Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Patents on Thought - UPDATE

According to some the questions from Supreme Court members yesterday, much doubt is being cast on the notion that patents can be applied to thought. It's really obvious the answer should be "No."

Justice Stephen Breyer noted that a Yes vote on this issue would create "monopolies in this country beyond belief," and Justice Scalia repeatedly asked "What was made by man here?" during the arguments in the case. More on the arguments made are here.

While there are a world of definitions regarding copyright, trademarks and patents, I have been seeing some dangerous trends in all these areas and my beliefs about copyrights themselves have changed greatly over the last few years.

As someone who has scraped by earning tiny amounts of money for writing, I used to be hold a firm belief that creators and inventors needed copyright protections in order to earn an income and protect the integrity of their creations. Yet as corporations have swallowed up the ideas of others, the ramifications of ownership and earnings changed, so my perspectives have changed.

Unfathomable changes have occured in the modern age - as I noted in the previous post, concerning owning the patents on thought, and of course the issues file sharing and downloading music and video have brought on heated debates and court cases taking action against individuals by the ever-growing rights extended to corporations.

Another recent madness emerged as Marvel Comics and DC Comcis continue to prevent the commercial use of their trademark to the term Super-Hero. It's a word, and yes, a concept, but this legal claim by Marvel and DC is madness.

Wrestling with these ideas, I went back to the still-revolutionary writings of our U.S. Constitution, where in Article One, Section 8 it states:

"
To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries ..."

Previous history to this document reveals hundreds of years of Western Civilization aiming to control the use and spread of information. So, it is little wonder the writers of the Constitution were specific in their phrasing -- that law should promote science and arts for limited times. After that time has passed, writings and discoveries were meant to become part of the public's domain.

The writers wisely held the belief that information and ideas need to ultimately be free and easily accesible to all citizens. It's an idea I also have embraced. God knows the more free and open access to all types of information will "promote progress."

A brilliant and well researched article "The Erosion of Public Protection: Attacks On The Concept of Free Use" traces the history of the copyright issue.

1 comment:

R. Neal said...

I worked for a sotware company who wanted me to sign a noncompete that said the company owned anything I wrote, developed, etc., and any "ideas" I had while working there.

I had no problem with the first part, but I refused to sign away any rights to my "ideas". So I never signed it.

Miraculously, I was able to keep my job. I guess they liked me.