Saturday, October 15, 2005

Invention as a Fundamental Human Right

What separates us from the animals? That we have a sense of "self", that we use tools, that we speak language -- all have fallen as researchers have demonstrated that some animals do recognize the concept of "self", that crows use cars & roads as tools to smash nuts, that chimpanzees fashion crude sticks to fish for ants, that some birds can use very small vocabularies to communicate their desires to their handlers, and that apes can learn and proficiently use sign-language vocabularies stretching towards a hundred or more words.

The one difference that remains is that we create. We create things that never before existed, and on a whim can produce descriptions of fantastical things never before imagined. We spend the majority of our lives surrounded by our creations: walls, roofs, carpets, desks, televisions, kitchens, stores, roads, cars, and most of us labor in the work of creation daily -- even a janitorial worker produces, through his labor, a creation: a clean environment, a repaired (or re-created) facility, etc. If it can be argued that animals are capable of creation, the argument would have to admit that they have such a small capacity in this regard as to barely merit mention. While the magnificence of a spider's web can be breathtaking, it is the same web that the spider spins, over and over and over again.

We stand alone among creatures as the prolific creators and inventors on this planet.

Those with religious sensibilities almost universally recognize this; that one of Divinity's most defining and lasting attributes is that it created this world, and that an echo of this divine capability is reflected in us, in our ability to create.

Those with more secular sensibilities almost universally recognize this also; that nature's first law is to create and to reproduce, that evolution spins ever upward towards new creation, and that our world favors creatures who can survive by adaptation (learning/technology) over those who survive by innate instinct. Adaptation through learning and technology is inseperable from the ability to create, and no species has this capacity so much as ours.

Why, then, do we grant monopolies on creation under our current system? Why do we allow one person to use an idea to create new inventions, and disallow all others? Are these restrictions really necessary to promote innovation, or do they stifle us more than we realize?

The act of creating is an essential human right. It is a universal human faculty. As Frederic Bastiat wrote, "to separate a man from his faculties is to cause him to die."

Is our current Intellectual Property Regime killing us? We think so. What do you think?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a lot of evidence to suggest that patents encourage invention. Without the incentive of holding IP rights many inventions would never have been funded in the first place.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Gregory Casamento said...

There's also a significant amount of evidence against this point:

Many lawyers tout this so called "spurring of innovation" without much proof at all based on the "common sense" idea that most people are greedy and would abscond or refuse to pay for an invention, if it was free. For me, I need a little more of a scientific basis than that.


5:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Without the incentive of holding IP rights many inventions would never have been funded in the first place.

This is a common refrain held among IP-maximalists, yet the evidence is non-existent -- there is no alternate universe we can consult that tells us which inventions would and would not have been created without a patent system in place.

The evidence we do have is of countless innovations that were squashed by competitors who happened to "own" the rights to an idea monopoly. You don't need to go looking very hard to find instances like this.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Drew said...

I thought I'd add someting from an anthropologists point of view. Humans are not alone in creating "cultural artifacts" or something from nothing. Even the transference of ideas among generations. The act of creating a tool from a learned behavior has been observed in Great Apes, which includes Gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, (these differ from monkeys, as monkeys do not create tools). However, this article seems to rationalize that our conceptualization of ownership has diminished our higharchial role in nature. Ironically, this is not a new thought, one of which thinkers like Michel Foucault have tried to tackle before. Foucault described authorship as a means to show "authenticity" to works and "individualism" among people. Yes, this author has pointed out a stumbling block which we have reached, probably stemming from the large groupings of populations and the governence that controls these groups. In my opinion, the author is making the wrong assumption that we become less human as more control over our ideas is asserted. What makes us Human among the "animals", is our ability to acknowledge this problem in the first place. We've encountered problems like these before and we will encounter them again as more and more of our "properties" become conceptual. We are human and we will change and survive.

Here's a link to Foucault's excert..

10:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is one thing to patent inventions, another to patent ideas, particularly broad, vague ideas. One of the criteria should be that you actually have the product. Want to patent a time machine? Then show me the time machine. It also has to be an actual invention - a way of transferring data over a network is not an invention, a menu system is not an invention, a GUI is not an invention. For one thing, when it comes to GUIs, the software makers get most of their ideas from their users, but I don't see them sharing the profits with people who actually came up with the ideas in their GUIs.

Modern patents are like patenting the operation of a car with a steering wheel. Great way to stifle and destroy innovation and competition.

We actually have to wipe away the current system, expunge all current patents and reduce copyright to ten years, with everything prior to 1995 moving immediately into the public domain (there's absolutely no valid reason for any creator to require more than ten years of copyright and certainly no reason copyright should pass onto children). Sure its drastic and it'll be painful for many, but change requires destabilisation and pain. Holders of copyrights can keep creating to make money or get a real job just like everyone else.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give me a freakin break. Wipe out all patents? Modern patents like patenting a steering wheel? Good luck getting a patent on a steering wheel. On a new safety or navigation sytsem maybe.

What rock did you people crawl out from under?

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

quote: "What rock did you people crawl out from under?"

The 'clue' rock. You should get one.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Birds create nest. Bees ceate hives. Monkeys fashion tools. Our inginuity is in taking something that's been created in nature and making it our own. So much so that we can't even recognize the original idea that it stemmed from. Now we feed off of other ideas to continue the process. Only today's patent law dampens our ability to do this, and so dampens our ability to progress freely.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Just saw Amnesty International have launched another cool campaign. I just joined and it's fun. Give it a try, it's for a good cause and it takes only a couple of minutes. Postin' some of the info from their blog:

"Where can you find bearded ladies, parachuting mermaids and Siamese pirate twins on the web? On the way to Guántanamo!

Amnesty International has launched an animated online petition asking for people to join our flotilla travelling all the way to Guantánamo. We have already got thousands of people on the voyage with us. The travellers are taking part in AI's latest online campaign to draw more people to our campaign against the US government to close Guantánamo. This online petition will run until 26 June, International day for the Protection of Victims of Torture.

Help us pass the message! Please forward the link to as many people as you can and ask them to sign up to the campaign and forward it to their friends and colleagues. People can also link to the flotilla from their website or blog. Find here banners and buttons in several languages. Together we can Close Guantánamo. Let's give it a good try!

Joining only takes a minute and it is a lot of fun. And while you're there, have a look at how your friends and colleagues here have designed their outfits, done their hair and chosen their mode of transport -- its a hoot! Have you always wanted a beard but were afraid to grow one? Now's your chance!

The campaign is gathering momentum and is creating quite a splash. Now we need your help to pass on the message. Can we count on you to keep up the momentum and ensure we get this awful detention site closed for good?

Thanks, everyone!

Amnesty International"

so there you are, ladies, go grow your beard on the way to Guantánamo! :)

(the mermaid with a beard riding a sea dragon, that's me!)

6:55 AM  
Blogger Zuberr Nowrung said...

I want to be an inventor too, I actually believe any normal being can be an inventor even if it is a simple gadget. My prob is that I don't know where to find the resources and contacts I need to start something. I also have a blog bout Men of invention and industry on which I make posts.

9:56 PM  

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