Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Brief History of Idea Monopoly

The ability we have, as humans, to invent and create, has been with us since time immemorial. We were inventing new things long before civilization and governments existed. We are, in fact, the creators of civilizations and governments. The right to create, then, is prior to law -- it is pre-government. It is providential. In other words, the right to create does not exist because governments authorize it, but because it is a part of each person.

For most of the world, this right to create was largely unrestricted until the 18th or 19th century. An individual could create at will, using any idea that they encountered or that occurred independently to them.

Sometime during the last 600 years, governments realized that revenue could be earned by granting exclusive monopolies for specific goods to single individuals -- taking away the right to create these goods from everyone else. No one knows exactly when or where this insidious idea first arose, but it appears to have taken an early foothold in England in the 15th century. It worked like this: a monopoly on a particular good was granted for a sum of money or as a favor. In exchange, the Crown agreed to exclude, by force, all others but the grantee from participating in creating that good. These were called patents. In many respects, they were an extension of other unjust monopolies granted by the Crown, such as exclusive monopolies to fish certain waterways, to hunt in certain forests, or to kill and eat certain animals -- monopolies that were almost universally only granted to nobility or well-heeled benefactors. In the case of 16th century England, patents were granted on manufacturing salt, soap, glass, knives, sailcloth -- things that people had first created many centuries (or even millenia) before, and that until the time of grant, could be made by anyone with the resources and knowledge to make them.

This is the little-known and seldom-told origin of patents. This is the legacy on which our current patent systems build.

We continue to propagate these systems of artificially-created monopolies, sponsored by the state and enforced by the state's arm. Along the way, the system has morphed into something entirely new: a mechanism for monopolizing not only physical products, but ideas themselves. The system has been reformed countless times to make it less unjust, by requiring that the patent grant cover something non-trivial, that it be original, etc. But none of these reforms solve the fundamental problem of patent systems, which is that they restrict fundamental human rights: the right to have and use ideas, the right to create.

16 Comments:

Anonymous Richard said...

I didn't realize that the system was corrupt from the very beginning -- I always assumed that it started out good and corruption slowly took over.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

An individual could create at will, using any idea that they encountered or that occurred independently to them.
Sometime during the last 600 years, governments realized that revenue could be earned by granting exclusive monopolies for specific goods to single individuals -- taking away the right to create these goods from everyone else.


Whoa! I think you just conflated innovation with imitation by using the word "creation" for both. Or what's going on here?

6:28 PM  
Blogger Jackson Lenford said...

"Whoa! I think you just conflated innovation with imitation by using the word "creation" for both. Or what's going on here?"

This is a good point. There is definitely a difference between the concept of original invention and imitation. But I think you'll find that the most general definition for "create" is "to bring into existence." Under that definition, I don't think there is any conflation -- "create" covers both ideas.

An example: at some point in pre-history, someone, somewhere, created (invented) the first chair. At a much later point in history, a Shaker created (built) a classic Shaker chair design. It is very unlikely that the two chairs were the same, but it could certainly be said that the latter "imitated" the former. Both, however, were creations.

You might say that the example is bad because the differences must be too great between these two chairs. Okay, in that case, take one of the original Shaker designs and compare it with building (copying/imitating) that design from scratch in your own garage. Have you not brought that chair into existence? That is still creation, by definition. You've created a chair that didn't exist before.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Murky Thoughts said...

I didn't mean to make a niggling point. My concern is that you lose argument that a thing has changed over 600 years by seeming to talk about no particular thing. It's easy to think of counterexamples to your argument once you go concrete, depending how you go there. e.g. plagiarism wasn't AOK 600 years ago.

12:05 PM  
Blogger tim in sydney said...

Stephen Kinsella has a bunch of articles opposing the idea monopoly here.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the discussion of Intellectual Property should start to be framed in terms of "Material Monopoly" such as resources and real property - which according to economics and Tragedy Of The Commons - Garrett Hardin is a good thing to effectively utilise scarce resources, and "Immaterial Monopoly" when referring to patents and copyright. When thinking in those terms it seems to deflate the awe that patents have (for me).

10:36 PM  
Anonymous Bryan said...

If you look at the tragedy of the commons, this applies only to unmanaged resources coupled with a short-sighted community. If the community is far-sighted, it will realize that selfish behavior would in the end be a net detriment rather than a net benefit. Similarly, communal management prevents this abuse. However, in reference to patents, they essential do create a so-called "material monopoly" by translating into an exclusive right to produce a certain good, whether digitally or physically.

While the patent system as it exists today is based upon the idea that granting a temporary monopoly will be economically appetising enough to attract the effort of inventors and publication of ideas, after a specific period it will be released to public domain for the good of all, the terms are far too long and the system is far too easy to abuse to allow the system to remain. Rather, we should create a temporary system from scratch, prevent new patents, and develop a system that can properly achieve the ideals for which the patent system was designed. Some of the many downfalls we see today are software patents (an absurd abomination), patent trolls (those who patent and wait like sharks to litigate unsuspecting offenders, the quintessential vague or rediculous or duplicated patents, and patent (not to mention copyright) terms that are too long. As it is, more harm than good comes to all under the current system. That alone is reason enough for significant change.

10:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Rather, we should create a temporary system from scratch, prevent new patents, and develop a system that can properly achieve the ideals for which the patent system was designed."

Yeah right, what a stupid idea. How many current patent owners would buy into this rubbish?

"Some of the many downfalls we see today are software patents (an absurd abomination), patent trolls (those who patent and wait like sharks to litigate unsuspecting offenders, the quintessential vague or rediculous or duplicated patents"

I love the idiotic phrase patent trolls. The term patent troll was invented by corporations who dont like getting sued when they infringe.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quote: "How many current patent owners would buy into this rubbish?"

Who cares? Patent holders are the problem. Personally, I don't care if a single one of them buys into it. They're almost all crooked. The patent system doesn't exist to benefit crooks, it exists to benefit all of us.

quote: "I love the idiotic phrase patent trolls. The term patent troll was invented by corporations who dont like getting sued when they infringe."

Uh. So you're one of those trolls, I guess? Too bad you can't see that big corporations that use bad patents to extort royalties and crush competition are also trolls. Why wouldn't you want to see an end put to that, for corps and individuals?

8:57 AM  
Anonymous Dave said...

anon said, Who cares? Patent holders are the problem.

It's not so much that they are the problem, it's that they posess ill-gotten goods. Patents granted under a broken system are in most cases, by definition, invalid. So pandering to holders of bad patents is like pandering to purchasers of stolen merchandise.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Richard said...

I didn't realize that the system was corrupt from the very beginning -- I always assumed that it started out good and corruption slowly took over."

I still don't 'realise that the system was corrupt from the very beginning'. The level of historical description was so bare as to be useless, and no reference was made to any further text. It was just asserted that it was bad.

Try this reference - http://www.patent.gov.uk/patent/whatis/fivehundred/origins.htm

It indicates that patents were originally intended to protect inventors from being ripped off by blatant copying, but that opportunity for misuse was always there, much as Richard thought.

4:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

quote: "patents were originally intended to protect inventors from being ripped off by blatant copying, but that opportunity for misuse was always there, much as Richard thought."

Oh, I don't know. On the very next page from the one you referenced, it says that patents were granted on "soap, saltpetre, alum, leather, salt, glass, knives, sailcloth, sulphur, starch, iron and paper." Unless you want to claim that all those things were invented during Elizabeth I's reign, I think you'd better go back and study the history a bit more.

Even the stained-glass example, the "earliest known English patent," reeks of artificial monopoly on a technique that was not invented by the patent holder.

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you focus on the right to create, but seem oblivious to the incentive to create.

Human Nature. It's not just a good idea. It's the law.

5:55 AM  
Blogger inventor said...

Enough of the "theory" already...
How about some real life examples?

I am a pioneering inventor.
(I invented a whole new field, for which my invention was to be later applied.)

Despite five formal attempts, my
disclosures were never depicted as such, DELIBERATELY by design.
A feeding frenzy has resulted & I can find absolutely NO ONE to defend my [unquestionably obvious]
IP rights.
Blatant, willful, infringers feel
safe - as a direct result of what our "System" has since become - a
TRAP to snare the true innovator!

I don't even know why I bother to
continue to make my unheard pleas
like the one below - no one cares.
Others have worse stories to tell!
(I read Joe G's book... WOW !!!!!)

My new blog will expose everything
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Dear Rep. Levin...

What you'd just sent me is all fine & well, but at the moment, I've got much
more important business to attend to, thanks mainly to the inaction by Congress
to address the really serious stuff (like BLATANT PATENT SYSTEM CORRUPTION
that has stifled new industry, and ruined my life and the lives of my immediate family).

I wrote Congress about this issue several years ago, but it has only gotten much worse,
and actually emboldened both, known & potential infringers.
No lawyer on Earth will defend us, and the system (within the "System") - knows that.

The USPTO has essentially stolen my life, and redistributed it to entities of their choosing.
In so doing, they have created some powerful enemies. ...Rest assured we will fight back.

Congress failed to remedy the situation...
So now, WE will!

Send this to your other "Reps" - because I'm here to tell you,
We're mad as HELL and we're NOT going to take it any more.

Below, is my response to another, victimized by our totally corrupted System.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Dear Joseph...

It was both a pleasure and an honor to receive your phone call on Friday, and be given
the opportunity to hear your extremely compelling story, firsthand. I was beginning to
feel as though I were the only person/Inventor in the country who felt strongly enough
about this obvious widescale corruption issue to actually care enough to write about it.
Your many brilliant letters are more than just eye-opening ...they are motivational !!!

Thanks to all your undying efforts, Joe - I'm now certain... I'm not crazy!

Now that you have refueled the fire in my tank, I'm certain there must be countless other
inventors out there, feeling exactly the same way, or worse... and I WILL FIND THEM !!!

With your permission, I'd like to perhaps carry your torch for awhile, as you must be
exasperated by now - between all the effort you've expended ( & suppression tactics you
have endured to quiet you, & break you of your spirit )... I can surely relate to that, although
on a smaller scale. Thank God, I'd only discovered that the Patent system was corrupt.
I can't imagine what I'd have done had I been in your shoes, and discovered all that you
have. How you remained positive for this long in the face of such a disgusting evil ( of a
rare variety, beyond most people's comprehension) - is beyond me.

Talk shows should feature YOU !!!
If it is within my power, I will make that happen.

I have already set up a separate "Blog-site" where attention will be brought, not only to your
story and my similar voyage to disaster... but to the horror stories of many others, as well.
No doubt, they are out there & I (...we?) will soon find them!

Once we compile enough stories & related data from some of those victimized like us...
I will make sure ALL HELL breaks loose, until we are all - HONESTLY REPRESENTED
and justly COMPENSATED for the atrocious & blatant theft of our life's work.

If not, I will expose & shred every single one of their "scams" - one by one!
The new book will be entitled; "The Fleecing of America".

I'll send you further details on our new BLOG called - "CorruptionBusters"... very soon.
Your permission to go public with your story (& any important contact info. for the right
people /or helpful organizations, you may be able to provide, etc.) - would be most helpful.
Other suggestions, ideas, you or others may come up with, would be great too.

Someday...society will HEAR your story, Joe (...and, very soon!)

I'm still searching for that mythical honest attorney, who will champion our cause.
When I find them, you'll be the first to know.

In the meantime...
Keep the Faith,

Arnie Goldman - Inventor/founder
Perfecta Grip Industries - (PGI)
25851 S. River Park Dr.
Inkster, Michigan 48141www.perfectagrip.com
(313)-586-2424"CorruptionBusters" new email address is: corruption.busters@yahoo.com
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
jgentiluomo@aim.com wrote:
Dear Arnie,

While browsing the internet on the "Findlaw" website, I came across your Oct. 7, 2002 e-mail to Mitch Albom, regarding your Perfecta Grip invention. You mentioned how a fraudulent and corrupt patent system had allowed others to infringe and steal your invention. In trying to get press regarding your problem, you stated that most won't touch the subject for fear of challenging a government system. You also mentioned that you picketed a former law firm for 3 days before you got TV coverage regarding your problem.
I can sympathize with you, because I've also been taken by a corrupt patent system, plus a corrupt Judicial system. In my case I invented a bowling ball covered by Pat. No. Re. 34,614. To talk about corruption in the Patent Office, it took me 12 years to receive the patent, because Patent Office Examiners favor corporations, and therefore, try to force independent inventors into receiving the weakest patent protection possible, so that corporations can easily circumvent or outright steal the patent. This is just the tip of the iceburg, because if you are an independent inventor and sucessful in receiving strong patent protection, you will more than likely get involved in court litigation, and encounter corrupt federal judges. Since the federal court system favors corporations with the big bucks, your patent will be invalidated, as my patent was.
Since you mentioned that you had a hard time getting press to expose the corrupt patent system, you can imagine the problem I had trying to get press to expose the corrupt United States judicial system. To expose corrupt federal court judges, I picketed the federal courthouse, and was completely ignored by newspaper an TV news media, because of judicial terrorism. Since I was unsuccessful in getting news media coverage, I wrote a book that exposes the corruption occurring in the U.S. Patent Office and the U.S. Federal Courts. To get a more thorough assessment of the corruption, view my website at www.americasjudicialmeltdown.com.


Sincerely,


Joseph A. Gentiluomo

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These examples are classic!

Hopefully these two innovators will not die in vain.


- G.J.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The monopolies granted by the Crown are akin to modern patents in name only. A monopoly is being the sole source in a market of all of some commodity you don't otherwise own, like all of the oil, tea or bananas sold in a market. The English Crown would grant these monopolies to their allies as a reward, taking a cut of the extortionate prices monopolists could charge.

Calling a modern patent a "monopoly" is incorrect, a patent is a personal property right in the invention you created. You don't have a "monopoly" with a patent any more than you have a "monopoly" on anything else you own, such as your house, your car, the stories you write. You own them and this means you can stop others from using them, but that is where the similarity ends.

You create a property right in an invention by creating something new under the sun and the government grants a patent for a limited time as an incentive to do so. This system is directly responsible for allowing inventors to create and be rewarded for their successful efforts. Otherwise competitors could freely take the fruits of any inventor's research and investment.

Talk about stifling creativity. Having for example General Electric be legally entitled to copy the fantastic new light bulb that some inventor spent his savings and years developing would pretty much stifle creativity to death. And create a barrier that the wealthy could use to keep out the less wealthy.

Nor does the US government make much money on the patent system, from what, the filing and maintenance fees? Tiny, tiny chump change for the government. That's like saying the DMV is a big money-maker for the government, charging $25 fees for licensing drivers.

The payoff is for the people, not the government, by creating new markets with wondrous new devices for society. Perhaps the government indirectly benefits financially from income and sales taxes. So what? While the government benefits from the income taxes perhaps, we all benefit from having this technology.

The patent system is a direct cause of our prosperity and being the leading technological nation. There is a reason why the telephone, television, the computer, medical miracles and the majority of stupendous inventions were created in the USA --in other countries the local powers-that-be could simply copy an innovation with no reward for the inventor: so very few bothered to invent. Leonardo DaVinci had to make his living as a painter and sculptor, not from his inventions.

I know the patent system is irksome and but it is simply complicated subject matter. It needs to be tuned up but you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

12:24 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home