Intellectual Property Anti-Matter

Posted by Bill Meade at February 3, 2006 11:47 AM

Last March I gave an invention workshop at Michigan State University in East Lansing Michigan. MSU is my alma mater, so the session was a lot of fun because one of my graduate school mentors hosted the session, provided pizza (!), and compelled attendence by his current graduate students.

While I was reviewing the forms and functions of intellectual property, the faces of the graduate students went from interested to appalled. After the subject of licensing came up, one of the graduate students could not contain himself any longer. He raised his hand and said:

"Michigan State is a land grant school. The whole idea of the land grant school is to produce science and technology that is useful for farmers. I don't want my research patented if that means that growers won't be able to use it."

This sparked a lively discussion where we explored using intellectual property in creative ways to advance what I'll call the "land grant ethic." The most interesting idea in the discussion was "intellectual property anti-matter."

The requirements of masters and Ph.D. theses go pretty far towards establishing that the thesis written is new to the world science or technology. At least, the goal is to have an authentic creative contribution in the thesis.

Imagine if after the thesis is completed, that the graduate student sat down with a patent attorney and worked through the thesis to translate research results into patent claims. Several patents would be likely to be captured by this process. Now, imagine that the patent applications written by the patent attorney are published as defensive publications. What do you call the result?

Answer: Intellectual Property Anti-Matter.

The building blocks of conventional intellectual property management can be recombined in many more ways than they are used conventionally. New combinations of IP building blocks may be useful to open source, free software, and creative commons type communities.

For example, ...

The linux community has been engaged in a huge game of catch up to date. The functionalities of commercial operating systems have been re-written from scratch to avoid copyright infringements. Imagine a world in which Linux has finally caught up to proprietary operating systems technologically. In such a world, development of Linux shifts to pushing the envelope of new-to-the-world functionality. If after completing the technology the Linux developers could sit down with patent attorneys and draft patents on the new-to-the-world functionality, and then publish the applications as defensive publications, they can destroy patentability of the new-to-the-world functionalities ... even for proprietary operating systems companies.

Community newtorking people who are on the ground making mesh networks work will discover improvements needed to the technology to make it practical. If after discovering improvements, the mesh network people could defensively publish the improvements, they can open up key aspects of the intellectual property around these evolving technologies.

The big so what of this is that if a community wanted to organize to manage the threats of external patenting to their future, they can employ intellectual property anti-matter to do so. They will only be able to capture new to the world technologies. But, a concerted IP management effort would, in 17 years, be able to open up a considerable amount of design freedom world wide.

Just a thought.

bill meade

[Bill's previous post on THE 6 LIFE STAGES OF INVENTORS is here.]

[Bill's previous post on PROACTIVE INVENTION MANAGEMENT is here.]

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Jackson Says:

February 10, 2006 05:47 PM

You said:

The linux community has been engaged in a huge game of catch up to date.

This is a common misperception, in that it ignores those areas in which Linux (or other open source projects) held clear technology leads over their competition.

For example, Windows98 introduced shaded window titles to the world... almost a year after KDE had them by default.

For example, X86 had shaped windows, and the Englightenment Window Manager introduced shaped window borders to the world long before these were available for MS or Apple platforms.

For example, The World Wide Web: The world's first web browser/server (Mosaic) were entirely open source, years before Bill Gates could even bring himself to committing the Windows platform to the Internet and TCP/IP.

I really could go on and on. There are features (somewhat esoteric) in the Linux kernel itself which were ahead of anything else when they were first implemented.

The point is, asserting that Linux does nothing more than copy 'cutting edge' commercial offerings, but in a clever non-infringing way, is not a very accurate (and somewhat insulting) way to put it.

But beside that fact, why would such endeavors seek expensive patents? Too remove competition? That's sort of antithetical to the whole "share your code" philosophy. And defensive patents don't make sense. At most, they might want to file SIRs to establish inventorship. But SIRs are even questionable; the code itself serves as prior art (especially with the addition of IBM's proposed prior art DB), so there is no need for purely defensive patenting, right?