Re: intellectual property

From: David Picon Alvarez (
Date: Sat Mar 05 2005 - 00:58:56 MST

> Insights are not patentable. Theories are not
> patentable. Recently there have been rulings that
> algorithms, notably RSA, are patentable, which is
> closer to what you're worried about.

I'm not sure this is the right forum for this discussion, but these are some
examples of things that are patentable: a genetic sequence (whether it
exists in nature), an alloy for an electromagnet, a method of doing
business, a mathematical algorithm, an artifact of software engineering
(todo list anyone?), a sequence of exercises (yoga patent case) etc etc.

In principle, in Europe some of these ought not be patentable per the EPC,
but in practice they often are due to patent office corruption (or lack of
funding, to be more charitable). In any case, even inventions are insights:
a steam engine is, before anything else, the application of the insight that
you can use steam to do work. There are physical processes which are optimal
or even unique, and patenting their application for inventions stops or
restraints progress. Also, from the viewpoint of ethics, I don't see what
justifies patents, since two teams of researchers that arrive to the same
invention will be able to make it viable or not depending on who submits a
paper to the relevant bureaucratic body first.

> Land grabs can be good. Land grabs are how we settled
> the Western US. The human genome might not
> have been sequenced yet if people didn't hope to get
> patents from it. Yes, I know one team was
> government-led, but without Celera's competition,
> it might have taken much longer.

And then it might not, and it is unclear to me whether it taking, say, as a
very bad case, 3x longer would be such a bad thing if it would be ensured
that the results are available to all. Would I rather have genetic
information in 2003 that I need permission to use, or in 2006 such that I
can use it freely? I guess it depends, I just don't see a clear case either
Landgrabs are how the US was set up, indeed. Personally I find little
admirable in that. Nature and its laws (and inventions are applications of
these, necessarily) is something that we all have equal access too, and it's
very dubious to me that creating monopolies (and thus artificial scarcity)
in their use is a good thing.

> BTW, the period for patents is apparently now 20
> years. I think it's 12 for pharmaceuticals?

I do not know for sure, I thought it was 20 years but I was not sure and I
didn't want to correct you without the exact information. It is
jurisdiction-dependent anyway.

PS FFT is patented.

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