Internet and Society/The Internet and the Law/Copyright and Patent Law

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Copyright and Patents in the Internet Age

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Early History

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Printing press initiated copyright regulations ... Monarchy maintained them Later parliament maintained them and police tried to enforce them (which wasn't feasible).

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Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants the Congress the power, among other things,

To promote the progress of science and useful arts, 
by securing for limited times to authors and inventors 
the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;

Patent Law

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Most content in this section comes from the FTC/DOJ 2003 report on Patents and Competition

What is a patent?

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A patent is essentially a monopoly on creation of a product or method for creating a product (or providing a service) granted by the government for a limited periodof time (usually 20 years from date of file or 17 years from date of grant, which ever comes first).

There are three types of patents

For further information see the Wikibooks on US Patent Law or Canadian Patent Law.

How can a patent promote the progress of science and useful arts

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A patent guarantees exclusive rights to the inventor for a given period of time and this by consequence enhances the ability for commercialization and may be an incentive to foster innovation.

  • inventor has 20 years to recoup research and development costs
  • inventor may have easier time getting financing
  • with venture capital it should allow small firms to compete with big ones, but small firms may have trouble litigating.

Litigation and market pressures makes patents an effective weapon to prevent the creation of direct competition. This allied with a lax policy of attribution of patents, has been proven a barrier for innovation.

How might patents serve to slow the progress of useful arts?

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It may discourage innovation because once the exclusivity of a patent exists no one else is allowed to build on that specific idea without paying royalties to the patent holder (or breaking the law).

  • the advent of 'patent thickets' can create an environment where it is difficult to remain competitive without infringement.
  • a monopolist may create higher prices and lower availability of the product
  • a monopolist can inhibit add-on innovation

How can competition without patents promote the progress of science and useful arts

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With no restrictions on further development of a product, innovators are free to begin to improve the product as soon as it is made public.

Innovation -- what are the competitive advantages to funding R&D independent of patents

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An R&D infrastructure would become experienced in the area of interest and would be more capable of follow-on innovation.


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What are the competitive advantages to commercializing ideas one develops

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Problems with current Patent System

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Patent Thickets

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