"rights" and "freedoms"

Alex Nicolaou anicolao at cgl.uwaterloo.ca
Sat Oct 16 17:54:01 UTC 1999

Richard Stallman wrote:

> When patents and copyrights were adopted, in general they did not
> interfere with the public's use of the works they were designed to
> encourage, and they did encourage progress.  I think that made
> them overall beneficial systems.

I don't understand this argument. Patents are expressly there to protect
the inventor's right to make money from a new process that is otherwise
easily copied. Consider Lego bricks, for example. For many years, Lego
bricks were protected by Lego's patents both on the bricks themselves
and on a huge variety of building systems that could compete with Lego
bricks but were never brought to market by Lego or anyone else. This
patent protection resulted in two things:

1. Lego charged and charges high prices for a product that could be
produced more cheaply, and thus benefit a greater percentage of the
population, especially those who were economically disadvantaged;

2. Lego restricted the creation of other possibly equal or superior
building systems to avoid having competition in this arena, thus
stifling progress.

By restricting the marketing, production, and sale of these items, Lego
has been built into a large and profitable company - all this from a
company that started out making wooden toys just like every other toy
company of the time. How can you argue that this doesn't interfere with
the public's use of Lego and of building toys in general? How can you
argue that this hasn't stopped many a disadvantaged toddler from
experiencing the joy of Lego bricks and thus later in life taking up a
career in engineering or computer science?

Patents stand in the way of progress for the society. However, they are
one of few ways to fairly reward the small percentage of society that
actively contributes to progress.


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