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Appeared on: Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Should ideas be patented


1. Page 1

The passage of a bill by the Commission for Software Patents on September 22nd has triggered off much debate since summer. Until today legislation in force has banned software copying. Now a ban on the ways a computer performs some of its functions is about to be issued. To make things more clear we could roughly say that, in our world, one would be able to patent nailing. He would go to the proper patent Office and would apply for one, illustrating the procedure (“you drive the nail through, by means of a hammer”) and would be issued with a document prohibiting…the use of hammer and nail by anyone but him.

It sounds crazy, but this is what, in a way, the European Union is trying to pass in connection with computers. The procedures are to be patented rather than the final product. The draft of directive has acquired the status of a pressing matter after a lot of pressure being exerted by American software companies, and is about to be voted for at the end of the month. Yet, resentment against it seems to be great. So far 300,000 signatures against this irrational regulation have already been raised/gathered./collected.

The great American thinker and politician Thomas Jefferson had foreseen the situation two centuries ago when he wrote: “If nature has produced a creation which sole among all others is less prone to the right of absolute possession, this is none than the power of thought, what is called an idea. Every human is entitled to own it completely as long as they keep it to themselves. Yet, when it is revealed and becomes the possession of us all, mo matter how hard one might try they cannot shake this common property off. Its strange nature [an idea] is that not anyone is in possession of less of it, as the totality of an idea is the possession of all (…) Nature has made ideas like fire, spreading everywhere in space without losing their force at any point, and like the air we breathe which is beyond anyone’s power to totally possess. Therefore, inventions, by nature, cannot constitute anyone’s asset.”


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Since it is impossible for the ownership of ideas to exist in nature, why then the rush on behalf of everybody to patent their ideas? Big enterprises, which have obtained huge intellectual property portfolios, do nothing more than make use of the monopoly in power the state is in possession of, to its own benefit. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, for instance, made an effort to patent the “charge of a credit card through a click” procedure. He himself is well aware of the fact that it is foolish to attempt to acquire exclusiveness in a procedure (one presses the key of a computer keyboard and one’s credit card is being charged) but if someone who has the power (the state in this case) offers it to him as a gift, why turn it down? It is a preferential agreement like the ones offered to courtiers by their kings, (monopolies of basic products, i.e. salt) which he can make use of or resell. As a matter of fact it is permission from the state to issue banknotes.

The whole system related to intellectual property is following the same pattern. The state has the authority to distribute wealth and is also in possession of the mechanisms imposing this procedure. It may sound stupid, but all the same stupid were Middle Ages feuds, when kings gave away large territories, their populations included, to the nobility, weren’t they?

 

By Pashos Mandravelis.

email to P. Mandravelis



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