Friday, November 07, 2008

Patents for Sale

Looks like NASA is selling off some of their patents. The first line says, "Congratulations taxpayers! A group of patents developed on your dime by a NASA researcher, sold at public auction last week in a new effort to parlay innovative technology into commercial goods and services."

I guess this can be seen as good news. On the one hand, NASA has a little bit more money, and they can continue to do cool things. But Darryl Mitchell, a manager at NASA, says the real win is that now these technologies are in the private sector, and they will create jobs and help the economy.

My question is why not release the patents into the public domain? Free the ideas from their shackles, and let anybody play with them. Why not say, "whoever wants to take a crack at this, go ahead. Let the best company win." Patents just lock things up. A company can buy the patent, and then take their merry time doing whatever it is they want with it. Open source works with software, and now we're seeing it work with content. It also seems to be working with hardware, as a recent Wired article points out (an article that is not yet online).

So, why are we keeping these innovative ideas, ones that taxpayers have funded, locked up? Which scenario is better for taxpayers and the economy, for one (wealthy) company getting and sitting on the patent, or many different companies competing and fiddling with the ideas and innovations that the patent has locked up? I see more jobs and innovation coming from the latter.

1 comment:

geomagnet said...

Because patents do not "lock up" the technology forever. At max 18 years. The idea is to give a company who invests in tooling up to manufacture or refine a patented device or product a market advantage so they may better regain their capital.

If you don't understand this concept think of it like this: In a corner of your yard, prepare the soil and grow some vegetables. Then come harvest time, put a sign in your yard that says "free vegetables".

Did you invest the time to till the earth, plant the seed, nurture it's growth? What about the tools, fertilizer, and irrigation? Were those free? 6 month of labor and you are going to give away all of your produce? You will most certainly be the first to enjoy a yummy salad before you put the sign in the yard. That is exactly the same thing as the 18 year limitation. It prevents people from ransacking your garden before you get your fair share.