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Wright Brothers vs. Glenn Curtiss 304

jvmatthe writes "Today's All Things Considered on NPR had a story about intellectual property and patents from America's history that could have been ripped from today's Slashdot headlines, yet it happened almost a century ago. It discussed how the Wright Brothers, considered the fathers of modern heaver-than-air-flight, had tried to lock up the skies after their patenting of the ideas used to build their airplanes. They had a long, bitter legal battle with Glenn H. Curtiss who also made airplanes; Curtiss is credited with being "the first to make a public flight in the United States, the first to sell a commercial airplane, the first to fly from one American city to another, and the first to receive a U.S. pilot license", among other things. Here's where it really gets interesting: the patent battles dragged on and apparently could have actually hindered the growth of the American airplane industry. It wasn't until World War I that people put aside their differences for the common good and the industry worked together in a spirit of free exchange of ideas! So, does is this a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in now? Some catastrophic event brings everyone together and the locking up of ideas with overly broad patents finally ends? For more reading, the NPR story focussed on Unlocking the Sky by Seth Shulman."
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Wright Brothers vs. Glenn Curtiss

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  • it's a sign (Score:3, Funny)

    by abe ferlman ( 205607 ) <bgtrio AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:10AM (#4335130) Homepage Journal
    I think it's a sign that we need to go to war with a country with a more enlightened intellectual property policy.

    And lose.

  • by n-baxley ( 103975 ) <nate@baxleys. o r g> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:16AM (#4335157) Homepage Journal
    the more they stay the same.

    This should be a lesson to us all that although we think that the problems we face are new atnf will soon lead to the end of the world as we know it, we must remember that there have been patents, big companyies, monopolies and greedy people in the past who held great sway on the way things were done. But somehoe things worked out and we made it through. Think of that the next time you get too woried about the end of the world or how evil BillG is.
    • [W]e must remember that there have been patents, big companyies, monopolies and greedy people in the past who held great sway on the way things were done. But somehoe things worked out and we made it through.

      We must remember that there were always people (however few) that weren't too complacent to fight these large corporations. For the pendulum to swing back, there must be something pulling it. But you're right, this is a valuable thing to keep in mind. It is important to remain optimistic that these discussions do have value in the efforts to bring things back to being tolerable again.
    • The problem is congress and the administration are convinced they can protect American interests with these ridiculous IP laws. I believe congress thinks they can: (1) Keep American "domininance" in technology fields (2) Make American companies more profitable over the long term.

      On the surface, it has a lot of appeal; there's the oft repeated mantra that "If I engage in research I should be rewarded; if I don't get rewarded, why would I engage in research. Therefore strong IP are the best way to ensure companies have a reason to innovate".

      The problem is, there doesn't appear to be any evidence this is true, and based on stories like this (and my own experience in the computer field), I think this is exactly wrong. Innovation comes about from the unrestricted sharing of ideas.

      I only hope the US doesn't become a 3rd world technology nation before Congress and the Administration (Clinton, Bush, and future administrations) understands they're destroying what they're trying to protect.
      • This is because computer programming is fundamentally different than heavy industry. In industry if you come up with a new idea it could take billions (new X-Ray lithography idea or something) to exploit it. In programming ideas are much easier to implement.

        But software patents wouldn't even be so bad at two year lengths. If you did patent something it'd pretty much guarantee you made it to market first (Unless it was Daikatana or Duke Nukem Forever) but it wouldn't delay a competitor's product for long. The idea of patenting discoveries would still suck, but at least it wouldn't suck for long.

        Hell, it'd clean up industry a lot if they'd make predatory tactics illegal, either offering a free license to everyone you tried to torpedo (is that what you do with a submarine patent? :) or simply revoking the patent of anyone who plays games with it.
    • Amen.

      I've learned to stop worrying so much about DRM, Palladium, Microsoft, etc... simply because I have faith in the ingenuity of people. I used to think that patents and IP prohibited innovation, but it occurs to me that they might actually spur programmers on to invent better ways of doing things, rather than merely copying someone else's idea or program. The reason why so many Open Source advocates have philosophical problems with the patent system is because most Open Source authors are merely copying someone else's idea, rather than inventing something new. I, for one, would like to see Open Source projects that invent something new and useful, rather than just making cheap knock-offs of someone else's program.

      • by ProfessorPuke ( 318074 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @10:38AM (#4336201)
        You are simply wrong. I'm a professionally programmer, and all around me I see my colleagues wasting their time re-implementing things that have been done before many times. Sometimes redoing techniques from books, from competing software, from non-competing software (completely different fields). Sometimes even reimplementing their own prior work, because they're not licensed to paste it in again.

        If I had to guess, I'd optimistically say that only 10% of programming work is really original. Even if you don't agree with my percentage, you've got to admit that the more time someone spends retracing old ground, the less energy they have to blaze new trails. I feel really guilty that we as an industry use copyright laws to extort money from our customers, by getting paid for the same works over and over again.

        This is why a drastic reduction in the efficacy of software IP would do so much to help the industry, and society at large. Even if the looser-reuse laws slashed the income to the software engineering profession by 66%, we'd still come out ahead. The dead weight would be laid off (the guys who jusy re-code the same old stuff), and a greater total amount of investment would go towards new research.

        Sure, the Prime Directive sounds like a cool principle, but you shouldn't have to force everyone to reimplement the warp-drive, on the chance that someone will do it in a new & unique way. If someone is really enough of a genius to improve on an established technology, he'll probably be able to make his invention without you forcing him (and everyone) to research it without studying the existing methods.

        (Sure, the attempt to derive an idea from first principles can be good practice- I often try to "write my own" before going to get sample code- but in a corporate setting, that kind of random education is a waste of salary)

    • What you say is true within certain limits, but not as much as you might think.

      Do you really think you'd ever see the U.S. government today stepping in and telling two parties in a patent fight that it would not be enforcing any of the patents in question? Not in your lifetime!

      The problems we face today are much worse than those in the past, because the bad guys today have a worldwide presence and many times the amount of money and power that they had back in the day.

      That's not to say that the problems today are new: they're not. The Roman Empire went through the same thing. The difference is that the Roman Empire had enemies on the outside to topple them, whereas a worldwide police state (which is what we're headed for) wouldn't. Oh, and back in Roman times a group of 100 trained soldiers had perhaps a factor of three or four advantage over a group of 100 civilians, whereas today a group of 100 trained soldiers with modern weapons has more like a factor of a thousand (or a million if you include nukes) advantage. Point being that any civilian uprising in modern times is going to be squashed unless it gets military support.

      The American Revolution simply couldn't happen today.

      So things are different today.

  • Comforting (Score:4, Insightful)

    by paulywog ( 114255 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:16AM (#4335161)
    It's always nice to listen to NPR. Usually they make intelligent arguments that very precisely make your point. That show did just that...

    The summary was "not only do you have to be creative and intelligent to make something successful, but you also have to share it."
    • From the Burlington Free Press last week, quoting from the N.Y. Times New Service:

      "Christian radio stations oust NPR in Lousiana"

      A growing Christian Radio network dislikes the "distinctly liberal and secular perspective" of NPR, and decided to do something about it by knocking the stations off the air. "The Federal Communications Commision considers them squatters on the far left side of the FM dial, and anyone who is granted a full-power license can legally run them out of town." The "them" in the quoted sentence refers to low-power repeater stations, often used by NPR affiliates.

      I was thinking of submitting this to /. under YRO or Almighty Buck, but it isn't really news. After all, I saw it in a newspaper last week.
      • This is not just going on in Louisiana. Rather, it is also going on right here in Los Angeles, CA. KXLU [kxlu.com], a free-form College radio station based at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, CA (near LAX) is battling KTLW, a religious broadcasting station with studios in Van Nuys and transmitter in Palmdale. KTLW has been basically drowning out KXLU's signal by installing repeater stations all over town.

        Here's a great article about the full story: New Times LA: Holy Crap! [newtimesla.com]

  • by dennison_uy ( 313760 ) <dennison_uy@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:17AM (#4335165) Homepage
    "... It wasn't until World War I that people put aside their differences for the common good and the industry worked together in a spirit of free exchange of ideas! So, does is this a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in..."

    This assumption is a bit scary. What about AFTER such catastrophies?

    Following this line of thinking, then everything should just go back the way it were. After 2 world wars and 9/11 where are we now? There's still RIAA, there's still Microsoft and their DRM.

    Some things just never change, it's sad that you need a catastrophe just to realize that.
  • Put aside? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Telecommando ( 513768 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:22AM (#4335193)
    It wasn't until World War I that people put aside their differences for the common good and the industry worked together in a spirit of free exchange of ideas!

    It's my understanding that the two parties didn't just "put aside" their differences, the US government paid off each side and told them to quit fighting and get to work building better airplanes and that the government wouldn't allow enforcement of any of their patents. For the good of the country.
    • Re:Put aside? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by argStyopa ( 232550 )
      Not just told them, AFAIK it wasn't really a request that they could refuse.
      Also, as long as we're holding up the early 20th Century as an era of enlightened patent resolution, note that this faded immediately after WWI, as the Allies plundered German intellectual property patents as part of the Versailles settlement.

      Asprin, for example, was a protected formula of the Bayer company. After WWI this protection was nullified so Allied countries' companies could make it without having to pay a royalty.

      So the lesson would be, we need to ask someone to conquer us, dissolve all our current patents and IP systems, so we can rewrite them from scratch.

      Oh, and kill all the lawyers while they're here. That wouldn't hurt either.
    • It's my understanding that the two parties didn't just "put aside" their differences, the US government paid off each side and told them to quit fighting and get to work building better airplanes and that the government wouldn't allow enforcement of any of their patents. For the good of the country.

      Presumably at this point the US government realised that patents were intended as a means to an end. Wonder if the current US government would do the same.
  • not likely (Score:2, Insightful)

    by __aahlyu4518 ( 74832 )
    "a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in now"
    Not likely... That was a time when corporations weren't as powerful as countries.
  • by GMontag ( 42283 )
    So, does is this a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in now?


    Another industry has cropped up since then with a common enemy. The legal industry views anybody with an idea or a bank account (us) as the enemy and have been on a relentless, full frontal assault ever since they got all States to require JD degrees before testing and licensing. The first wave was packing the legeslative branches full of those that had read the law and it has been a down-hill slide ever since.
  • by codingOgre ( 259310 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:33AM (#4335267)

    It wasn't until World War I that people put aside their differences for the common good and the industry worked together in a spirit of free exchange of ideas!

    I also listened to that NPR broadcast and there is a clarification I would like to make. The parties involved didn't just set aside their differences for WW1. The U.S. government had to step in and effectively end the lawsuit by paying *both* parties. This action then cleared to way for all parties in the airplane industry to work together.

    • In latest news, the U.S. government stepped in and effectively end the war between the RIAA and Napster by paying both parties. This action has cleared the way for the music industry and file-sharing pirates to work together.

    • There are bigger patent issues than who controls one-click shopping.
      Currently 25 million Africans are infected with HIV. [dfl.org.za] If a vaccine is found for AIDS, or even some kind of cure, it is unlikely these people will receive it. Patents held by the developer(s) of such drugs will prevent the mass distribution neccessary to avert the crisis going on in these dirt-poor countries. Sure, the costs of R & D for AIDS medicine are huge. If there wasn't a profit opportunity out there, most of this research wouldn't be performed in the first place. So it's quite a catch-22. Perhaps the World Bank can pay off the pharmaceutical company that develops a cure so the drug can be freely available. Or maybe the cure will only be available to wealthy San Franciscans.
      • I'd say it's also a major problem that there's less incentive to produce a cure than there is to produce 'treatments' that postpone death without curing. Healthy people don't buy more drugs. As long as the pharmaceutical industry is committed to profit above all else, and does not value human life in its own right, it will ACTIVELY avoid even looking for solutions that are 'too effective', should any exist.

        The R&D doesn't even WANT to find a cure- a cure would mean people would use it and then stop buying medicine. That is every bit as large of a problem. It would be as if your family doctor carefully avoided healing you, preferring to keep you in a state of precarious health and expensively visiting him all the time. The difference is, doctors can be sued for malpractice. Pharmaceutical corporations cannot be sued for malpractice- under the current rules of capitalization they are required to maximize profit, even though they pursue a medical function.

  • nice idea, but I don't think that one-click-shopping is going to win any wars. What are we gonna do, bombard them with books?
    • [Tough Army Sgt]: Guys, let's move - the enemy is just ONE CLICK AWAY to the North. [Jeff Bezos ]: I heard that and I own any ONE CLICK process - I'm gonna sue your sorry asses for this patent infringement.
    • Actually the free flow of ideas is exactly what is needed. Theses Islamic countries are set up so that their base of power comes from an uneducated populace. A modern society cannot function under total socialist polices, which don't kid yourself Islamic rule is a form of socialism. Central management can not be robust enough to make sure that everyone can have two cars, a DVD player and a computer at their house. And as such if we simply start introducing these people to these simple things we take for granted. Social change will occur all on its own. As an example women will be given rights and the ability to work because they will be needed to produce the goods that the new and enlightened society demand.
  • by Yokaze ( 70883 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:40AM (#4335308)
    Aeroplane, Car, Computer, Telephone... Name an invention as famous as these, where there is a single inventor (or group of inventors). The difference between innovation and evolution is often in the eye of the beholder. Especially when you have a closer look.

    Otto Lilienthal could also be considered as the father of aeroplanes. He has done various research and the Wright Brothers work is based is on his. Of course your free, not to consider a sailplane as an aeroplane.

    The idea was also articulated by da Vinci 400years before (with an inpractical flapping mechanism).
  • "Some catastrophic event brings everyone together and the locking up of ideas with overly broad patents finally ends?"
    Well... There was a catastrophic event, and although the people DID get together, it seems that other parties are just locking up peoples freedoms to A: make a filthy profit or B: get more control themselves. In the meantime trying to create another war to hide the fact that they themselves are listening less and less to their own people and the rest of the world.

  • No, going to war won't help. Companies these days wouldn't fail to enforce a patent no matter what was going on. The only way they'd cooperate with infringing companies would be under presidential order and threat of being shot for treason. And even if that happened, the minute the threat was over, they'd be in court suing for compensation.
    • I have said it before, and I'll say it again:
      The Next world war will be fought against corporations.

      Sure everybody says it's a crack pot statement, but I bet it's true.
      • Are you sure you mean 'will be'? If it was being fought, where would you hear about it- CNN?

        Perhaps it is being fought and lost. After all, what would it look like? The corporations are as amorphous as Al Quaeda. Even when you get an Anniston or Bhopal, it's tough to identify a specific person responsible for the deaths. How do you fight a legal fiction and a set of codified behaviors about as enlightened as a shark?

      • Sure everybody says it's a crack pot statement

        I don't. I think it's very insightful

        The Next world war will be fought against corporations

        I've always been infavour of it being between corporations - but than I woke up one morning and realised that's already happening.
  • If anyone is interested in this stuff, mostly Glenn Curtiss stuff, I'd reccommend the Discovery Wings channel. I was never much for planes until I got that channel when we ordered digital cable. It's great stuff, I love watching the pieces on the modern technology as much as I love watching all of the historical stuff. I've seen 3 or 4 different shows (3 shows a day, an hour a piece, repeated more or less continuously for an entire day) on Glenn Curtiss and it helps you put a human face on early aviation, makes it more interesting when it's not just planes and dates. I don't think I've seen a show on yet devoted to patent fights over airplanes, but it has been mentioned several times in passing. Discovery Wings channel and the Discovery Science channel are reason enough to your average nerd to get digital cable. (Disclaimer, i don't work for any of the cable companies or the discovery channel. :P)
  • Glen Curtis Museum (Score:5, Informative)

    by Lahjik ( 181864 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:51AM (#4335385)
    Since you have just about Slashdotted the poor little Glenn Curtiss Museum just down the road from me, let me give you some highlights about this amazing man. More information at the Glenn Curtiss Historical Site [glenncurtiss.com].

    Glenn Curtiss was not only a true pioneer in the world of aviation, but also in motorcycles. He had the distinction of being the "Fastest Man Alive" for a good period of time after putting his V-8 motorcycle to the speed test. The motorcycle featured at the small museum in Hammondsport, NY - about 1 hour south of Rochester, NY in the heart of New York's Wine Country. The motorcycle, really just a huge engine with a very small seat, is quite an impressive little beast [centennialofflight.gov].

    Curtiss also developed and implemented seaplanes and aircraft carriers. My wife's grandfather actually saw Glenn Curtiss piloting one of his "Flying Boats" [first-to-fly.com]. Her grandfather was beaten by his blind father for insisting that there was a boat flying over Keuka Lake!

    If you are ever in Upstate NY I highly recommend the Glenn Curtiss Museum. The last time I was there, they even had a great exhibit of classic comic book covers by Dick Ayers [comics.org].
    • by oldstrat ( 87076 )
      I also used to live just down the road from Hammondsport in Tyrone.
      Got to go a round in the night trainer when I was a kid(they won't even let you touch it now).
      One thing to note is that Glenn was very much in touch with other inventors of his time.
      It was very very common to share information and techniques, and 'steal' them.
      But there are a few things overlooked about that time, and most any other, and it applies directly to computer code.
      There are only a limited number of ways to build a practical device with available technology be it an aileron, or a shopping cart.
      Worse yet who is to define the difference between the function of flexable portion of a wing and an aileron?
      Written craftily enough, there could appear to be no difference, especially if the reviewer knew nothing of a budding technology like aviation.

      Another point, a lot of what happened to Curtiss, Tesla and others is what happened to Visicalc creator Dan Bricklin and others in the software world of the not so distant past.
      Sometimes it's not who is better, first, or best, but simply who is the best connected politically, or has the deepest financial pockets.
  • Also worth noting.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by papskier ( 263483 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:53AM (#4335403)
    that they mentioned that even after WWI no airplane patents were issued for nearly 50 years, and American airplane technology still led the world. Also, in the early days of computers (back in the 50's and 60's), all the big players had patents on their technologies but also had informal agreements to not enforce them, for the good of the industry.
  • Exactly! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Evro ( 18923 ) <evandhoffman@nospaM.gmail.com> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:53AM (#4335406) Homepage Journal
    So, does is this a sign for how we might eventually get out of the patent mess we're in now? Some catastrophic event brings everyone together and the locking up of ideas with overly broad patents finally ends?

    Yes, as World War III looms on the horizon, the world unites to stop the patent madness and give us the uberweapon we really need: One Click Shopping!
  • ...why Orville and Wilbur should have gone to all that trouble and then just given it all away? If you invest years of effort, labor, and money in creating something that didn't previously exist, why aren't you entitled to reap the benefits?

    Legitimate issues with software patents and digital media copyrights have fostered the projection of the free software/open source "philosophy" onto society as a whole. That's utopian. This "philosophy" works in the specific egalitarian sub-culture that emerged around Unix. It won't work in any environment in which people plan on controlling the results of their efforts in order to maximize their gain. In other words, any human environment populated with something other than comfortable, well-fed saints.
    • ..why Orville and Wilbur should have gone to all that trouble and then just given it all away? If you invest years of effort, labor, and money in creating something that didn't previously exist, why aren't you entitled to reap the benefits?
      Which is pretty much how O&W felt. And when you dig into how they accomplished what they did, you can understand why they felt that way. Their achievement was tremendous.

      Problem was, O&W wanted to control all future aircraft developments. Their licensing terms were onerous and they tried to kill any parallel development. That might not have been totally bad if, like Thomas Edison, they were able to build an entire industry to keep up with demand. But they couldn't: O&W were inventors, not businessmen.

      So as a result the Wright patents were choking off all development and innovation in the field. And eventually something had to give way.


      • I grew up in southwest Ohio near Dayton, so had access to a lot of Wright lore. Once upon a time, I had a rare opportunity to research the Wrights at the archives at Wright State University outside Dayton. Fascinating stuff. including their personal correspondence and glass-plate originals of the famous Kitty Hawk photography. After plowing through that material, I came to the same conclusion as you. Odd pair of fellows.

        One especially compelling piece of material was the advertising pamphlet they prepared after returning to Dayton. A well done, color, presentation of several variations of their original biplane. The selling price, I believe, was $5000. They'd sell you flying lessons, too.

        There's also a beer-drinking song penned by the brothers locked away in the archives. :-)
    • If you cannot understand the language of scientific inquiry and discovery, or if your world consists entirely of exchange value and nothing else, naturally you wouldn't see any point to the sharing of ideas.

      I could go, "But doing it would avoid stultifying science, and everybody progresses more rapidly", but if your ONLY yardstick is how much you're stomping your immediate competitor, why would you care?

      Welcome to the new Dark Ages. Thanks a lot for your contribution.

  • Harold Pitcairn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by richieb ( 3277 ) <richieb.gmail@com> on Thursday September 26, 2002 @08:55AM (#4335417) Homepage Journal
    You should read about Harold Pitcairn [nationalaviation.org]. He had a number of patents on autogyro and helicopter technology. When WW II started the Pitcairn allow the US goverment the use of his patents. The goverment let a guy name Sikorsky build helicopters as Pitcairn was busy with other war material production.

    After the war, the patents were not returned and Pitcairn sued the goverment. The case lasted for over 20 years and eventually (after Harold Pitcairn's death) the Pitcairns won.

    Meanwhile, think of the largest companies that build helicopters today.

    The Wright brothers actually figured out how airplanes turn and developed a system to control the flight of an airplane. Curtiss just used their results and ideas, improved the implementation but did not do his own research.

  • If he was the first to receive a U.S. pilot license... who was his examiner?

    • Orville Wright signed the first few hundred US licenses. There used to be a few people wandering around who still had one of those, although I suspect they are all gone now.

      I doubt, however, that Orville signed Glenn Curtiss' license! Probably one of the Army pilots that Wright trained granted that one.


  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Thursday September 26, 2002 @09:07AM (#4335516) Homepage
    is before wwi wars were just starting to be mechanized, with still a lot of rifles and calvary - now we (and 'them') have the bomb! About the worst thing that could happen then (very bad no doubt) was trenchfoot and mustard gas, and produced some hero's like Baron Von Richthofen [richthofen.com] and Eddie Rickenbacker [richthofen.com]. Now we put up for risk vast civilian areas of Bhagdad and Chicago, live in fear of genetically engineered killer virusus, and, gasp, script kiddiez [globalideasbank.org]!

  • Actually, this kind of thing was not limited to the (then to become) airline industry. Movie production was done largely in New York, until producers realized they would be much more likely to get away with using Thomas Edison's patented motion picture camera without paying exorbitant licensing fees (which Edision was fanatical about enforcing) if they were on a different coast.

    And Hollywood was born....
  • The way I heard it Orville told the CAA to go take a flying leap through a donut hole when they offered him Pilot's License #000001

    Only NPR would be thrilled to learn of who was the first person regulated to do something.
  • I know how to do away with all of this patent nonsense from here on out.

    I'll make a machine that will approve or reject patents, and store them on microfilm. I'd like it to look like something Terry Gilliam would animate. A huge throw switch for accept/reject. An elephant on a treadmill for a source of power. Two rubber stamps, one for approved and one for rejected. A huge bellows to dry the ink. A massive series of lenses, mirrors and candles to reduce the image down to microfilm size.

    Then, I'll patent it. If it gets rejected, I'll keep changing components until it passes. Replace the bellows with a cage of pigeons and a box of popcorn and resubmit.

    Once I get my shiny new patent, I'll wait one week. Then I'll tack on the words "with a computer" and resubmit. We all know that the magic phrase "with a computer" makes a new patent. Ask Jeff Bezos - he'll tell ya.

    Now - it'll be illegal to use a computer to store or approve patents. It's my idea now. The entire process will have to be done by hand. If you want a patent search...well the patents number around the 4,700,000 range. If it takes a minute to read a patent, then it'll take about 20 man years to prove it's original. By then it won't matter.

    And just in case the government gets any funny ideas about "prior art" - well we know those lawsuits aren't ever won. Look at Wizards of the Coast. They managed to patent card games for chrissakes. Even though prior art of all kinds exists *cough cough* Steve Jackson *cough*.

    But, I'm a reasonable guy. If they press their case strongly enough I'd be willing to settle out of court. Just pay me a nickel royalty for every patent in your database and I'll be okay with that.


  • The poster seems to have missed the moral of the story. The guest said that there were some studies done that showed that strong patents might actually slow scientific progress. The Wright brothers incident shows a good example of such. They also gave several examples of competitors agreeing (implicitly, explicitly, or being forced to) not to obtain or enforce patents, and the resultant explosion of technological advancement. Examples include the semiconductor industry in the 70s and 80s, the airplane business in the 50s and 60s, and the PC revolution of the 80s and 90s.
  • Even though the aeroplane was "invented" right here in the good old U. S. of A, a lot of the technical language describing it is French.

    This should remind us that there were many contributions to the development of aviation. But it is also an indication of how things stagnated in the U.S.

    While the Wright Brothers were, initially, keeping their invention quiet--and later, battling over patents--on the Continent aviation was continuing on its own path. Millions of people believed Santos-Dumont was the first to fly because his flight was so public (and well-publicized). Aviation, and the (French) language of aviation captured the public consciousness...

    By the first world war, it's even arguable that the U. S. had fallen behind.
  • Hows this [washingtonpost.com] for a catastrophe? And some companies are unwilling to avert it to protect their precious IP. [avert.org] Oh wait- that's all happening in Africa, so it can't matter.

    Somehow, I don't think it's the lack of a catastrophe that's the problem- I think its the general public's ignorance of the impact of IP laws that is.
  • (I haven't listened to the story, but have heard the background...)

    The US government in general, and the Department of Defense in particular, are able to bypass most any information-property law, if they can make a good case for it. Something like eminent domain, where they can force you to sell something at a price THEY deem fair, not what you're holding out for.

    The first major use of this was in The Great War. Fixed Wing Aircraft had been invented about a decade earlier by the Wrights, who envisioned the horror that aerial bombardment could cause, and barred any use of their invention by the military. Of course, the patent was no good oversees, so the German and British militaries were developing FWA for survelliance, communication, and even air-superiority.

    At this point, to enter the war, the US army HAD to get FWA. If they'd been forced to use the open market and abide the patent laws, the Wright's could've held out for an astronomical sum- they probably would've agreed to license for $1 billion or so. (Which would've turned into $1 trillion by today, making their family the undisputed wealthiest people in the world).

    Since then, other kinds of compulsory licensing regulations (for some classes of patents) have been created. But still, this case has many uses in anti-IP arguments.

  • Great! Then all we need is some sort of disaster that convinces everybody... that music and movies should be shared.

    Does anyone else see a problem with this idea?

    The sad thing is not how unlikely it is (it is, really), but that I can think of a case: if the people become so unwilling to pursue culture (music becomes unavailable except on specific devices at specific times, television can't be recorded and must be watched when scheduled, etc.) that they learn to do without, and sink into a sort of modern-day sociopathic barbarism.

    Yes, it's unlikely, but we have the makings of such a disaster in play already. Some could say it's already started:

    Then: William Shakespeare. Beethoven. René Descartes.

    Now: Dean Koonz. Britney Spears. Dan Rather

    Yes, feel free to argue that there still quality producers of content out there now. But how many of them can you name? I can't because I haven't been buying much music lately, and culture just seems irrelevant these days since few people actually seem to be paying attention to it...

    Part of me actually wishes this would happen, except that I'd be stuck in the middle of it myself too.

  • I think it is interesting that in a story submission about the problems with patents there is a link to Amazon. Not only did they sue Barnes and Noble over the 1-Click patent, but we recently found out that they are still actively patenting all kinds of obvious stuff.

    I would have much preferred the link point to the book on the Barnes and Noble site. I don't know for a fact that they aren't engaging in the same kind of ridiculous patenting, but as the target of the 1-Click suit, they get all of my on-line book and music business. I had been a regular customer of Amazon's before the suit, and can gladly report that I have never bought from them since.


  • ..yet we STILL have unethical companies burdening the medical system with ridiculous and frivolous patents, thus putting the entire population at grave risk.

    if a patent causes the loss of life, it's a bad patent and MUST be rejected if the patent system is ever to regain even a sliver of respectability.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!