Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Patent reform

Recently there was an incredibly bad NYT article talking about the dearth of true invention.

It said every recent invention, with the exception of the iPhone was just incremental enhancement, not real innovation.

Which made me laugh on two counts.

First, the iPhone is the epitome of incremental enhancement, not in any way a true innovation.  It took an existing concept - the smart phone pioneered by Blackberry, and made it slightly more accessible.  It added existing ideas such as touch screen and private stores to buy apps, and was not in any way innovative.  It was stylish and well marketed, and easy to use, not a real invention.

Then it denigrated a ton of TRUE innovations, calling them incremental enhancements.

Part of the probelm was he didn't understand how many of the real invetions were created.

He thought one guy had a Eureka moment and created something out of nothing.  Not true.  Almost all inventions - even those we give full credit to one guy - are incremental.  (examples)

He had no idea that Marconi and Tesla were both working on the radio, both made startling discoveries.   Yes, Tesla came up with the innovative ideas, and Marconi turned them into reality.  They incremented off each other, just like the things he denigrated.  The same thing happened with cars.  Honestly, the same thing happened with wheels (rocks rolling down hill, logs rolling down hill, logs under an object, slim down midpoints of the logs to save weight, bind the midpoint to the cart,  axels + wheel)

So what makes for a real invention as opposed to just incremental enhancement.   Two distint things:

First, one of the increments is shockingly strange and trasnformative  as opposed to simply being obvious.  It might be complex, it might be counter-intuitive, but it is something that needs to be explained as opposed to being a 'duh' moment.

Second the result is transofrmative.  It does something NEW hat has no existing competition.

TV is not radio.  It does not compete with Radio.   It is NEW.

Streaming TV on the internet is just TV via a different source.  It directly competes with real TV.  It is not new.

Downloadable TV is however new.  It does not compete with regular TV or even DVDs because the speed of delivery is new.  You don't need to live near a video store to go and buy new video.

So lets talk about patent reform.

People that invent deserve patents.  People that increment don't.  They are just doing 'duh' work.  Yes, it might be hard 'duh' work - and it should not be stealable.  But they shouldn't be able to patent it.  Copyright yes, patent no.

(Copyrights prevent someone from directly copying your software.  Patents prevent someone from independently building something that does the same thing.)

One of the interesting things about this concept of invention is that it reduces the need for experts.  We don't care that your method of doing X is better or not.  That's just innovation.

We care about the experience of the purchaser.   Can he get something that he could not get before?  Note that a significant quality increase, price reduction or time reduction does count as something new.   We can probably use 10% quality, price or time change as a rough guide (as in 9% counts in some cases - determined by patent bureau). 

What would this do to our current world?

Well, 90% of software (and design) patents would vanish - but their copyrights would remain.  Apple would still sue to protect their copyrighted rounded corners instead of their patent'ed rounded corners.

 Would any software qualify?  Probably not.  That is not surprising. Software is written.  Like all other forms of writing, you should COPYRIGHT them, not patent it.

Claiming your software is patented is like claiming that no one else can write a love story because you wrote the first one.  

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