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Posts Tagged: "wright brothers"

A Response to Claims of Patent Propaganda and a Plea for Interpretive Charity in IP Debate

Following a panel I spoke on with my colleagues Charles Duan of the R Street Institute, Abby Rives of Engine, and Ian Wallace from New America, Lydia Malone wrote a piece critical of our comments on this site. I thank IPWatchdog for the opportunity to respond. Appreciating that Ms. Malone characterizes her piece as “one view” of the above-referenced panel, I wish to offer another, hopefully more complete view of last week’s discussion. For example, one feature of Tuesday’s panel is the panel’s discussion of how high-quality patents are an important, valuable, and in some cases necessary element of the innovation ecosystem. I respectfully disagree with Ms. Malone’s assertion that the panel “concluded that we should abolish patents and begin centrally planning the subsidization of research and development for all innovation, all in the interests of their ‘free market.’”

Were the Wright Brothers Patent Trolls? One View of R Street Institute’s Capitol Hill Panel on Patents

On Tuesday, I attended a panel discussion on the National Security Implications of Patents along with my siblings, Madeline and Gideon Malone, and we were informed that inventors like the Wright brothers pose a threat to innovation. We were joined by approximately 50 attendees at the Capitol event moderated by Charles Duan from R Street Institute, along with panelists Abby Rives from Engine, Daniel Takash from Niskanen Center, and Ian Wallace from New America. They argued that patents harm innovation, and government subsidies are a better alternative to incentivize innovation. In order for R Street (a free-market think tank) to justify these blatantly anti-free-market claims, they focused on the problems with “bad patents” and how patent monopolies prevent competition. To top it all off, their example of a “bad patent” was the one granted to the Wright brothers, which the panelists felt unreasonably excluded their competitors from making improved versions of their airplane.

Director Iancu speaks of Wright Brothers as champions of innovation, not villains

Here is what Director Iancu had to say about the Wright Brothers: “At my swearing-in, I remarked that through the doors of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office comes our future. And indeed, it does, and it always did. We must celebrate that. From Thomas Edison to the Wright Brothers, from Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer to Steve Jobs, American inventors have fueled the imagination of our people for generations. We are a pioneering people who overcome large obstacles in order to realize our dreams and create prosperity. Inventors help make dreams reality, and American invention changes the world. Indeed, with American patents, humans made light, began to fly, treated disease, and enabled instant communications across the globe from tiny devices in our pockets.”

Happy Birthday Patent System: Hope Springs Eternal

In 1790, the U.S. patent laws were first enacted and individuals could obtain a patent under the new federal government. For about a century beforehand, British citizens in the various parts of the American colonies could obtain patents for that region, and Britain and other European countries had patent laws as well. But the new American patent system was different: it was democratized in that anyone could participate, without the need for consent from the Crown. The origins of patent laws date back to the Fifteenth Century when Florentine regents sought to attract and keep innovators and their inventions. Elizabeth I was a keen ruler in passing various patent laws to encourage foreigners with ideas and inventions to relocate to Britain, as well as encourage domestic innovation.

A Poor History of Wright Brothers Concludes they were Patent Trolls

In the first sentence of the entire article, the author falls prey to a misconception often parroted by those with anti-patent viewpoints, namely that patent protection is a “government-granted monopoly.” Yes, the patent is granted by the government, and yes, it offers an inventor the right to exclude others from the market, but a patent provides no promise of a monopoly or any market success whatsoever. More than 90 percent of patents cover technologies that will not be commercialized. If there’s no market, there’s no monopoly. Instead, patents help to create markets by creating an enforceable property right capable of attracting investment and warding off free-riders if in fact a market does ultimately exist… But the Mises Institute’s author even notes that Curtiss continued to design aircraft control methods that wouldn’t infringe on the Wright Brothers’ patent, an unwitting recognition of the fact that patent protection encourages innovators to find ways to invent without infringing on a patent.

Looking Down on the Patent System from the Ivory Tower

The patent system is not a tool for entrenched interests to stifle competition, as so many professors seem to believe. Patents allow independent inventors and small companies to compete against better funded rivals, who would otherwise simply take away their inventions. Sadly, many publications, including The Economist, base anti-patent articles on the ill-conceived notions of academics. Alas, perhaps one reason our nation is in such distress is that so many policies are based on recommendations from those without any practical experience.

Happy Birthday to the Patent System, A Dream of Our Forefathers

As Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, spoke about on 60 Minutes, true innovation does not come from the large corporations. Instead, it is some “graduate student” or “crazy person” that makes change, such as the obscure Wright Brothers warping the airplane wings to control flight. Without a patent system, innovators and inventors from all walks of life will be unable to safeguard their intellectual property and profit, violating a central tenet of the patent system. Penalizing the poor students and the visionaries by hindering their chance to protect their technological advances in patent litigation is not justifiable and is not right. Legislation making fundamental changes to the law to thwart innovators (and their backers) getting their say in court is highly suspect and perhaps unconstitutional. Further, in a time when Americans have lost countless manufacturing jobs and have retooled, it does not make sense to weaken something at which Americans are good: innovating and inventing.

Rebuttal Finale: A Response to Lemley’s Myth of the Sole Inventor

Lemley’s response introduces the new term “sequential improvement.” This suggests to us that he has now abandoned many of his claims of “simultaneous invention.” The word ‘sequential’ does not occur a single time in his article. We agree with Lemley’s new description that invention and innovation are often sequential, building in a series of related but different inventions: it is a normal feature of development and does not require a 108 page and 260 footnote article to establish it. Nor does it have radical policy consequences for the patent system which is well-adapted to this feature of real invention. But Lemley’s recommended policy would deny patents to second comers who contribute the key missing ingredient that unlocks an entire field. To Lemley’s credit, he recognizes the benefits of patent races and that the patent system leads to more innovation. But if that is true, Lemley does not explain why the patent system that we actually have is broken. His proposal to deny patents on “the most important inventions” and not grant more patents seems to flow from unreliable scholarship rather than a precise, reliable diagnosis of a problem.

Lemley Responds: Defending the Myth of the Sole Inventor

If you actually read my article you will find that I simply don’t say the things they claim I say. The basic refrain of the Howells-Katznelson paper is that (1) I think Edison and the Wright brothers didn’t make inventive contributions, and (2) I diminish their contributions in service of my “radical” anti-patent agenda. With all due respect, I don’t see how anyone who read the whole paper could think I said any such thing. There is no question that Edison and the Wrights made useful contributions to the world. The point of my article is that they (and the many other iconic inventors I discuss) did not act alone. They made important but incremental contributions on the shoulders of many other inventors advancing the technology, and they often did so at about the same time as other, lesser-known inventors.

A Critique of Mark Lemley’s “The Myth of the Sole Inventor”

For example, regarding Thomas Edison, Lemley’s primary case illustrating the so-called “myth of the sole inventor,” he alleges that “Sawyer and Man invented and patented the incandescent light bulb” (Lemley 2011, p26) and that “Edison did not invent the light bulb in any meaningful sense” (Lemley 2011, p25). We disprove Lemley’s assertions and present five key facts that Lemley omits: for example, although Lemley cites a Supreme Court case in 1895 as a source for the statement above, he neglects to inform us of the decision reported in that case; it affirmed a lower court’s 1889 decision in favor of Edison and finding the Sawyer & Man patent invalid. Furthermore, the Sawyer and Man lamps were not commercially viable, having only a few hours life, whereas Edison’s invention was the basis for a lamp with a hundred times longer useful lifetime: electric lighting became economic and it was Edison’s invention that unlocked the field after three decades of experimentation by others in incandescent lamps. There was no candidate for an invention simultaneous with Edison’s invention.

The Myth of the Sole Inventor

The canonical story of the lone genius inventor is largely a myth. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb; he found a bamboo fiber that worked better as a filament in the light bulb developed by Sawyer and Man, who in turn built on lighting work done by others. Bell filed for his telephone patent on the very same day as an independent inventor, Elisha Gray; the case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which filled an entire volume of U.S. Reports resolving the question of whether Bell could have a patent despite the fact that he hadn’t actually gotten the invention to work at the time he filed. The Wright Brothers were the first to fly at Kitty Hawk, but their plane didn’t work very well, and was quickly surpassed by aircraft built by Glenn Curtis and others – planes that the Wrights delayed by over a decade with patent lawsuits.