Re: Patents [was Re: Cryonics and Mike Darwin continued...]

phil osborn (
Fri, 01 Oct 1999 23:25:05 PDT

>From: "Michael S. Lorrey" <>
>Subject: Re: Patents [was Re: Cryonics and Mike Darwin continued...]
>Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 00:28:06 -0400
>"Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:
> >
> > On Fri, 1 Oct 1999, Jeff Davis wrote:
> >
> > > Which lead to my question.
> > >
> > > Does a patent prohibit all unlicensed use of the patented thingie, or
> > > the unlicensed *commercial* use?
> >
> > My impression is that a patent in no way prevents any use. A patent
> > "holder" is allowed to dictate/enforce that it can not be used
> > (by anyone). So you have to go into court and prove that the
> > patent was infringed. The only possible exception to this that I'm
> > aware of is that you may be allowed to infringe on patents if it can be
> > demonstrated you are doing so in the process of developing something for
> > FDA approval (in the U.S.).
>You can build a patented device for personal use, but not for commercial
I don't think that this is correct. There is a major historical example of the misuse of patents that might be worth considering. In the 1920' - and thereafter - RCA, Philco, Motorola, etc. entered into an enormous patent war over electronic circuitry. Thousands of electrical engineers did nothing but invent every concievable circuit design for no other purpose than to get a patent to freeze out the competition.
Meanwhile, the REAL intellectual property rights were very poorly protected by the patent system, as in the well-documented case of the inventor of television, Philo T. Farnsworth (or have I forgotten his name - correct me if I'm wrong) versus RCA's Sarnoff. Farnsworth didn't make a penny off his invention and I believe that RCA has a Sarnoff Institute or some such thing, honoring the thief.
I have always been a strong upholder of intellectual property - as in software piracy, etc. - but now I'm starting to shift in my thinking. When I see some of the BS software patents that have gone down - patents of totally obvious ideas that the patent holders are counting on no one opposing successfully until it's too late - I start to worry. I would be very surprised, for example, if Microsoft were not deliberately waging patent warfare against LINUX and any other possible competition, acquiring patents on all kinds of key software and just sitting on them until it's time to strike. Suddenly major LINUX software suppliers could find themselves put out of business by rich legal teams, or having to pay Microsoft royalties. What a dismal prospect! Somebody say something cheerful, please....

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