Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Stupid patent system

One of the biggest problem with the way that intellectual property law is constructed is that, in business, as in fashion, timing is everything. Business is filled with visionaries who bankrupt their companies pursuing the future a few beats too early: Control Data Corporation, for example, got drunk on a vision of the internet during the nineteen seventies, squandered a huge company (while, of course, providing invaluable training to many of the people who would ultimately become rich creating the real internet).

As in fashion, in business almost every idea has its time. A business genius is the person who recognizes when the risk-reward ratios for pursuing new ideas have titlted in favor of the idea. Under the current patent system, one of the tests of unpatentability is "obviousness", but long before an idea is inappropriate for a business venture, it is usually not "obvious", but rather, in fact, it is "stupid".

In contrast to the subtle understanding of Zeitgeist that informs the decision to bring an idea to market, coming up with "ideas" themselves is astonishingly simple, almost mechanical. One could practically write software that melds conceptual blocks from different fields, to arrive at "genius ideas". In our current patent system, the turnkey monkey who runs that software would get a patent, and his patent would throttle the business genius who has waited for the appropriate time to bring an idea to market.

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