THE PROBLEM WITH PATENTS

Bert Gold bgold at itsa.ucsf.edu
Thu Jan 4 19:23:59 EST 1996


When the founding fathers included a mandate to award patents
in the Constitution, they did so in the recognition that rewarding
inventors with a 'goverment sanctioned' monopoly would spur
invention AND promote economic well being in our nascent nation.

Unfortunately (IMHO), in the late portion of the 19th century and early
portion of this century, when it became no longer possible to study for
the bar exam in the states on an 'at home' basis and corporations became
'persons' under the law, patents began being awarded to Corporations,
rather than individual inventors.

No individual, it was suggested (and indeed true after the era of
Ford, Edison and Firestone) would have the wherewithal to defend
a patent in the marketplace of America after the first world war.

But the original concept of the patent, as a REWARD to the inventor
became somehow deeply lost in the process.

As a result, individuals like Carruthers, who invented NYLON for
DuPont, gained little recognition, and perhaps have often become exasperated
and depressed with their lives:  Carruthers, for instance, committed
suicide.

Anecdotally, I would confess that I have a friend with 12 Biotech.
patents to his credit, who is currently looking for a job, can't
find one, and reaps not one cent profit from any of his inventions.

So, what hath we wrought:  A world in which, occasionally, largely through
a toss of the dice, individuals may reap enormous benefits from their
inventions (Wozniak and Jobs, Boyer and Cohen and Stanford and U.Cal.
come to mind) and others, largely through no fault of their own,
do not.  We don't know their names; but there are thousands of
patents granted each year, to corporations, largely to PREVENT
PRODUCTS AND PROCESSES OF COMPETITORS FROM COMING TO MARKET
whose inventors, unlike the intentions of the founding fathers,
go penniless into that good night.

Bert Gold, Ph.D.
San Francisco






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