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Pāvils Jurjāns

Director/owner, Knowledge Factory

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Could we do without patents and copyrights? Would that be fair? Would there be motivation to innovate?

That seems so odd: many people concentrate on certain subject, and then, basically at random, one of them is struck with solution. And then s/he monopolises this chance fact, to burden the society with extra cost to use the invention. Aren't good ideas somewhat like winning in a lottery?
Yes, indeed, for certain type of discoveries, there are a lot of investments to be made, and once the solution is reached (but certainly not guaranteed to be reached), the inventor wants to cover the costs of making the invention. And rightly so, the thinking also is a job that needs to be renumerated. But how to balance the fair reward the people developing solutions are eligible to, and the uneven burden of patent costs for the general public? Isn't most of the patent system just plainly abused by lawyers?
It would be great to see a world where knowledge and creative content is shared for the benefit of all. Utopian, perhaps. But maybe not so unreal as we might feel, being blinded by the present state.

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  • Feb 20 2011: Here is my idea, and this is a topic I am not extremely well versed on, so take it for what is it worth. I propose a compromise that maintains patents, but modifies the terms to prevent abuse, while adhering to capitalist thinking (why protect it unless for capitalist reasons).

    I propose a length of patent that is dictated by profits. Imagine a bell curve with the vertical axis being length of time, and the horizontal axis being profits.

    At the low end of the curve you will have a patent that does not produce much in the way of profits which probably fall into one of two categories (1) not a good idea so no one purchases thing utilizing the patent, or (2) those holding the patent are not capable of effectively utilizing the patent. The low end of the curve would also serve to ward off those who simple want to sit on a patent to prevent innovation or to in essence extort money for its use. Use it or loose it.

    In the middle of the curve you will have patents that produce meaningful profits. This would imply that the patent has value to the public, and therefore they are purchasing it. The presence of the diminishing length found further along the curve would also encourage patent holders to provide the result of the patent to the public at a lower cost, making the innovation easier utilized by the public.

    At the high and of the curve you would have patents that produce large profits. It stands to reason that if you make a lot of money off of the patent, then it is a meaningful and beneficial idea. The length of the patent may be shorter, but the profits are better. This would ensure that truly innovative ideas make it into the public domain for public consumption and benefit while they are still meaningful.

    Two counter-arguments I could see are (1) too much government interference and (2) difficult to track. My abbreviated responses: (1) It is a PUBLIC patent and not required, private protections are possible (e.g. Coca-Cola and KFC); (2) the IRS.
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      Feb 20 2011: Your idea makes total sense, but it essentially just replaces one tightly controlled system with another tightly controlled system. Thus, it is both hackable and prone to inefficiency, just as the existing one is. For example, if everyone knows that patent will be short-lived, if no-one is buying it, public would rationalise that and suspend it's interest until the patent is released. It is like shop advertisement "Tomorrow there will be huge discounts" - there are good reasons you don't see them too often.
      • Feb 20 2011: I'm not entirely clear on your reply, but here is my attempt to reply to your reply.

        If the market is willing to wait to purchase something produced using the patent, then is the patent worthwhile? Public protection should be reserved for something that will have meaningful public impact, which could, arguable, be measured by profit in a capitalist economy.

        Also, the anticipated lapse of intellectual property rights exists today and seems to have a positive economic impact, if allowed to occur. I have no data on this, but anecdotally I would reference the ramping up of production on Mickey Mouse memorabilia by companies not licensed by Disney every time that particular copyright is due to lapse (which it inevitably never does).

        I could also anecdotally refer to drug patents and generic versions. Drugs have a clear patent term that is public knowledge, but the non-generic drugs are still purchased, if they are a necessity, before the patent has lapsed.

        Data on the sale of drugs leading up to a prior to the lapse of a patent would be interesting in terms of this discussion, and I may try to find something to that end.

        As far as inefficiency, unfortunately that is reality that can only be mitigated, but cannot be removed. Unless we find ourselves in the Utopia you mentioned previously.

        Until then, I look forward to further discussion.

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