Once upon a time… the patents

Ok, let’s do this again (I love blogging :P). Some weeks ago, I read several headlines around the Internet talking about a pretty  big fight coming between Apple and Palm due to some possible intellectual property violations. All the discussion started when Palm launched its last pda model, a gadget very similar to the iPhone.
When you compare the interfaces you can note it immediately, the Palm product copied many features from the iPhone design. Surely, as you already know it, the flame blew out as gas and the executives from both sides have affirmed they are ready for a patent’s war. This is what I love about the technology market, there is always a funny story to talk about 🙂

Wait a second, Intellectual Property? Patents? I heard these concepts before, but let’s start as usual… once again, I had to read a _lot_ of links (but I like it!).

Quoting from Wikipedia:

Intellectual Property: are legal property rights over creations of the mind, both artistic and commercial, and the corresponding fields of law. Under intellectual property law, owners are granted certain exclusive rights to a variety of intangible assets, such as musical, literary, and artistic works; ideas, discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. Common types of intellectual property include copyrights, trademarks, patents, and trade secrets.

Ouch! it sounds like lawyers stuff… I would like to explain it to you in my own words, but this time, I am not really sure, I mean the “creation of the mind” is an endless set of possibilities. How can you get the legal property over any “idea”? The human brain is a wonderful machine unable to stop creating… Are we going to label every human creation with a message like “I invented this, so pay me for it” ? Definitely, this time… I pass.

Patent: is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state to an inventor or his assignee for a fixed period of time in exchange for a disclosure of an invention.

I bet you read this word thousands of times before, me too. The legal tool to ensure the promotion of  “Intellectual Property” and the cause of infinite legal battles between companies around the world. The funny thing about the “fixed period” is that lawyers are always trying to make it almost infinite, even for some applications which will be absolutely obsolete when they become “open and free” (i.e. MS DOS).

Is there a moral for this tale? Maybe: in the technology business, NEVER copy or you’ll get sued (that’s it, right?). In fact, I still remember my chemistry teacher in high school, when she said: “Please! don’t try to copy in your exam or I’ll catch you!” and I understand the point in that context, but the truth is, what Palm did is the same thing that all IT/software companies have been doing always. Excuse me if I am being naive on this, but I have watched thousands of cases like this.

Let me give you some examples: Did Apple invent the pda or the cell phone? No. Did Microsoft invent the windows environment? or the spreadsheet? or the word processor? No. So? Historically, every invention around the world is based on a previous proposal, it’s unavoidable and at least, for a young stupid kid like me, it’s obvious.
This remind me the favorite sentence of my Physics class teacher: “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants“. Isaac Newton said it centuries ago and it’s a fact, along the history, innovation has been based on the basic principle of sharing new ideas… or am I wrong?

The history of patents started at 1474 (that’s what books say), but humankind history started before! What if the first man who discovered the way to make fire had patented the procedure? Think about the wheel, the first ship, the first hammer, the first dress. If you think about this for a minute, you should realize that innovation is an undeniable feature of the human being (it’s included in the box!). We love, we share, we innovate… we are humans, but I guess it isn’t so simple for the adults, in fact, a lot of them think that patents are an incentive for innovation (I really can’t understand/believe this!!! :S).

When I asked to my mother, she told me that the patents system is just an scheme to make money and that’s all, but it has nothing to do about making a better or modern world.  Even more, some days ago, my uncle Bob told me that oil companies spend millions of dollars in alternative energy research only to patent the new ideas and in this way, to make the new discoveries legally inaccessible for anyone. Oil companies are expecting to make us live in the Petroleum Age forever, when it’s pretty clear that we can’t keep destroying the planet with combustion technology.
Am I too young to understand this? Is this too complex for a teenager mind? or may I get older to understand it and then accept it? Well, I won’t… never!

Funny irony, isn’t it? The patents system which supposedly was created “to promote innovation” is helping us to destroy “legally” our planet. Money talks I guess… it always talks 😦
As I already said it in some post before, laws and lawyers are messy stuff/people I will never understand.

But, let’s talk about good things, let’s talk about hope: the Obama’s speech about energy policy made me feel much better about the future of the world. I guess it just was a little step forward, but everything has a beginning. To think of a world with electric cars and less contamination is a good reason to believe in a clean future, isn’t it?

On the other hand, I have to admit that the Free Software Movement is doing a great job against the patent system, proposing a new way to create and innovate technology without legal boundaries, in a complete open environment without “valuable secrets” and producing pretty good projects as operating systems, hundred of thousands of applications and millions of truly open code lines.

The facts show us that is absolutely possible to create alternative and very productive models where the concept of patent or intellectual property are unnecessary. Linux distros and environments like Gnome and KDE are competing constantly to be the best project but none is worried about who is copying from who, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t stop you to keep innovating.

I could blog for days… but it’s enough for now. I don’t want to bore you to death (anyway, is someone there? :P)

Chores time… see you later my invisible friends 🙂

PS: As far as I understand the world we have created… I misunderstand the humankind :S


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