Friday, October 21, 2005

Patents are Monopolies?

The Economist 20 October 2005 on Patents and copyright protection

“The granting [of] patents ‘inflames cupidity’, excites fraud, stimulates men to run after schemes that may enable them to levy a tax on the public, begets disputes and quarrels betwixt inventors, provokes endless lawsuits...The principle of the law from which such consequences flow cannot be just.”

The Economist may have put it rather strongly in 1851, but its disapproval of patents represented conventional wisdom at the time. A century earlier, Adam Smith had described them as necessary evils, to be handed out sparingly, and many other economists have since echoed his reservations. Patents amount to temporary monopolies on useful new inventions."

My expertise is in copyrights of written Works, so my remarks need not be related to patents on inventions, pharmacological products (medicines) and, perhaps, software products. When the Copyright, Patents and Designs Act came in 1988, I was surprised to see copyright in published texts extended from life plus 50 years to life plus 70 years.

So very few published texts get past their first year of publication (95 per cent?) it seemed difficult to justify such protection, especially when the concept of moral rights was introduced to protect subsequent users from tampering with authorship or treating a work derogatively.

In a fast moving technology, such as software, why would anybody be using a piece of software 70 to a hundred and fifty years after it was first written? Software is lucky to last 18 months.

On the whole, I agree with Smith’s reservations. Anybody for continuing with the patents of James Watt?


Blogger mus said...

Watt's a classic example, since he went to great lengths to use his patent rights to keep competitors out of the market and preserve a monopoly position for as long as he could.

2:33 am  

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