defending the right to innovate
Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.
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(via Steve Silberstein) One of the reason the patent system does not work more poorly than it does is that companies acquire large portfolios of patents that they hold over each others head, effectively neutralizing the patent system and letting everyone get on with the business of actually inventing useful stuff. The "patent trolls" or non-practicing entities (NPEs) have broken this system by creating firms that don't actually do anything except hold patents, so they are free to sue, without any threat of being counter sued. Patent Freedom is a web site devoted to tracking the trolls - they have a wealth of interesting information about them.
What is the next great wave of innovations? It is hard to know for sure, but over-the-air internet seems an obvious possibility. We observe the following facts
*Cell phone service is highly monopolistic and lousy.
*Over-the-air internet service has arrived - watch people with their iphones at the restaurant...
*Over-the-air internet service is lousy - watch how long it takes them to load a web page
This raises the question: what would really good over-the-air internet service do? Really high speed all the time everywhere over-the-air internet exists in laboratories all over the world. It is directional and frequency hopping and it cleverly gets around problems of interference, including that caused by other devices. The technology is there now. Why can't we have all the information in the world at our fingertips all the time? Think of all the great business opportunities - from revolutionizing markets for small businesses, to great new businesses, to the business of writing the software, building the small portable internet devices, to building the large radio networks needed to make the vision a reality. Expensive proprietary over-the-air networks revolutionized trucking and shipping. Why not revolutionize everything else? There is no question that there is huge opportunity here: for individual people to make their fortune, for the more average of us to make a living in a new and growing industry.
So what is keeping the vision from reality? Not enough support from the government? No - government is the problem. From dragging their feet on the allocation of "white space" spectrum, to delaying the introduction of HDTV, to the more fundamental problem of tying up massive amount of bandwidth with obsolete over the air television that provides minuscule benefits to practically nobody - government regulation is the culprit. We don't need "net neutrality" laws; we don't need government regulation of the airwaves - we need competition, hard and fierce and innovative.
And let us not forget patents and copyright. So much of the new technology is tied up with patents of course. But I'm especially reminded of a conversation I had with Gary Shapiro, President of the Consumer Electronic Association, who I met at a Cato conference several years ago. He represents mostly smaller electronics firms - exactly the ones who are eager to innovate and bring new products to market. What is their greatest fear? That competitors will steal their ideas if they don't tie them up with patents? Of course not. It is that they will be sued by copyright holders for somehow encouraging piracy. If you want to know what that is all about, go look up the case of Replay TV.
Finally - what does it take to succeed? The biggest success of the last decade is Google. Did they do this by trying to squelch the competition with legal means? No. They have a vision - all information at your fingertips all the time - and they've ruthlessly pursued that vision, necessarily bending and breaking copyright laws along the way. So...do we spend our time patenting elaborate business models? Or do we build better mousetraps?
I think it is time to start a campaign to free the airwaves. The time has come for inexpensive high quality access to everyone and everything all the time.
Glenn Thorpe brings to our attention an article by Matt Zimmerman about the Google settlement with the book authors. He points out that until now Google has pursued legal settlements that benefited everyone; this time the settlement benefits only them, leaving anyone else who would like to make fair use of copyright material in the lurch.
We argue a lot about patents on this blog. While software patents are pretty clearly harmful, for the most part they aren't enforced so don't make much difference. The big blockade to innovation these days seems to be the copyright tail wagging our dog.
via Svetoslav Trochev
Here is prime example that shows how the patents are 'promoting' the progress.
Thanks to Christian Zimmermann for keeping an eye on Economic Logic. They are blogging up a storm over patent abuse.
One of the biggest problems with the patent system - and to a lesser extent with copyright - is the use to try to tax other people's innovations by claiming a monopoly over something you didn't invent. This is the heart of what it means to be a patent troll (see the article below about banks), and why it blocks rather than promotes innovation. There is a nice posting about SCO on Economic Logic: the point is that SCO now exists as a company the sole purpose of which is to slow down progress by claiming IP rights over other people's inventions and creations.
Of all the arguments for IP, the argument that somehow existing inventions can be diffused more quickly if only someone has a monopoly over them is the one that has the least theoretical or empirical support. But the mere absence of facts is no bar to making the argument. Via Stefano Trento, here is an entire manual devoted to that proposition. To quote "It is well established that intellectual property advances product development because intellectual property provides incentives for R&D, commercialization, and product distribution." This is, of course, not well established, and while it is true that IP provides some incentives and disincentives for R&D, it is almost certainly not true that it provides incentives for commercialization and product distribution.
It isn't widely recognized, but a variety of private contracts have implications similar to government mandated "intellectual property." One of the most significant things is the enforcement by goverment of non-compete clauses. This makes it impossible for employees to leave a firm to work for a rival or start their own firm in competition with their employer. As with most anti-competitive contracts, this is popular with would-be monopolists, but the consequent lack of competition is not especially good for innovation. There is a literature that suggests that Silicon Valley became...well Silicon Valley... and Route 128 in Boston became not much of anything despite Route 128 having the same starting conditions of computer firms and strong universities as Silicon Valley because Massachusetts enforces non-compete agreements, and California will not. If you want to find out more about this the ever valuable Mike Masnick has done a nice job of digging into some of the literature and details.
By changing the word 'a' to 'the' and adding the phrase 'purchasable through a shopping cart model,' lawyers for Amazon.com have apparently managed to reinstate two of CEO Jeff Bezos' 1-Click Patent claims that were rejected a month earlier. 'Patent Owner's Rep was informed that the proposed addition to the claims appear to place the claims in condition of patentability,' writes the USPTO in its Ex Parte Reexamination Interview Summary of the 11-15 conference call that was held with five representatives of the USPTO and patent reformer Amazon.
from Slashdot wasn't the most promising start of Thanksgiving. But appearances can be deceiving. Peter Calveley, the New Zealander who filed the patent challenge (with our support I might add), writes in to call attention to a post on his blog explaining why this is defeat for Amazon - or what is more salient, victory for the rest of us. The key point is the blocking technology point. Amazon's original claims were so broad they blocked the use of one-click for practically anything to do with making a purchase. The revised claims are specifically in the context of the shopping cart model - Peter points out that in the future innovation in payments systems will not be in the context of a shopping cart model.
I have some vague recollection of a top Microsoft executive leaving to join an IP firm...this appears to have some details. The next move in the ballet was predictable
Patent Infringement Lawsuit Filed Against Red Hat & Novell - Just Like Ballmer Predicted
I don't suppose it requires a conspiracy theorist to see Microsoft as spinning off a subsidiary to spread legal FUD against competitors. Of course you might think the patent has some merit. Ars Technica has a rather nice summary the last time the patent was used in a lawsuit
The language of the patent is interminably vague and could apply to any one of a dozen different user interface elements that are found in all modern operating systems, but seems to be most closely related to the idea of "tabbed" dialog boxes, like the ones seen in both Windows and Mac OS X. Ironically, the company to first release a modern-looking tabbed dialog box was none other than Microsoft with early versions of Office, although Apple had a Control Panel with similar functionality as early as Mac OS System 4.2, circa 1987. It remains to be seen whether or not IP Innovations will go after Microsoft and other system vendors after they are finished with Apple.
The dead hand of Xerox reaches out from the grave...
Most Recent Comments
Catching Up The Ruth Lewis post is interesting, but incomplete. The very economies that are supposedly
at 01/31/2013 07:21 AM by Anonymous
Canada - A Copyright Year in Review Hello. I don't like copyright law but I don't think it will go away in my life. I started a
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Canada - A Copyright Year in Review Regarding the Copyright Act revision, let it be known that there was substantial opposition to the
at 12/28/2012 06:57 AM by Byte
From the Trenches Innovative remarks indeed. Cecil Quillen suggests the system needs to be modified, which I think
at 12/21/2012 06:18 PM by Anonymous
The golden age of beer innovation ""Perhaps the first reason [for the rate of patenting] is that during this period the rate of
at 12/20/2012 05:46 PM by Anonymous
Obama Transition Team Member on Holy cow. None of Your Beeswax is a Canadian (Laurier Optical is Canadian only). You don't even
at 12/19/2012 06:08 PM by Anonymous
The golden age of beer innovation Adam_Smith: Until the latter half of the 19th century, corporations routinely filed for patents,
at 12/19/2012 04:54 PM by Brewing Is Fun
The golden age of beer innovation It would seem from the account given in the previous comment that it was innovation that stimulated
at 12/19/2012 04:04 AM by Adam_Smith
Would books be published without copyright? taxpayer: "The Wealth of Nations" went through five editions in the first 13 years of publication,
at 12/05/2012 08:31 AM by Anonymous
Would books be published without copyright? I was wondering whether free-market advocate Adam Smith made much money from his books. On-line
at 12/04/2012 09:59 AM by taxpayer
Open Book Publisher Great work! Here's my quick review of the book: It seems to me that behavioral economists
at 11/27/2012 08:38 PM by Aaron Wolf
250000 Patents for Smartphone Technology Hi. Sorry for posting here as I cannot see a contact us section. How can I contact you? I have
at 11/27/2012 10:17 AM by Thomas Stringer
The golden age of beer innovation With respect to the beer innovation paper, I have to wonder whether the authors were overly focused
at 11/23/2012 08:31 AM by Brewing Is Fun
The golden age of beer innovation With respect to Christian's comment that "there was rapid innovation without recourse to patents,"
at 11/21/2012 03:16 PM by Beer Innovation
250000 Patents for Smartphone Technology I have seen several analysts who believe that the number of patents in this area indicate that our
at 10/24/2012 08:40 AM by Anonymous
Would books be published without copyright? Gael: I would be curious as to how much copyright litigation is costing. I have never seen any
at 10/19/2012 01:12 PM by Anonymous
Would books be published without copyright? I think it's going to evolve towards a better system with or without copyright. Right now copyright
at 10/19/2012 11:46 AM by Gael N.
Patents and Secrecy Of course patents are not the "only" answer. That is just plain dumb. There are multiple business
at 10/13/2012 08:47 AM by Anonymous
Open Book Publisher Thanks for the great book, and for making it free culture. It's worth mentioning that they don't
at 10/12/2012 04:41 PM by Chris Sakkas
What the New York Times Should Have Asked What is the patent number for the
at 10/09/2012 08:44 AM by Anonymous