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Journal: Patents from first principles

Journal by h4rm0ny

Ah, my first journal entry. Prompted by the fact that I've just read another person's journal entries, I now realize that people DO read them. However, they are unlikely to continue to do so unless you hurry up and say something interesting. And so I will after this announcement:

I have now two fans (hurrah!) and one freak (bizzare!). The fans I attribute to my brilliance and their perceptiveness in this matter (thanks ppl.); whilst the freak I blame on my massively misunderstood criticism of electronic voting, which I grudgingly admit could be taken the wrong way if you didn't read it properly. 8*)

And now for something completely different -

An Essay on the Negative Impact of the Patent System from First Principles.

Patents are based on the erroneous belief that an individual bears sole responsibility for the creation of a concept. This is not the case. When exposed to a similar culture and technologies, many people will be led to similar new ideas as a natural progression from those already current. All ideas and technologies are a consequence of all those that precede it. The patent system is designed to create a block to this natural progression for all but the one individual or group that first presents the idea to the Government agency appointed for this task. The justifying belief being that any other who arrives at the same idea did so by theft from the recognized originator. The word theft is a pejorative one, as it implies the wrongness of copying another's behaviour - this too forms part of the justification for the patent system.

While the ethics of emulating another's aims and techniques might be debated, its consideration is not necessary to condemn the patent system. For it is clear that many can arrive at the same conclusions by observation and consideration of their common environment - why therefore should the majority of these be oppressed by an authority? There is no moral reason to do so. Would it be possible to distinguish between those who arrived at a conclusion themselves and those who derived it from another? It would be difficult in an age of mass-communication and even were it so, there is no cause to believe that had the patent holders ideas not reached such a person, then they would not have learned how to fulfil the need by themselves. In this case, were such a system of restriction imposed, the patent holder would have a moral duty to conceal his methods to the best of his ability and a commercial motive to inflict understanding on anyone of intelligence.

As mankind progresses, there is a wavefront of new ideas and techniques that appears before us. Some of us who are more forward looking and more able than our peers, are able to act upon these quicker than others. These people will consequently have an advantage in transforming these ideas and techniques from theory into practice. But as we continue to progress, the wavefront continues also and that which was formerly at the very front, falls back and becomes more accessible and obvious to the rest of us. At this point however, we find that the vast majority of people have been disenfranchised by the patent system. The normal progress of mankind has been transformed into an intellectual land-grab. It does not matter whether the patent holder has use for this land or if it lies fallow, it has been forbidden to those who come to it a little later than he did. And what does this metaphor mean in actual terms? It means that not only are people and organizations both commercial and non- unable to make use of technologies that they otherwise would have invested time and money into, but that worse, they are unable to proceed beyond it to extend the technology in new directions, for the patent holder owns the roads they use to get there. The ultimate outcome of this is a bad one. For to return to the idea of that wavefront of ideas becoming conceivable and attainable, it is the uptake of the current ideas that drives us as a species forwards to the new ones. Where that uptake is prevented, we are becalmed and nothing generates that precious wavefront of new ideas. Can an increasingly consolidated class of patent holders continue our progress on our behalf? It seems unlikely for the reason that the acquisition of these patents had the purpose of gaining pre-eminence over competitors. With this pre-eminence established, there is less, much less, incentive to explore any further.

The tragedy at the heart of the patent system is that those who grant or sometimes disallow the awards rarely acknowledge that what is novel to them, is often painfully obvious to experts and creative thinkers in their field. And it should not be forgotten that the basic principle of justification for this is that it is unethical to emulate those who achieved success. We are accustomed to the patent system now, but really - is it wrong that someone's ideas should be applied by others? Is it so wrong that we should paralyse ourselves in order to prevent it? In very real terms, this is the situation we now confront.

A Government that supports this is a seed afraid to grow.

If Machiavelli were a hacker, he'd have worked for the CSSG. -- Phil Lapsley

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