Sunday, May 13, 2007

Patents, copyright and Spider Robinson

Spider Robinson wrote Spider Robinson: Melancholy Elephants in 1983. Wow. I haven't given him enough credit; I can see why it won a Hugo.

He's put it online, though he doesn't tell us how he obtained the copyright to do so (most authors lose copyright when they publish). It's a great illustration of the risks of long lived intellectual property protection, though it's a dramatic work of course. In reality I think humans would adjust to the idea that we aren't really doing new art; several human cultures have embraced the "redo" rather than the novel.

Today I think we feel more the pain of patents than of copyright. Anyone looking at a new enterprise is daunted by the thicket of patent battles ahead, particularly the immense collection of process patents that emerged in the 90s. I'm reasonably sure the vast majority of simple solutions to everyday problems I think of have undeserved process patents.

I'm optimistic the patent monster will be tamed. If nothing else the advent of 3D "printers" (assemblers) will allow hackers to route around the patent block, and will force a rebalancing.

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