate the possibility of spraying particles into the stratosphere to mitigate global warming."

      Key word, investigate...

      This would be more like that high school kid you mention running crash tests, performance evaluations and learning how cars work first...

       

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      kryptonianjorel (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 11:40am

      Re: Climate Engineering

      As a student of atmospheric science, I can see how misinformed you are about the whole topic. Weather prediction is a very difficult science, but it is not limited by our understanding as much as it is limited by our technology. Weather satellites and weather radar have limited resolution, and our modeling computers are only so powerful. We understand whats going on in the atmosphere, but have no way to collect and process all of the data.

      Anyway, our ability to predict the weather has nothing to do with our ability to predict climate and climate effects. Weather and Climate are two totally separate topics. We understand the effects of sulfate aerosols on the stratosphere from the changes in the climate system after large volcanic eruptions such as Mt. Pinatubo

      I am not a supporter of this SPICE project, since the we would have to inject millions of tons of SO2 into the stratosphere (10 km or higher) constantly, since they're removed within 2 years of injection.

       

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      asd, May 24th, 2012 @ 12:30pm

      Re: Climate Engineering

      Thing is... we've been doing climate engineering and changing weather patterns pretty damn drastically for DECADES.

      Look up cloud seeding. We have done a LOT more damage than we care to admit.

       

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      BeeAitch (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 2:43pm

      Re: Climate Engineering

      "We don't know who struck first, us or them. But we do know it was us that scorched the sky."

       

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    A Guy (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 7:53am

    First, there are significant potential drawbacks to the experiment being proposed. At best, it would be a palliative, not a solution to the underlying problem. At worst, any benefits it would provide would be temporary enough to lull people into a false sense of security allowing policy makers to ignore the real issues until it's too late.

    Second, it's just an experiment not a product for export or consumption. Go out into international waters where patent laws don't apply. Get the data. If this does somehow prove valuable in the long term and merits of roll out before the patent expires is approved, then worry about the patent issues.

     

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      A Guy (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 8:25am

      Re:

      Wow.

      That last sentence was supposed to read "If this does somehow prove valuable in the long term and merits a roll out before the patent expires, then worry about the licensing issues."

       

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    G Thompson (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    Stuff patents..

    I wanna be like Slartibartfast and just own the copyright on a planet.. or even it's fjords ;)

     

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    Anonymous Coward, May 24th, 2012 @ 7:56am

    'if the exploration of ideas that might play a role in addressing climate change were blocked because of patents.'

    and who thinks anyone is going to give a toss about any of this when there is money involved? please, wake up and smell the coffee!!!

     

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    John Doe, May 24th, 2012 @ 8:03am

    If you think we have problems now, just wait...

    If you think man is creating global warming/ice age/climate change, just wait until we start trying to "correct" it. Then we will have all kinds of real problems.

    Last thing I want to do is breathe in a bunch of fine particulate matter that we spray into the atmosphere. Can you say lung problems? I can.

     

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      Machin Shin (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 8:23am

      Re: If you think we have problems now, just wait...

      Or I can just see the public announcement now.

      "Hello citizens of the world. As you all know we have been fighting this terrible "global warming" and we have some great news! We have totally stopped global warming!

      Now as a somewhat related note we want to tell everyone to start stocking up on cold weather gear. Seems we did so well with our goal that it is going to be a long and cold winter!

      The only bad news is that the winter is expected to last the next couple hundred years."

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 9:11am

      Re: If you think we have problems now, just wait...

      Last thing I want to do is breathe in a bunch of fine particulate matter that we spray into the atmosphere.


      You've been doing that every day of your life already.

       

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        John Doe, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:33am

        Re: Re: If you think we have problems now, just wait...

        You've been doing that every day of your life already.

        Yes, so lets just add more.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, May 24th, 2012 @ 4:32pm

          Re: Re: Re: If you think we have problems now, just wait...

          Every third child of a couple is adding more to the mix, it is more more consumer of aerosols, it is one more person buying a car.

          It is not so much the adding stuff to the air that is a problem is the cycle of the added particulates that is a real problem, you can add anything if you filter it out.

          Every single house, car or other source of particulates, gases and other things should also take care of their part of the environment, grand schemes are not a solution but a bandaid for the bad choices we make every day.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:36am

      Re: If you think we have problems now, just wait...

      Don't move to China, then. They are already doing this in full scale. The only difference is that the crap they put up there makes it rain...

       

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      kryptonianjorel (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 11:43am

      Re: If you think we have problems now, just wait...

      This would be applied to the stratosphere, not the troposphere, and would be removed in rain, so there would be no harm to your precious lungs

       

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    Libreman, May 24th, 2012 @ 8:31am

    First off there is no discernible human-induced global warming - indeed there is no discernible global warming in general for at least a decade now, far below the projected values for ZERO emissions (as per NASA's James Hansen 1988 most optimistic scenario C) so there is no problem to solve anyway - the only thing keeping the AGW scare going is the momentum of the institutions created around it protecting their money streams (IPCC, CRU, NASA climate division etc.)

    Second, even if there was human-induced global warming (which there isn't according to the latest science) the "solution" by geo-engineering would be 10x the disaster than the original problem - start spraying heavy metals and such into the atmosphere and you have an ecological disaster of epic proportions on your hands, how could anyone even slightly concerned about environment even consider this option is beyond me, it rather seems like there are powerful interests behind this instead - maybe that's why the field test isn't going forward? Someone concerned about what it may show? I wouldn't rule that out ...

     

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      Libreman, May 24th, 2012 @ 8:54am

      National security exception

      Also, the US gov has the ability to "seize" any patents deemed to be of "national security" concern - so if there truly was a real danger patents wouldn't pose a problem. Of course patents become a huge problem when the "problem" being "solved" is designed to just line the pockets of the patent holders e.g. friends of the corrupt politicians - then they need to license it of course, and for a fortune. You may bet your bottom dollar that this is the case for geo-engineering - the patents are corrupting the science of AGW as it's exactly these kind of special interests (patent holders of proposed "solutions") that are skewing it in their direction.

      So Mike, please do not fall for the false dichotomy of planet vs. patents, AGW is not a threat according to any credible science. Or maybe you're right - when it's the patents that are skewing the science and leading the way to extremely dangerous "solutions" to a non-problem then they surely are a threat to the planet, just in a different way than you originally implied ...

       

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        s/Mike/Glyn/, May 24th, 2012 @ 8:58am

        Re: National security exception

        Sorry, I see that it's actually Glyn who wrote this article so the above is addressed to him :)

         

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      Anonymous Coward, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:06am

      Re:

      First, the climate will change eventually that is not a question of if, it is of when.

      You either learn to manipulate the system, create a self contained environment or die, which one do you prefer?

       

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    Mike, May 24th, 2012 @ 8:58am

    GLOBAL WARNING

    Let's see, the gov't already sprays all our food w/ stuff to protect us. Most Americans are taking pills to better our health & protect us. TSA gets to 'cop-a-feel' to protect our flights. Police can track you w/o a warrant to help protect us. Seat belts are mandatory in vehicles to help protect us. Health insurance could soon be mandatory to help protect us.

    Now, a company is thinking of spraying some manufactured chemical into the air to help protect us. The pattern is obvious, the biggest swindlers work for the Federal gov't & are not out to protect us. As soon as they find a viable solution the FEDS will take over the project & patents will be irrelevant. Who's to say some of the funding isn't secretly being diverted to the project from the FEDS already.

     

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      Ed C., May 24th, 2012 @ 11:20am

      Re: GLOBAL WARNING

      Let's see:

      the gov't already sprays all our food w/ stuff to protect us.

      No, they don't, companies do. The sprays they use to protect their profit margins from pest are NOT for our health. But I guess you would prefer that the government didn't ban the harmful sprays that risked the health of an entire nation just so the companies could save a few bucks on a bushel?


      Most Americans are taking pills to better our health & protect us.

      Again, has nothing to do with the government. But I guess you would prefer that the government didn't ban harmful drugs just so that drug companies could rake in millions while risking the health of an entire nation?


      TSA gets to 'cop-a-feel' to protect our flights.

      Sadly, the people got what they asked for. At the time, they demanded protection without any concern about cost or how it was done, as long as the government did something. Now we're stuck with this authoritarian monstrosity. Anyone who tries to rein it in is attacked by politicians that are paid off with money funneled from our tax dollars by government contractors.


      Police can track you w/o a warrant to help protect us.

      (see above)


      Seat belts are mandatory in vehicles to help protect us.

      I guess you would prefer millions maimed and killed in accidents, driving up auto and health insurance prices for everyone to cover the cost? You really don't think these though, do you?


      Health insurance could soon be mandatory to help protect us.

      I guess you would prefer to pay higher hospital expenses, health insurance rates, and taxes? Because that's exactly what you're doing now, paying to cover ER cost for other people's preventable health issues that could have been resolved beforehand for a fraction of the cost if they had insurance.


      Now, a company is thinking of spraying some manufactured chemical into the air to help protect us.

      And yet you aren't wary of all the chemicals sprayed into the air that have nothing to do with "protecting us"?


      The pattern is obvious, the biggest swindlers work for the Federal gov't & are not out to protect us.

      Most of your reasons are nonsense, and I'm not sure that they're the "biggest" swindlers, but there are really big swindlers in government and third party contractors none the less. And you're right, those guy are only interested in protecting their interest, not ours.

       

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    Lord Binky, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:01am

    Why isn't the bar for patents set at the either the

    "What the hell was this guy on, there is no way anyone could come up with that..."

    "You'll get your name in a college text book for this"

    Instead it's, "If someone hasn't done it yet" regardless if a 10 year old could come up with the general idea.

     

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    DogBreath, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:03am

    Kind of reminds me of this:

    Boeing Patent Shuts Down AMC-14 Lunar Flyby Salvage Attempt

    Apr 10, 2008

    Attempts to salvage a wayward GEO comsat have come unstuck in the face of institutional disinterest and an aging patent of questionable validity.

    The AMC-14 commercial geostationary satellite was launched in March by a Proton launch vehicle into space just short of its minimum geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

    SES Americom, the world's largest commercial satellite firm, owns the satellite and was to lease capacity on AMC-14 to the Echostar group.

    Following the failed launch, SES Americom looked into how they might salvage the satellite in a manner similar to the Asiasat-3 salvage in 1998.

    However, SpaceDaily has now learned that a plan to salvage AMC-14 was abandoned a week ago when SES gave up in the face of patent issues relating to the lunar flyby process used to bring wayward GEO birds back to GEO Earth orbit.


    ...

    Industry sources have told SpaceDaily that the patent is regarded as legal "trite", as basic physics has been rebranded as a "process", and that the patent wouldn't stand up to any significant level of court scrutiny and was only registered at the time as "the patent office was incompetent when it came to space matters".



    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Better to let something die on the vine than to try and deal with almost anything involving IP (and yes, Patent Offices are "still" incompetent).

     

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    Lord Binky, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:09am

    Really, is everyone's system so screwed up? In germany microsoft got an injunction against motorola, FOR SPLITTING UP A TEXT MESSAGE AND PUTTING IT BACK TOGETHER. Can we at least simplify patents to not be granted if we can give the problem to a class of children and one comes up with the same idea? "You have 1,000 letters to send, and you can only send them 160 at a time, what do you do?" or for this, "You have blimps, aircraft, balloons, and rockets that can get into the sky, where you need to spray stuff into the air. What can we possibly do?"

     

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    mememine69 (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 9:16am

    Consensus Is Not Real

    Scientific consensus says climate change is *real but unanimous consensus of it being "deadly" is nonexistent because what they all *agree on is that the effects will be from nothing to all out unstoppable warming (death). Whatís not to agree with? That is why with thousands of climate scientists, there are just as many opinions from thousands of climate scientists. That is not consensus; itís a feeding frenzy of greed. This was a consultantís wet dream and fools fell for it for 26 years. Not one single scientist is clear in their wording of it being the end of the world. So a crisis that isn't deadly isn't a crisis and a "little tiny" catastrophic climate crisis only in Harry Potter movies.
    There is NO consensus at all of climate change being a deadly threat to the planet and if there was, there would be millions, not dozens of climate change protesters. Scientists have kids too and YES, science did give us the pesticides that made environmentalism necessary in the first place.
    REAL planet lovers are happy a crisis wasn't real.

     

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    mememine69 (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 9:24am

    Why are we condemning the voter's children to a CO2 death? Why?

    Canadians voted in a climate change denying (accused by us) prime minister to a majority. Where do you think these conservative votes came from? They were Liberals voting against the Fear Machine of climate change crisis. That is us; the Fear Machine. Condemning the voter's children won't get us elected and the people have spoken so letís respect the voter and admit that the effects of Human CO2 are not "deadly", they are minimal and 26 years of warnings proves it. Letís all at least be a real planet lovers now and rejoice at avoiding a crisis.

     

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      Niall (profile), May 25th, 2012 @ 4:31am

      Re: Why are we condemning the voter's children to a CO2 death? Why?

      Given that science works by convincing people of evidence, which AGM has done in that time frame to everyone who isn't a Tory/Republican, shouldn't we at least treat it as a possibility? Climate change happens - we have historical evidence. Whether we can change the climate, and whether we should or not, we need to know more about the science in case Nature changes it for us. Unless you are a Raptard who thinks that some sky fairy will protect us/save us, we need to be ready ourselves, whether it's preventing or mitigating some natural catastrophe. Look at the records of what happened after Krakatoa, and extrapolate to the modern day. What happens if Yellowstone blows, or the San Andreas? Knowing the science better and accepting that yes, we /can/ change the environment is important and shouldn't be denigrated.

      And that's only if AGM doesn't happen, or is miniscule. What if it isn't? Where do we bring the precautionary principle in? Certainly in Europe, that's why GM crops are so unpopular - many people feel that it has been proven to their satisfaction that these are 'safe'.

      Wasn't the same Tory/Republican denialism seen about financial deregulation "nonsense, nothing bad can come from deregulating banks"? These are the same people who love their favourite banks/maga-corps/politicians to make billions screwing over people, then whine when some scientists might want to make some money to help the world.

       

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    why so upset at patents?, May 24th, 2012 @ 9:28am

    when you can get mad at the regulatory capture?

    http://www.environmentalleader.com/2009/12/08/uk-report-just-30-of-carbon-offset-dollars-spent-on-em issions-reduction/

    Note how 70% is "overhead" and how for every Euro spent on the actual Carbon reduction a Euro went to 'investment banks'.

     

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    jimaginator (profile), May 24th, 2012 @ 10:03am

    Patenting the Sun

    In the 1950's, when asked whether he owned a patent for his polio vaccine, Jonas Salk replied: "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?". Perhaps modern scientists and engineers should take this approach for those inventions and breakthroughs which have such far-reaching, and global implications for all of humanity. Money should not always be the primary motivator for innovation.

     

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      Lord Binky, May 24th, 2012 @ 10:14am

      Re: Patenting the Sun

      It doesn't matter, they need an opt-out system.

      Many, and I would like to believe the majority, of scientist and engineers would be glad to be done with patents. But I remember a story of a scientist working on children's brain cancer who published his work which he did not patent because he wanted to maximize the usefullness of his work. Well, A genetics company, puts patents on the works he did and released, which led to a 3 year court battle he could not do research and depleted all his funding. So, if you don't play the patent game, you still lose.

       

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        DogBreath, May 24th, 2012 @ 1:31pm

        Re: Re: Patenting the Sun

        We have automatic copyrights, isn't it about time we move out of the dark ages and pass a law to make automatic patents (and the term extensions that will inevitably go along with them)?

        I'm only saying this because I would love to see many companies (large and small) and their trolls, killed off by suing each other to the death in court, over trying to prove who automatically patented something first.

        We just need to make sure the automatic patent law doesn't allow settling out-of-court once the lawsuit is filed, so precedents can be set into law (if you are going to pull a gun, you're going to have to use it, and sometimes it's going to blow up in your face).

        I'd call it the Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome provision: "Two men enter...one man leaves, with a judgment and a whole lot of the other guys money."

         

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    Rekrul, May 24th, 2012 @ 10:21am

    I'm reminded of the series finale to the show Dinosaurs. First they exterminated all the 'bunch' beetles to make way for a manufacturing plant. This caused the vines that the beetles normally ate to grow out of control, so they sprayed defoliant on the entire continent. When that killed off all the plants, they decided to blow up volcanoes to make "big puffy clouds" in the hopes of making it rain.

    As the temperatures dropped below freezing and the snow started to fall, Earl's boss was celebrating at the thought of how much money his company would make selling cold weather gear.

    After all, what good is saving the planet if you can't make money at it?

     

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    Khstapp, May 24th, 2012 @ 3:24pm

    Patent

    So someone has tried to patent 'throw dirt in the air''? I have pictures of my kids in a sandbox to show evidence of prior art.

     

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    Mr Big Content, May 24th, 2012 @ 5:53pm

    As Jesus Said ...

    ... what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he loses his own soul?

    This is why even saving the planet is not worth sacrificing the sanctity of the concept of Intellectual Property, as so memorably codified in the Tenth Commandment. After all, what does it matter if the planet survives, if we wonít be able to look ourselves in the mirror afterwards?

     

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