Sunday, 26 August 2012

I hereby patent everything in this world that has not yet been patented

Conventional thinking is that without patents,we would not have innovation. Mankind would stagnate in the Dark Ages. Really ?? 

This port is triggered by the drama between Apple and Samsung . In the tech industry, everybody is suing everybody else over patent infringement. Hundreds of patents are granted over what goes inside one mobile phone. Is this all necessary ? These days, that business seems to be driven by lawyers rather than technology - M&A activity in this industry seem to be driven mostly by patents.The patent industry has exploded so much that this blogger even blogged about the ridiculous patents that have been granted.

The central premise that innovation will be stopped if there are no patents is nonsense. Right through human history, innovation has flourished with no help from the patent office, thank you.  Patents are a recent human invention - perhaps in the 15th century. Innovation has not exactly been stifled throughout human history.  You may say, ancient history is not relevant. But take even the 20th century - the discovery of the cure for malaria, the satellites that make today's communication possible, the green revolution , the internet, and even the cellphone itself arrived with no help from patents. NASA, which has helped an incredible amount of innovation in the last 50 years, does not patent stuff.

Human nature is to innovate - thank God. No amount of pressure can stifle that. The central problem with patents is that they create monopolies. Monopolies, by definition, stifle competition and are against the consumer.  Huge ethical issues arise when drugs are patented and the poor are excluded from the benefits of life saving drugs.

I am not saying that we should afford no protection to the inventor and simply allow free boarders to copy and ride on somebody else's work.  But the current situation has gone too far. My prescription is a drastic reduction in what can be patented, significantly lower patent periods and public funding of research to compete with private industry.

This would be absolutely heresy to the business world, and if I were important enough, I would simply be branded a communist. I know of at least one reader of this blog who is going to call me and express shock that I have morphed into Kim Jong Il. But I know business They will simply adapt to a different regime. Innovation will not slow down one bit. It might actually become  more cost effective.

There is zero chance that any of this will happen. But just on the off chance , I hereby patent this idea and in case anybody wants to adopt it, they can only do so after paying me $4,567,984.32 .


Satish said...

Ha ha Ramesh.

I wonder whether food can be patented. For e.g. the inventor of Calcutta Rolls and Putchka's would have been a billionaire if it could have.

My other comment is that you have undervalued the cost of your idea. Its surely worth much more than that :)

Vishal said...

True.. Ramesh! With few players in each field, inadequate encouragement to innovate and the grossly inclusive nature of patent laws, innovation is rather discouraged and limited. Innovation should be more inclusive. The very nature of patenting the idea is so complicated that I would leave it to my lawyer friends to decipher :)

Ramesh said...

@Satish - Ha Ha. I made a decimal error in naming my rice :):)

With the ridiculous extent to which patent is going, I wouldn't be surprised is idlies are patented.

@Vishal - Yeah, this seems to be a genie that has been released from the bottle and has turned into a monster.

Shachi said...

Speaking from personal has taken away the value of team spirit completely from our organization. We are a pathfinding team, and we are encouraged to file an invention disclosure for every small thing we architect. The lawyers review these and decide what gets filed as a patent. People have simply stopped sharing ideas, or coming up with effective arch designs because they are more interested in filing invention disclosures for their work and getting patents to their credit. We also work with external vendors, and it gets worse when we have to share stuff externally. It's not effective to design this way at all....very frustrating!

Long story short, I agree about this patent genie becoming a monster.

Prats said...

ROFL!!! And I was thinking to patent the idea of patenting. :-)

gils said...

patent mattum poruma? ila enga patent panromngarathum mattera? i will patent mokkai putting :D so that no one can deny my mokkais :D:D

sriram khe said...

It is an awful deal for consumers, yep. Matt Yglesias also makes very similar points to yours.

The irony of all with Apple's reputation of having made improved versions of what Xerox had developed ... But, those were the good ol' days before IP attorneys were hired by the bunch, eh!

sriram khe said...

Maybe I should have waited until I had read this one too :)
The prolific jurist-intellectual, Richard Posner, also comes down on the side of patents are messed up: "You just have this proliferation of patents," Posner said. "It's a problem."

Asha said...

Like always, i am ignorant of all the things that happens unless you write. ofcourse.

I honestly feel we should owe it to the originator. Like yoga has not been patented but an improvised version is more popular in the west and now all over power yoga is credited to the west. Similarly, some countries are smart enough to take the parent idea and improvise on it and pass it off as their own due to their marketing skills.

It is also happening in the publishing world like plagiarism.

Ramesh said...

@Shachi - Well, if you as an innovator say this then there is something seriously wrong with the patent system

@Prats - Now, that is a brilliant idea. Run to the patent office quickly :)

@gils - Whether you patent it or not, you will always be knows as "mokkai thilagam" :)

@sriram - If Xerox and Bell labs had behaved like this in the past, we would still be living in caves.

@Asha - You raise an important point. What do we do with plagiarism ? I am tending towards a lighter regime on both patents and copyright - not an expert's, but a layman's view.

Sandhya Sriram said...

this reminds me of the story of the turmeric patent by University of Mississippi. i was teasing my mom at that time, that next time, she uses turmeric in her cooking or more so in her "Vettala seeval", she better keep aside money to pay royalty to Mississippi.

I dont think this whole saga has got so much to do with stifling innovation, as it has got to do with just the absurdity to which the US of A can get to. this is nothing different to your famous hot coffee at starbucks and the declaration example.

I guess, we must have laws for every thing including patents and consumer rights. we just mustnt have them in a country that wants their lawyers to flourish at any cost.even at the cost of stiffling their innovation or making their products exhorbitantly costly.

Vincy Joseph said...

//Hundreds of patents are granted over what goes inside one mobile phone. Is this all necessary ? //

A worthwhile question.

There also seems to be a lot of contradictions when it comes to the entertainment industry enforcing copyrights Vs internet companies wanting to continue spying on users Vs Patenting Vs plagiarism ( though we cannot club all these together into the same genre)

Gaurav said...

Just to satisfy my does one obtain a there a patent office in every country or is there a central institution to obtain a universal patent??

Ramesh said...

@Vincy - Oh yes, the issue of copyrights, especially in the music industry is another complex matter. My view is that this whole area has gone far too complex and is now against the interests of the consumer.

@Gaurav - Oh - everything is country specific. There is no global patent. You have to go to each country's authorities and file. India has a well developed patent law and system too.

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - They patented turmeric ??? Wow ! How extreme can this get ....

There's a backlash building up all around that the patent stuff has gone too far. I believe Apple might have won the battle and lost the war. More sanity in patenting will prevail.

Ravi said...

What happens when two or more people found the same innovative idea and they are completely no aware of each other. The winner will be the one who knocks the patent office door first?

Ramesh said...

@Ravi - Yes, I presume so. This has happened before in history before patents came, where the only benefit was fame.

sriram khe said...

The Economist weighs in on this:
"A proliferation of patents harms the public in three ways. First, it means that technology companies will compete more at the courtroom than in the marketplace—precisely what seems to be happening. Second, it hampers follow-on improvements by firms that implement an existing technology but build upon it as well. Third, it fuels many of the American patent system’s broader problems, such as patent trolls (speculative lawsuits by patent-holders who have no intention of actually making anything); defensive patenting (acquiring patents mainly to pre-empt the risk of litigation, which raises business costs); and “innovation gridlock” (the difficulty of combining multiple technologies to create a single new product because too many small patents are spread among too many players)."

Reflections said...

Thanks for giving me some more ammunition Ramesh....just the other day the H & I were heatedly arguing abt it & I cdn't come up with plausible arguments to substantiate my case....;-D

Ramesh said...

@Reflections - Wow, you and B argue heatedly on patents ??? I am much impressed :):)

sriram khe said...

Now a patent war over yoga pants!

Even before I started reading it, my thought was, damn those Indians who centuries ago forgot to patent yoga and each and every yoga asana! Imagine then: any time a yoga pant is sold, well, a few cents have to be remitted to India :)

Seriously though, this patent thing is beginning to show up in awful ways. ""This whole notion that you'd grant a patent to anyone who adds a seam or two to a waistband is quite problematic," said Ilse Metchek, the president of the California Fashion Association, a trade group that represents some manufacturers, domestic and international garment suppliers, and others close to the fashion industry. "It's only going to create more litigation, and that's hardly something the fashion industry needs more of."

A couple of days ago, I heard an industrial designer remark on a radio show a couple of days ago that they are now compelled to check with lawyers every small change they make, in case it is similar to a competitors' ...

The older I get, the crazier the world comes across to me :)

Ramesh said...

@sriram - Yuk - patenting yoga pants. Absurdity has been taken to absurd levels !

sriram khe said...

The nerd strikes again :)

I tell students that one aspect of education is that the fascinating idea that we are continuing to have conversations even with those dead and gone, like with Socrates, for example. (Socrates the philosopher, and not the late Brazilian footballer!)

So, do not be surprised that I tracked down your post from a couple a months ago and the conversations that we all had :)

All because I read this piece on "copyrights":
"A copyright isn’t supposed to be a reward. It’s supposed to be an incentive."
“If copyright is weak, then it will provide little incentive to create,” Brito writes. “But if it is too strong, then it will limit the public’s ability to enjoy and build on creative works, which after all is the reason why we have copyright in the first place.”

There .... am done ;)

Ramesh said...

@sriram - Much honoured that a post of mine stayed in your mind and you were reminded of it when reading another piece elsewhere.

Yes, the nonsense regarding Frost's Stopping by Woods is a perfect example of copyright overreach ; thankfully his estate is more sensible than copyright owners of much less stimulating stuff. The patents scene is much worse since many of the patent holders are universities or corporates with a propensity to sue.

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