Monday, December 20, 2004

Don Lancaster: The Case Against Patents

Guru's Lair: Patent Avoidance Library

In the old era, before the world changed as it had not changed in a hundred years, I subscribed to an iteration of "Whole Earth Review". It was fascinating back then; Wired at its peak was a pale imitation. WER was at the very edge of an emerging revolution, it was a fine companion to another lost gem -- BYTE.

Eventually WER came down to earth and disappeared again, but I still have those issues. The kids have scattered them around the house, so I see them on occasion. I picked one up and a fine article by Don Lancaster, published in 1992 (even then a reprint), caught my eye. It was "The Case Against Patents". Every word rings true today, though his was the perspective on an engineer who found patents didn't help protect his innovations.

The article doesn't anticipate how bad things would become -- nowadays patents are used by megacorps (Microsoft's suite is enough to destroy Linux ten times over -- when they choose to pull the trigger) to destroy competition and prevent innovation. So not only do patents not protect the innovator (as in 1992) they now have the abilit to destroy the innovator (a new discovery).

Lancaster ends with the note that innovators don't innovate to make money, they innovate because they have to. In other words, they're build that way. Good thing to, because Lancaster would say there's no money in it.

I wondered what had happened to that old article. Were it published today it would be the talk of slashdot -- but it's 13+ years old now. Ancient history. Lost lore. Except Lancaster put it on the web. At his site. Which I'd never heard of. Google knew it though.

So this posting is courtesy of the combination of Google, Lancaster's (and my) urge to share, and my kids urge to chaos.

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