TED Conversations

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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Is there anything truly original?

1. Is it ethical to patent ideas, technologies or products that are based on community knowledge and wisdom?
2. Are there ways to reward first proposal instead of original in copyright/patent laws?
3. Is there anything such as scientific originality as contrasted to romantic originality?
4. Is there anything truly original?

I invite you to answer the questions, separately or in one comprehensive way.


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  • Feb 25 2014: I think the question "Is there anything truly original?" that is the title of the thread is somewhat unrelated to the bulk of the points within the topic body.

    Everything that we create is in some way or another, based on existing ideas, stuff, etc. But, that is irrelevant to patent and copyright law.

    We issue copyrights and patents for new uses of existing ideas or a blending of existing stuff.

    1) Yes, it is ethical to patent/copyright new uses or blendings of existing knowledge. Why? Because we want people inventing/creating new stuff from existing ideas, and to encourage them to do so, they have to have a way to get paid. Patent and copyright are that mechanism that allows people to get paid for their new blending.

    2) In the USA, we actually just changed from "first invented" to "first filed". In the past, even if you were not first to file, if you could prove that you came up with the idea first, you could challenge already awarded patents. To unclog the courts, we simplified it to "first to file".

    And, no. We can't go back to the original proposer. For example, if I come up with some new fangled device that makes an engine run better, then I get the patent on the device. I do not have to share the idea with Watt, Franklin, Newton, etc. etc. Again, this goes back to the need for the ability to get paid for my idea, to encourage people to invent.

    3) I do not understand the question.

    4) If "truly" means "fully", then no. If "truly" includes a unique reblending of things that already existed, then yes.
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      Feb 25 2014: Interesting points.
      I was wondering if getting paid is the only and legitimate incentive for innovation.
      • Feb 25 2014: not to visionaries who see there idea creating upward trends for society like the "slap chop" or the "sham wow"............nah... i think the main incentive that sticks through it all is to see your idea through fruition and hopefully its successful , like the "pocket hose"...
      • Feb 25 2014: Depends on how much innovation you want.

        If you want people fully focused on it, 40 hours a week 52 weeks a year, then they have to be able to get paid for it.

        If you want it to be just a part-time hobby that people work on occasionally for the heck of it, then sure, eliminate the mechanism that lets them earn a living from it.

        As a computer programmer, I will work 40 hours a week writing new computer applications or improving the existing, but only because I can get paid for it from our ability to copyright and then sell licenses for the software.

        Take away the ability to copyright, we lose the ability to license usage, which means no way to generate income, and that means instead of working 40 hours a week writing software, I would have to be off doing something else that I can get paid for.

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