Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate


Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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From Rafael Magri

Today I was reading a book called "The Omnivore's Dilema" and came accross something that I believe could be useful in your line of research (and I don't remember reading about it anywhere else).

In the book, some executive from General Mills is quoted saying that recipes are not intellectual property. So, all you can get is a few months head start with some new product, time enough to establish a brand.

So, if the processes food industry is innovative enough, this fits nicely with the thesis that patents may be unecessary.

How many innovations are patented

Not all innovations are patented, and the question of how many is fundamental to understanding what is going on. Cecil Quillen points us to a careful new paper by R. Fontana, A. Nuvolari, H. Shimizu, A. Vezzulli attaching the issue.

The Times: You Can Get Your Invention on to the Store Shelf; Here's How

The other day, the New York Times published instructions for aspiring inventors on how to take their inventions through the patent granting process and on to the retailers' shelves link here. The examples are a couple of aspiring inventors and describes the pitfalls, the costs, and a rough estimate of the likelihood of success.

In the first example, the invention is a sun shade for a baby's stroller. The problem in this case was the number of thieves waiting to take the aspiring inventor's money without providing any service or charging an arm and a leg for minimal services. First lesson: know your help's history. Second lesson: you have to do a lot of the work yourself; it is hard to write a contract that specifies what is needed and to find a contractor who can provide it.

The second case is an inventor of a screw device to replace the broken one on the ear pieces of eyeglasses. The experience with companies who are selling consulting and other assistance is much the same as in the first case. The upfront costs of patenting and marketing are stiff and the need for added funding, often high.

The article seems to suggest that there is a growing number of successful inventor-developers and leaves the thought that with a bit of effort, you too can succeed. This does not account for the number who failed. Nor does the data cite the proportion that were brought to market by big companies who seem to dominate the marketplace when you shop and who turn out to end up with the patents that make market dominance possible.

ITC Allows Apple Imports That Violate Samsung Patents

The blog, Public Knowledge, argues that the International Trade Commission should consider the public interest in reaching regulatory decisions on patents. The Obama has so decreed when it overruled an ITC case and permitted imports of Apple phones that it had found to violate duly recognized patents of other companies, in this case foreign firms link here.

When I look at the mess in the whole patent system, I see a world of oligopolies and monopolies built on patents, supposedly designed to encourage innovation, but instead creating a self-perpetuating means to paralyze innovation.

I would do away with the whole system of patents, but that isn't going to happen. Too many huge companies have a vested interest in the existing highly profitable system. Instead, those of my persuasion must examine whether the legal change making importation illegal under a finding of public interest is a good thing, rather than allowing the competing imports and slowing Apple's ability to go on coining money. To put it differently, isn't allowing the imports in the public interest? In this case, the big American company was the winner. Who lost?

Public Knowledge announces a Patent Reform Project

I'm late with this but Public Knowledge announced two weeks ago that it was starting a Patent Reform Project link here. Given that we are surrounded with an incredibly expensive and inefficient and now corrupt (with the presence of the patent trolls' extortion) system, it is important for the informed and interested to weigh in.

One cannot be terribly optimistic about the outcome, but to leave the system to the big money and personally interested is to give up. We can do better. Given our democratic system, compromise is essential so one almost never gets all his wishes. But the critics have been making a dent in the unthinking belief that intellectual property was property like physical goods or land and that it always encouraged innovation and thus human progress. It is a right with characteristics like real property, created by law and law can be changed. Now is the time to change it.

Weigh in, please.

Another bad patent--guaranteeing more litigation

Bad patents are an old story, but they keep getting worse. This one is granted for "displaying pictures of athletes on the fields on which their sport is played" link here.

Timothy, in whose name the story is posted at Slashdot.org, sends you to the patent itself, a master piece of overblown legalism and hucksterism link here. Google, to which the patent is granted, should be deeply ashamed. Timothy comments, "Just about anyone that's familiar with sports has seen position and depth charts, in which athletes are portrayed on the athletic fields their sport is played on."

Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation?

In a long post, Mike Masnick calls attention to an e-book by Alex Tabarrok which focuses on the decline in total factor productivity as a measure of the drop in innovation link here. This has occurred despite the huge increase in the number of patents. He concludes that the patent system is broken and suggests some fixes like a mix of patents, some short-term and easy to get and others, long-term and less likely to be granted. Read and ponder.

And then think about the political and economic power of those who oppose such reforms.

Patents on 3D Printing Challenged by Prior Art

Mike Masnick lets go with a strong blast on patents because they may yet again cripple innovation in 3D printing link here. As he writes, "One of the reasons 3D printing is suddenly on the cusp of going mainstream is the expiration of some key patents that have held the technology back for decades."

The really hopeful feature of his post is that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is opposing some recent patent applications, based on the discovery of prior art. The story gets better as the EFF has successfully appealed to crowd-sourcing to find evidence of such prior art. Unfortunately, the Patent Office still can't seem to find much of this.

Mike's enthusiasm about the changes that 3D printing may make for manufacturing, new product design, and a growth in the competitive strength of small enterprise have yet to be proved. Still, it should be clear to most people that we suffer from a world of business monopoly based on laws which convey privilege to large enterprise with wealth to buy political support for favorable legislation.

Here's hoping.

Mark Cuban and small business

Do we want to innovate our way out of crisis? How about government getting out of the way of innovators? Real innovators and small businesses are obstructed not helped by patents. Don't listen to me. Listen to someone in business.

3D Printing

If you read this blog you must have an internet connection, so presumably have heard of 3D printing. It is a very disruptive technology with potential to change manufacturing in a variety of ways - and indeed even things such as medicine. I recently had some correspondence with Joshua Pearce whose engineering group is working on materials for use in 3D printing. He is concerned about a patent arms race in this area being drag on innovation. He is looking at creative ways to preempt some of the patent nonsense.

Joshua has also been active in nanotechnology, another important areas of innovation. His article in Nature highlights how patents are helping to obstruct rather than help progress - again with innovative ideas for an open source model for key building blocks that will enhance rather than hinder innovation.

It is not a tribute to our system that genuine innovators have to spend their time trying to figure out how to avoid the hindrance of patents rather than devoting their effort to innovation.

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Most Recent Comments

Questions and Challenges For Defenders of the Current Copyright Regime Subject Very controversial Gráfica em

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges Finally got around to looking at the comments, sorry for delay... Replying to Stephan: I'm sorry

Let's See: Pallas, Pan, Patents, Persephone, Perses, Poseidon, Prometheus... Seems like a kinda bizarre proposal to me. We just need to abolish the patent system, not replace

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges I'm a bit confused by this--even if "hired to invent" went away, that would just change the default

Do we need a law? @ Alexander Baker: So basically, if I copy parts of 'Titus Andronicus' to a webpage without

Do we need a law? The issue is whether the crime is punished not who punishes it. If somebody robs our house we do

Do we need a law? 1. Plagiarism most certainly is illegal, it is called "copyright infringement". One very famous

Yet another proof of the inutility of copyright. The 9/11 Commission report cost $15,000,000 to produce, not counting the salaries of the authors.

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece P.S. The link to Amazon's WKRP product page:

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece Hopefully some very good news. Shout! Factory is releasing the entire series of WKRP in Cincinnati,

What's copywritable? Go fish in court. @ Anonymous: You misunderstood my intent. I was actually trying to point out a huge but basic

Rights Violations Aren't the Only Bads I hear that nonsense from pro-IP people all the

Intellectual Property Fosters Corporate Concentration Yeah, I see the discouragement of working on a patented device all the time. Great examples

Music without copyright Hundreds of businessmen are looking for premium quality article distribution services that can be

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Patent Lawyers Who Don't Toe the Line Should Be Punished! Moreover "the single most destructive force to innovation is patents". We'd like to unite with you

Bonfire of the Missalettes!

Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? So, if our patent system was "broken," TFP of durable goods should have dropped. Conversely, since

Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? I wondered about TFP, because I had heard that TFP was increasing. Apparently, it depends on who