Patents: the tar pits of modernity

Labrea Tar pits
Photo © copyright Adam Loeffler.
I don’t understand why someone hasn’t patented the patent process and shut down the whole racket. There’s nothing that inspires more fear, has created more anger and resentment and held back innovation in the POMO world (thanks Dave!) more than the US Intellectual Property system — and most notoriously copyright and patents.

Now, I’m not an intellectual property communist — far from it. In fact, I’m very much about people getting credit for their work, for their inventions, their ideas and in due time, compensation — both economic and social.

But the system is effed. And as there are alternatives to copyright and trademark, there similarly needs to be an open source alternative to patents, that allows the creative and ingenious to receive credit and kudos without creating a chilling effect on future and subsequent derivative innovation — innovation that has historically been built on borrowed and hacked ideas. Innovation necessary for human progress to continue at the pace it’s at today.

It’s bad enough that sentient creatures will look back centuries — if not decades — from now and laugh at how us humans smogged ourselves to death. Oh no, they’ll also barrel over in hysterics at how we held back our creatives by denying them the freedom to dabble freely and openly without the both fear of being blatantly ripped off as well as slapped with a law suit for violating someone else’s property rights. “What a bunch of cheap trust they had back then”, they’ll quip. “it’s a wonder that the little guys continued to play along even after the whole balance had shifted away from protecting them to protecting the overbloated incumbents!”

I mean, how else can you explain this quote from Christopher Lunt, formerly Friendster’s senior director of engineering (recently made refamous for their social networking patent)?

“My approach was defensive,” he said. “We were not looking to stifle creativity by competitors, nor to make money by licensing. We were making sure that things material to our business were protected, so someone else couldn’t claim the idea.”

“I dislike the current patent process,” Lunt added. “I feel it’s a little too permissive in terms of what is granted as a patent. But that doesn’t mean I can ignore it.”

Gah!! What a waste! Of money! Of talent! Of time! To have to register defensive patents is bullshit. The answer, quite simply, is something more proactive… more positive… duh! It’s open patent licensing! And why our legal system hasn’t codified this yet, well, that’s because you don’t make money off of open systems — you make money because of openness. And that’s something that our legal system, at least the purveyors of the modern legal system, could give a rat’s patootie about. It’s far too subtle. Kind of like that boiling frog in Al’s movie… or the dinosaurs paying no heed as the weather was getting colder… before the Ice Age. Or as the black ground started rising above their shins… drowning in the refuse of their own ancestor’s remains.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

One thought on “Patents: the tar pits of modernity”

  1. The system of patents (and copyrights…) is made by people who do not have any skills (or ideas) to steal the valuable processes and richer life of those who have some.
    Ditto for speculation.

    What is confusing is that they convince skilled people to enter in this sad and massive game.
    I think from a better education could emerge a new respect for the real work : creation, production and continuation, all fully valuable.

    Ideas and abstract processes are just beautiful seeds: they can die, they can make a little plant, they can make a big tree, they can make a monster.
    We can not patent rock and roll. We only can give credit and kudos *to those who make something real with it*.

    Credits must be for reality. And to be real, an object must be live. It must evolve to continue its life and keep receiving credit. The only way to remain real for an object is to permanently receive life by people who take care of it: like music played live!
    In fact, it’s people who must win credit with their durable skills and not the objects.

    Objects and creations are just a *temporary manifestation of talented people*.

    We must learn to give credit to people and not to objects.

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