The ‘magic’ of patents

I saw Jeff Lindsay giving a presentation called “The Magic of Patents” at ISU. Pretty entertaining to mix in some magic tricks, woven in in a way that actually made some sense to the presentation.

I’m still not sure how much magic there is in patents, though. The deepest feeling I had coming away from the talk was that patents were going to keep me from doing great things for the world. That feeling wasn’t permanent or well-reasoned, but it was still there. The fact that it’s so expensive and time-consuming to get a patent means that it would be hard for me to get one, yet (relatively) easy for some big company to come up after the fact, get a patent on something I’ve used successfully, then use the patent against me. I guess I just have to make sure to get some prior-art evidence documented for anything I think _might_ be patentable, then worry about all that stuff if it ever gets to that level.

But, like I said, the fear was not long-lived or necessarily reasonable. That’s the way I start to feel sometimes, though, when I hear legalistic stuff in its various forms. The sharp edges give my brain papercuts.

Patents are pretty interesting, though. That they’re (ostensibly) built around the idea of forcing inventors to divulge their work for the common good in order to get the incentive of enforced exclusivity for a period is a pretty neat idea in itself. Lindsay gives that idea credit for forming the core of the power of American innovation, and it’s hard to argue against that.

However, there’s still a big part of me that feels that there’s something not quite right about the way patents work. At this point, though, I can’t clearly articulate that, so I’ll just take comfort that it all seems to work pretty well pretty often as a component of an economic engine and a social structure that I can’t pretend to understand well enough to solidly critique :-).

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