comment by MakoYass ·
2017-10-15T00:20:37.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I have a patent law question.
Summary/main question: Should patents ever be granted for a common, unoriginal idea, before any original work has been done, to protect the claimant's future work in the area of the claim. If we are not allowed to grant patents like that, what sort of schemes do we favor for bringing incentives to make progress in competitive arenas of research closer to the societal value of the expected findings?
Companies often seem to need a promise that if they can make an idea work and find an audience, all of those unprotected advancements they must make (market research, product development and building awareness in the audience(marketing)), wont just be stolen by some competitor the moment people start buying the thing.
It seems like a common situation, someone puts a lot of money into popularizing some innovation, but because it's an obvious innovation, they can't protect it, and you'll find it on aliexpress for like $3.50. They aren't compensated proportionate to the value they produced. If it can't be produced for $3.50, it will be produced by their largest, most complacent competitors to safeguard their stranglehold on the market. The incumbents will go completely unpunished for having sat on their hands for long enough to allow these new innovators to threaten them, the idea will threaten them, and then it will serve them, and it will serve as an example to anyone who tries to threaten them in future, and innovation will generally be discouraged.
The expected rewards for solving a problem that takes a long time to solve are generally much lower than the societal value of the solution, because there's a high chance that another team will solve it first, and most of the resources invested in development will have been in vain. If a working group had exclusive rights to the solutions to some problem, whatever they turn out to be, the amount they aught to invest will be much closer to the solutions' actual value.
It's a way of limiting the inefficiencies of competition.
It sort of reminds me of bitcoin-NG, if I've understood it correctly, the protocol periodically elects a single working group to process the bulk of the transactions, to prevent costly duplication of efforts.
So, to reiterate, should patents ever be granted before any original work has been done, to protect the claimant's future work in the area of the claim, and if not, what should we do instead, or what do we do instead, to bring the incentive to make progress in competitive arenas of research closer to the actual societal value of the expected findings?
Replies from: Dagon, ChristianKl, satt, Lumifer
↑ comment by Dagon ·
2017-10-16T15:01:13.137Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
That's not a patent law question, that's a social theory question using a bizarre form of patents as the mechanism.
And my answer is "absolutely not". I have no interest in preventing people to work on what they want, nor in protecting someone's unproven idea with no evidence that it's the right person to solve it or that there will be any success. Ideas are cheap, working systems are valuable.
Also, I'll take "the inefficiencies of competition" over the inefficiencies of monopoly any day, especially in public pursuits where governments have any say.
↑ comment by ChristianKl ·
2017-10-15T21:17:22.880Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
If you want to understand how companies can have incentives to produce new products I think it's worth to read startup literature like Eric Ries "The Lean Startup".
It seems like a common situation, someone puts a lot of money into popularizing some innovation, but because it's an obvious innovation, they can't protect it, and you'll find it on aliexpress for like $3.50.
A small startup is unlikely to successfully run a patent battle in China. Having a patent won't protect the company from getting copied.
Let's look at an example. In the Quantified Self field, it would be nice to have a toilet that regularly does urine analysis and gives me data. In 1988 someone filed a patent for a toilet in which that's directly build. That doesn't mean that any such product hit the market. Did that original company produce a product for the European or US market? No, there's no toilet that you can buy from the original company. On the other hand, if another person would have tried to put something on the market they could have been sued. There's no company that produced a product that can be easily brought.
Most startups fail and when startups who filled patents fail, the patents are often brought by other parties who then use the patents to sue and do patent trolling.
China provides interesting opportunities. It's cheaper for someone to ship an item from China via Aliexpress to me than it is for someone to ship the same item to me from an Amazon Fulfillment Center. I can buy a 0.70 cent free shipping item from Aliexpress while I can't buy that from Amazon.
It's cheap to run a Kickstarter campaign and let a Chinese company produce your product. Doing this usually means that employees from the company are going to pass your design around and your product will get sold in an unbranded version on Aliexpress.
This means that the dream that Kickstarter promised where everybody can produce his idea and bring it to market comes with the side problem of copycat products being produced but that's still much better than it was in the past. It's also worth noting that you could in theory build your product in the US and not have factory employees pass the design around but given that the Chinese factories are so efficient the Kickstarter inventors still go and let a Chinese company produce their products.
That a bit sad but 10 years ago the same person had no way to bring their product to market at all.
↑ comment by satt ·
2017-10-15T22:01:54.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Upvoted for asking an interesting question, but my answer would be "probably not". Whether patents are a good idea even as is is debatable — see Michele Boldrin and David Levine's Against Intellectual Monopoly — and I expect beefing them up to be bad on the margin.
I'm unclear on whether the proposed super-patents would
be the same as normal patents except fileable before the work of sketching a plausible design has been done, or
would be even more powerful, by also allowing the filer to monopolize a market in which they carry out e.g. "market research, product development and building awareness", even if that involves no original design work,
but in any case the potential downsides hit me as more obvious than the potential upsides.
Item 1 would likely lead to more patents being filed "just in case", even without a real intention of bringing a real product to market. This would then discourage other profit-seeking people/organizations from investigating the product area, just as existing patents do.
Item 2 seems to take us beyond the realm of patents and intellectual work; it's about compensating a seller for expenses which produce positive spillovers for other sellers. As far as I know, that's not usually considered a serious enough issue to warrant state intervention, like granting a seller a monopoly. I suspect that when The Coca-Cola Company runs an advert across the US, Wal-Mart sells more of its own knockoff colas, but the US government doesn't subsidize Coca-Cola or its advertising on those grounds!