Monday, June 26, 2006

Intellectual Property 1

Intellectual property - it's an appealing concept. You have a brilliant idea for an invention, you patent it, to protect it from being stolen and then try to persuade others - backers and investors - to lend you the money to bring it to market. After that, it's a matter of waiting for the millions to roll in.

Except, of course, it's not quite as easy as that. Even if you have the resources and persistence to patent your invention, it does not prevent it from being exploited by determined competitors. And unless you are willing to devote your entire time to seeing your invention brought to realisation and defending it against infringement, the patent itself will prove to be of little value.

For large corporations it is a different matter, of course. With the resources to hire armies of skilled patent agents and lawyers, companies - and technology companies in particular - commonly patent everything in sight. The principle of intellectual property has become a weapon in big wars fought for very high stakes.

But there's a twist. A patent cannot be granted if the idea has been disclosed prior to the application. If you - as the originator of an invention - place details in the public domain, it renders the invention unpatentable. (I am not a lawyer, and I can imagine there are those of you who will want to dispute this point). Nevertheless, this is my current belief - that, by openly disclosing your idea, you not only forgo the right to patent it yourself but also prevent others from doing so.

But why would anyone want to do such a thing when it seems unlikely to bring them any benefit? In response, I suggest you only have to look at the case of the free software phenomenon.

In this information-saturated culture the simple ability to attract attention has become a valuable asset in itself. And what better way to generate attention than to develop a reputation for freely distributing interesting and potentially valuable ideas, open to anyone to take and exploit?

Such a project holds out the more distant prospect of encouraging a truly free ideas domain - in contrast to the stultifying ambitions of large corporations.

In order to back my words with actions, I intend to publish some of my own ideas in future posts. These are things I have been sitting on for some time and which - it is suddenly clear - I will never get round to exploiting by other means.

Of course, for the Source of Ideas (tm) (only joking) to take off in a big way, it will be necessary to nurture a wide community of contributors. And in this context, I am happy to announce that the Omnivorist Institute is willing to devote it's modest resources to this end - provided, of course, that someone doesn't exploit this idea first.

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