Patents Run Amok

Whole hosts of people who specialize in various fields go on to law school and become patent lawyers or judges, and with all the applications and lawsuits, they're needed. However, it's a field that most of us know every little about, though we should. For instance, living organisms and cell lines have been patented.

In "Intellectual Property: Silly or Sinister," David Levine writes about the absurd level to which patent production has sunk. Then again, Levine says the system itself is and always was "abusive by its very nature."

I'd like to know what everyone thinks of Levine's article. In the meantime, I've got to get going on an invention that no one else has thought of, something better than a warp drive.


Patent vs. copyright
As a software developer, I strongly believe that software should be protected by copyright, and copyright only. For example, the concept of a spreadsheet should not be patentable (which would prevent anyone from creating a competing spreadsheet), but no one should steal Microsoft's code for Excel and sell it as their own.

But I fundamentally disagree with Levine's hyperlibertarian--actually anarchic--premise that "intellectual property is abusive by nature." Patents and copyrights exist to protect those who do real work intellectually from being ripped off. As the Constitution puts it, the purpose is "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Does anyone seriously believe we'd have the range of medicines available if generic manufacturers could start copying as of Day One? Would George Lucas have been able to spend the money creating Star Wars if anyone could make a copy of the film and undercut his admission price? (OK, so "intellectual" isn't the first adjective one normally applies to Star Wars... Maybe "intangible" would be a better term.)

Unfortunately, the constitutional plan has been upended by corporate lobbying. Copyright used to last 28 years, with the option of a 28-year renewal. It now lasts for the life of the author plus 95 years (or 95 years for something owned by a company--the extension from 75 to 95 years was known as the Mickey Mouse law because it protected the Mouse from losing copyright protection). Does anyone seriously think a potential author does or doesn't take the time to write depending on whether or not his great-grandchildren will be able to collect royalties? And software and "business method" patents have applied the much more restrictive patent law (which prevents anyone from independently inventing the item in question) where it was never intended. It strikes me as more "emanations and penumbras" law that violates the clear intent of settled law.
I'd say that like anything it can be overdone but can have it's purpose.

It is about "do unto others". Suppose you spent twenty years creating a heroic epic. And then someone reworked it and turned it into a porn production. He has hurt something you cared about and treasured. He has also hurt your reputation.

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