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Against Monopoly

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Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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What Has Gotten Into The Water Over At IPWatchdog.com?

Gene Quinn, along with his site IPWatchdog.com, has been a stalwart defender of the current patent system. The honest impression that I have gotten in the past while reading his posts is that he has elevated the importance of the patent industry (and the economic benefits it has given to a discreet class) over actual innovation. Regular readers of this site might recall him being singled out by Stephan Kinsella [ http://www.againstmonopoly.org/index.php?perm=593056000000001821].

Imagine my surprise when I came across the following posts at Quinn's IpWatchdog site this past week:

http://ipwatchdog.com/2010/12/14/patent-trolls-innovation-vampires-suck-life-out-of-economy/id=13797/

http://ipwatchdog.com/2010/12/09/intellectual-ventures-becomes-patent-troll-public-enemy-1/id=13711/

http://ipwatchdog.com/2010/12/08/copyright-trolls-the-meaner-stepsister-of-patent-trolls/id=13695/ (This post is admittedly written by a guest to Quinn's site, but it is still nice to find him hosting such views).

I don't want to make too much of this. I (and I suspect other contributors to this site) still have profound disagreements with Quinn's perspective. But it nonetheless seems to mark something of a positive shift in thinking, or at least rhetorical emphasis. Even if it turns out to be slight, it is still a positive development which I welcome. A simple recognition of the harm that patent trolls cause shouldn't be difficult to admit to - even for those who are stalwart supporters of the remaining aspects of our current patent system. It is somewhat amusing to see his commentators accuse him of going over to the "dark side" and espousing "pure, unabashed anti-patent rhetoric", and then read Quinn having to defend even this reasonable and narrowly-tailored critique which he has authored.

Quinn himself admits: "I know that over the last several years I have not been one to want to jump up and down over the problems created by patent trolls..."

I hope that this will mark the opening of a more constructive dialogue. If these posts of his are any indication, then we actually share the same broad goal of maximizing innovation. Before now, I honestly wasn't sure he placed that goal as the prime directive.

So in the hopes of building further bridges of peace, love and understanding, here is a parting thought for now which I hope Quinn chews on further -

True "innovation" can't be thought of merely as the creation of a new invention, but rather, the placement of that new invention into the hands of wider society. There is no actual innovation until the practical benefits of an invention are widely disseminated for use by the general public (or as large a group as the nature of an invention practically allows for) which in turn allows them to build further on it.

I don't wish to start a philosophical conundrum akin to the question of "does a tree falling in a forest make a sound if nobody is there to hear it?" But from my perspective, a ground-breaking invention is not "innovation" if it is kept under wraps by a small secret society or elite oligarchy. The term "innovation" inherently connotes the fact that its benefits are shared by as much of the public as practically possible. The next step is debating what system would maximize that.

The gulf in views are still vast, but if we can agree on what "innovation" actually means and can also agree that maximizing it should be the primary goal IP regimes (as opposed to placing economic considerations for certain IP players as a primary end unto themselves), then we will be well on our way towards a more constructive dialogue.


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