Re: Intellectual property

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 11:50:18 -0800 (PST)

> If inventors produced intellectual property at the same rate as a
> production worker produced cars, we would obviously need to make this
> comparison. Unfortunately, inventions are rare beasts, coming few and
> far between, after much research, thought, and study. The writer has
> obviously never invented a thing, or he would realize that while the
> breakthrough "Eureka" may be momentary, there is a long series of hours,
> days, and weeks spent preparing the mind to make such acheivements.

In the treatise I am writing on the subject, this is what I call "The
Myth of the Lone Inventor", a cultural image that tends to mystify the
work of creation and justify our subsides of it. Existing IP monopolies
contribute to the myth, because they prevent all the minor tweaks and
improvements that would be the natural evolution of any design from
coming to market. It is only when a particular tweak is recognizable
and distinct enough to make calling it an "invention" plausible that
we grant it the monopoly, thereby discouraging futher development. In
a free economy of ideas, 99% of inventions would be minor tweaks on
existing things, and the research itself would be cheap, and entry to
the market would be cheap, and everyone--inventors included--would be
too busy getting rich to bother filing for patents.

The occurence of a truly new and spectacular idea from nothing is a rare
and wonderful event--Newton's gravity, Darwin's evolution, and Einstein's
general relativity are the only ones I can think of, but practical
inventions are a dime a dozen. Each of us has several ideas a day for an
improvement to an existing product. The reason they don't get developed
is that entry to the market is made difficult by regulation, including
patents. That copyrights and patents are not needed to stimulate creative
invention is evidenced by the fact that the three gentlemen above didn't
need it. Gutenberg's press was a nifty idea, building upon a foundation
of countless other inventions that came before. He needed no patents to
become a wealthy man, and to instigate flourishing publishing businesses
from the late 1500s through the 1700s without copyrights.

Mr. Lorrey dismisses his opponent as "obviously not an inventor", which
conveniently ignores the fact that he is in fact a writer, and we are
talking about copyrights and patents. And I /am/ an inventor. Maybe
I haven't found a way around conservation of momentum yet, but I have
written software for 15 years, much of which would certainly be patentable
if I cared to (PNG's adaptive pre-filtering compression algorithm, for
example) and most of which is copyrihted by my employers. But I cannot
in clear conscience name a single measurable benefit either I or my
employers gained from a copyright or patent that is not outweighed
tenfold by the crippling effects on research, gradual development, and
wasted litigation cause by IP law.