Monday, October 26, 2009

Doggerel #209: "Patented"

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

This bit of doggerel is an old marketing trick that shouldn't work anymore. A patent does not indicate efficacy, only uniqueness, and sometimes not even that.

I've heard that, at least in the US, the patent office will not accept perpetual motion machines or free energy devices, taking the prudent stance that such contraptions are impossible. The decision may also have to do with how common the claims are, and how much extra useless paperwork they would produce.

Patent offices are not scientific institutions. They do not conduct in-depth experiments with every designer's ideas. They do not carry out clinical trials for the latest herbal supplements. They exist to provide an innovator with a protection against someone else copying his work, so that he can make money off his idea. Whether or not you like such things as copyright laws, this should be something to know.

If you want to know if something works, you should test it according to the principles of science and logic. If you're willing to trust someone, you should trust results in good scientific journals, conducted by people who take the necessary efforts to remove their biases. It's that methodology that credibility comes from, not a government stamp of approval.


Professor Preposterous said...

I can imagine commercials announcing patents anyway, not because it grants any appearance of superiority to the consumer, but so that competitors who are watching are given the message "Copy this and we will end you, capische?"

Dark Jaguar said...

I think the only big problem with patent laws allowing nonsense is that if down the line an intelligent person actually comes up with a WORKING version, they might get sued over it by the guy who came up with the "concept" first, even if that guy was completely incapable of realizing said concept.

Another kinda annoying thing is "patent sitting", where a company has some patent and they wait for a bunch of huge companies who patented their versions without so much as a hiccup from the department to make it rich, then swoop in and sue them. On the one hand, they did come up with the idea first, but on the other hand, I was under the impression that to get a patent one must not just come up with an idea first but actively show steps in marketting and selling it. The idea being that a patent is useless to the public at large if the person owning it just uses it to prevent others from making a device, thus "hording" knowledge. However every few months it seems some new company is sueing the big 3 vidya game comp'nies over some controller configuration or another, and winning, in spite of a total lack of any indication they ever actually manufactured and sold such devices themselves.

Side rant over. Randi often puts these sorts of stories in his swift article each week. The apparent isssue is just the lack of resources to actually test each claim. However at the very least a little basic science research to determine if it is at least feasible could go a long way. I'm not sure how much that would slow things down, but it seems a reasonable comprimise.

Valhar2000 said...

There is a lot that is wrong with patents. For one thing, many of the patent claims that are challenged end up loosing, because it turns out that the patent was filed ilegally, but the iiot clerk who ddi it did not bother to check wether the patent was legal or not.

And, OT, it is essential that we fight back against big business on this one and make patents last a maximum of 25 years, 50 at the outside, and after that the patented concept in question is available to everyone. If you can't get rich in that amount of time, tough.

Dark Jaguar said...

Personally I wonder about the idea of "selling" or "inheriting" patents. It seems to me the basic idea is rewarding innovation, but if someone's kids who never did a thing in their lives get a free ride because one of their parents happened to do something incredible, do they really deserve to inherit royalty rights? Sometimes I think a good change to patent law would be that when the original inventor dies, the invention becomes public domain.

djfav said...

Dark Jaguar,

I'm pretty sure patents only last for 20 years. What you sell during that time is a license. Patents go public relatively fast compared to copyrights, which last damn near forever now.

Dark Jaguar said...

Ah yes, I keep forgetting there's an important distinction there.

Still, my complaint just changes focus. Mickey Mouse should be public domain at this point.

djfav said...

I'm with you all the way. Copyleft, not copywrong.

Dark Jaguar said...

I should make it clear that on the flip side, I very much defend the concept of copyrights. It is very important that people are able to make money off of their ideas exclusively if they so choose. The only time when copyrights would do more harm than good in that sense would be in some sort of post-scarcity super-advanced Star Trek era.