"rights" and "freedoms"

Alex Nicolaou anicolao at cgl.uwaterloo.ca
Sat Oct 16 22:31:47 UTC 1999

[openip and pleb removed at the private request of subscribers to those

Justin Wells wrote:
> On Sat, Oct 16, 1999 at 01:54:01PM -0400, Alex Nicolaou wrote:
> > 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. 

> That's only half the story. Patents are expressly there to promote the
> sharing of information. By offering a limited period of protection,
> companies are encouraged to share important discoveries and inventions
> with everyone. When the period of protection expires, the formely
> patented information is free.
> Without patents, companies would keep secret the products of their
> research, to the detriment of everyone.

I think you may disagree with my thesis, that patents are there to
protect "a new process that is *otherwise easily copied*". I think that
corporations routinely do not patent processes that are not easy to
copy, preferring instead to patent small pieces of the puzzle around the
key process and keep the key process secret. The legal confusion that
results is enough to keep most people away. In addition, even patents of
key innovations are designed carefully to reveal enough to protect the
inventor but not enough to allow the invention to be duplicated. Thus,
the real secrets are still secret or obfuscated, to the detriment of
everyone. After all, it wouldn't take a genius to copy the design of the
lego brick: that's why it is patented. The real secrets, like the method
behind NSA's modification of the DES algorithm, are still secret.

I agree that the patents are intended to slow progress and not stop it.
The patents I have examined do not live within this spirit, however.


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