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08.11.08

It’s Not Innovation, It’s Collusion

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Patents at 7:10 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Newton's Cradle“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Development thrives in a world without boundaries. Research too can thrive when there is access to a wealth of information. Financial means are another story because people who develop and conduct research require funds, but need any money be earned by robbing peers of the privilege to share information and disseminate simple ideas? What would Newton say? The fathers of the United States too objected the idea of limiting the sharing of ideas.

The notion of an invention typically brings to mind a piece of apparatus. What is an invention if not something physical that the inventor can show? Can someone claim to have invented something, which will only ever exist in one’s mind? Can thought be truly owned and excessive knowledge considered an offense?

In practice, everyone seems to suffer due to artificial (man-made) limitations. Groklaw links to this nice new article that contains an example from the aircraft industry. It’s related to design and physical engineering (there is as much ‘engine’ in software engineering as there is an ‘engine’ in mathematics).

In the second decade of the twentieth century, it was almost impossible to build an airplane in the United States. That was the result of a chaotic legal battle among the dozens of companies—including one owned by Orville Wright—that held patents on the various components that made a plane go. No one could manufacture aircraft without fear of being hauled into court.

While the above relates to components that can actually be visualised, it’s patents like this new one which immediately raise a brow and symbolise ‘ownership’ of very abstract methods. [via Digital Majority]

According to the company, the patent provides customers with a simple technology to communicate with wireless Internet devices via a notification message that orders the device to connect to a server and download specific content and information.

This goes under the heading “Message Delivery System”. It’s about invoking a command remotely. It’s the nature of the command which the company believes has enough complexity (and thus less generality) to merit a patent. But this is insane. At the end of the say, for all those telecom giants, this lenience of the system and its consequent exploitation seems nothing short of collusion. It’s about the giants covering one another and agreeing among themselves that they — and only they — will be permitted to survive in their market.

I find the patent system laughable.

-1- For the small guy it is just a way to publish your technology so it can be used by other bigger fish sans compensation. How many lawyers can you afford to pay full time?

-2- Its a great way for big companies to bully little ones.

By aligning papers under cross-licensing agreements, they establish something which is similar to price-fixing that harms consumers. They can artificially inflate price due to “IPR” and deny new (and more affordable) entrants into a market. Those who want to compete must first obtain heaps of pricey patents. And what for? ‘Innovation’ or just so-called ‘protection’. Where is the benefit to science, as opposed to solicitors?

The system in its current shape seems absurd. This is not competition and this leads to no innovation. It freezes the market, it further empowers a few and it is, in short, a collusion. The patent system serves those who are at the top. They, the ‘elites’, market it as a crucial mechanism for defending ‘the little guy’, using lobbying arms like ACT — all funded by titans, pretending to speak for (of robbing the voice) of small businesses. Such lobbying arms can only be afforded by those at the industry’s pinnacle. They strive to police perception, thereby controlling the law and its enforcement. At times, they take the law into their own hands to fight Free software.

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