Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Freedom: Where are we headed ?

We have talked about freedom and patents earlier. There is a growing debate in our society on whether we should allow a few people to bind the world down with patents or let the creativity flow by keeping everything free. This is a crucial juncture in our civilization. A lot depends on what we decide. There are two things that can happen now:

Let us first look at the scenario where everything is patented:
There are very few ideas being generated because the source of ideas are not free to be used. For example, you could not read my blog and then build on some of the points I raise here because I would have patented those points. And I would choose to charge anyone who wants to discuss those points. So, slowly, the world could come to a complete standstill. There would be no competition in our markets. (to take a very simplistic example: there would be only one tea seller in the entire of Mumbai because he/she would patent the business model of selling tea on the roadside). To take a most pessimistic viewpoint, Humanity would stutter to its end.

Let us now look at the other scenario where we are free to use and build on other's ideas/products:
At first, there would be anarchy. People would steal others' ideas and pass them off as their own. There would be no way to make out who created what. But slowly, the dust would settle. People would start coming up with creative ideas (mostly because the market does not like repetition or repackaging: take hindi movies for examples). More importantly, people would start building on each others' ideas. They would start customizing everything: software, appliances, designer clothes. There would be a million versions of every new design as soon as some one created it -- and each version would be unique in its own way..improving over the original, building on it.
Where would that lead us as a society ? We would be more tolerant of each other (as no one would really own anything and there would be no lack of trust). We would have goods custom-built for us. There would be more individuality.
Also, the creative freedom would mean faster development.

I want to write more...but I want to take a pause and let all this sink in. Am I taking this too far ? Am I making the "society without patents" thing look more endearing than it really is ? Are patents really that bad ? Can a "free society" really be that good ?

Your comments are requested...

4 comments:

vaithianadan said...

On a different View, because the Tea stall owner patented tea selling model on mumbai road... I might give tea to each house and patent it. U can deliver at office and patent it.. and somone will use the Air space and patent it... So the inovation grows and nothing scrumbles.. infact it will lead to faster growth.. (survival of the fitest!)

vanka77 said...

Excellent point ! This is exactly what monopoly is all about.
Once someone patents tea-selling on the road, if the next time you are on the road and wish to buy tea, you will have to buy from this guy no matter what he charges or how bad his tea is (or you could stop drinking tea while on the move -- which is what most of us do when faced with similar situations). Now imagine a situation where someone patents cable television (the one that is delivered to our homes through coaxial cables) No other service provider will be allowed to provide me this service. So, I am stuck with the patent holder. So, I either live with his monopoly or move to some other delivery form (satellite, DTH etc which btw, will also be monopoly run as they too will be patented by someone).

Patents create monopolies which are never good for the markets. They kill the markets.

vaithianadan said...

Hey, here is where patent laws come into picture.... Where u can define what to patent and what not to.. to increase competition... moreover if there is a monopoly and he charges to much.. then government can step in and say hey ur patent expired.. get out of here! Anyway, I thought we were discussing whether patent will distroy the creativity or not... the answer to it is NO!

Viswanath said...

I just wanted to highlight the rationale behind the patent law.

The Government of India grants patent to the innovator because by innovating, he/she has done good to the public. So the government secures him a limited time-bound monopoly on the idea. It does so only to encourage people to come up with ideas and not to reward the innovator.

So, the patent law has to be in such a way that only ideas that are doing greater good for the society should be granted patents and others should be excluded.

In my opinion though, unfortunately, too many patents are being granted for poor ideas, and as a result, it's stifling innovation rather than promote it.