24
$\begingroup$

I need technology patent terms to last centuries, thousands of years even (not necessarily millions though). Obviously I don't need the Patent Laws to change overnight. The Laws can take its time to update.

What reasonable (at least to us in the present day) justifications could be given to change patent terms lasting from ~20 years to such incredibly long periods of time.

The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others, or at least to try to prevent others, from commercially making, using, selling, importing, or distributing a patented invention without permission - Wikipedia

I've been thinking along the lines of far-future advanced tech. People (and hence their families), corporations, even governments will want to keep 'control' of such devices to keep the excessive royalties flowing to certain individuals or groups. Supposedly people may possibly live longer; will they not want access to their royalties longer?

Would sufficiently advanced tech for space exploration/planet colonisation/increasing longevity etc be enough of a justification to change the Patent Laws? I'm thinking of Tech that once, discovered and developed into a working technology wouldn't have too many further developments, obviously they will get tweaks and updates, but the core technology is still the same. Something along the lines of the 'wheel'...FTL/wormhole travel/antigravity/inertial dampeners/anti-aging tech etc etc.

Obviously if there are Patent Laws, this is not an Utopian Future. War is bound to break out and governments, or whatever stands in their place, can change, dramatically. I think, trying to make a new claim for a Patent held under a previous Regime might make for some interesting story-telling. So I'm not too focussed on how to transition regime shifts at the moment. Just focused on how the Patent Terms would have been extended in the first place.

While this is far-future scenario, and therefore all opinion-based, can answers please be focused on believable shifts in law-making, taking into account how humans act around large amounts of money. As many of our worlds are based many centuries into the current future, I believe the question is on-topic about WorldBuilding...or at least LawBuilding.

note: I do not know a lot about Patent Law, so if I've missed something that already exists, please let me know!

$\endgroup$
  • 34
    $\begingroup$ "Reasonable justification" doesn't seem to be a prerequisite for a change in the law to be believable. $\endgroup$ – hobbs Feb 22 '17 at 2:41
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Elves. Its always the elves. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 22 '17 at 15:11
  • 44
    $\begingroup$ Disney. In this case, it's always Disney. $\endgroup$ – woliveirajr Feb 22 '17 at 15:13
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @cybernard Oh yeah? Used a fork lately? A wheel? A screw? You owe Disney a check. $\endgroup$ – Ed Plunkett Feb 22 '17 at 19:19
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps Patent laws historically weren't very successful at maintaining recognition and monetary reward for inventors; they were much more successful at stealing those from the inventors (most inventors couldn't afford the patent fees, so they either let them lapse or tried to sell the invention directly - at which point, some rich guy or company possessed the patent, and prevented the inventor from having any profit on the invention). Modern patern trolling builds on the same ideas. Monopolies are bad - and government monopolies are no better. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Feb 23 '17 at 8:33

18 Answers 18

54
$\begingroup$

Time will do it.

There is continuous pressure from long lived corporations to extend the length of patents. The more power corporations have in your universe, the longer patents will end up.

There is a reason why the length of patents were set as they are. The patent is designed to give the inventor/designer a short term monopoly so they can recoup the costs of R&D and make a profit. Then the new technology is suppose to go into the public domain so new entrants can price compete and get the product out to more people. The end of the patent is also there to allow the innovation to spread and inspire new ideas.

So, if corporations are strong enough, they will push longer patents in order to give themselves longer monopoly periods.

$\endgroup$
  • 30
    $\begingroup$ This is also true of copyrights, which provide a great model of how terms expand, even if you ignore eeevil corporations. $\endgroup$ – fectin Feb 22 '17 at 1:01
  • 42
    $\begingroup$ To be fair, the expansion of copyright in the real world has been pushed primarily by evil corporations. There's a reason why the recent-most copyright extension in the US has been derisively named the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act." $\endgroup$ – Alex Feb 22 '17 at 13:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You beat me to it. I always find it interesting how many questions asked here have the answer "look around you" (or read your mediaeval history, etc) $\endgroup$ – Mawg Feb 22 '17 at 13:37
  • 11
    $\begingroup$ @Alex: What they should do is provide that copyrights may be extended indefinitely if a company pays renewal fees (as with trademarks), but costs should escalate on an exponential scale (e.g. initial term 10 years w/o registration, then \$10 for the years 10-20, $100 for years 20-30, \$1000 for 30-40, \$10,000 for 40-50, \$100,000 for 50-60, etc. Companies would find it worthwhile to pay \$1,000,000/year for properties that they actively use, but wouldn't want to pay that for properties which they have no real plans to use and which they would do just as well to release. $\endgroup$ – supercat Feb 22 '17 at 15:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @fectin Why the sarcastic "eeevil"? By definition, corporations are entities driven purely by selfish goal of maximising profit, with explicit lack of regard for anything else. Selfishness is evil, thus, corporations are evil by definition. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Feb 23 '17 at 4:09
39
$\begingroup$

Lobbying, plain and simple.

Copyright used to be much shorter than it is today. Every time the first Mickey Mouse cartoons are about to fall out of copyright, legislators influenced by Disney change the law to make copyright last longer.

Another corporation could do the same for patents. There's nothing way-out-there about it, again, it's happening before our eyes with copyright.

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The law extending copyright to seventy years under US law is called the Sonny Bono Act. Otherwise it would have to be called the Mickey Mouse Act. The time to once more extend the period of copyright must be coming up real soon now. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 22 '17 at 7:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @a4android do you know what logo people made to fight that bill? $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Feb 22 '17 at 15:03
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mindwin No I didn't! But it certainly fits the bill. Thanks for bringing a smile. Particularly the Disney Corporation was in the vanguard of the lobby for its extension. So counting the additional 25 years since 1998, means by or before 2021 there should be another explosion of lobbying for its next extension. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 23 '17 at 1:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @a4android "And Disney never gives back." $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Feb 24 '17 at 4:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Mindwin Enough to make my blood run cold. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 24 '17 at 4:53
13
$\begingroup$

Space travel was slow, expensive, and unfair.

Earth invents a lot of stuff that would be really useful in other places. before FTL with one thing and another by time the products are adapted from the Earth version and shipped the decades patents where well on their way to expiring, so local copy-cats at the far end did better than the importers. And if you are going out of the solar system the patents where lapsed before anything gets there. The solution proposed by Earth based governments was to extend patents at least long enough to get the farthest colonies.

$\endgroup$
6
$\begingroup$

If the human race survives I expect it will eventually happen. Look at growth curves. There are two basic possibilities for the shape of a growth curve: A stretched S (pull the SW corner W, the NE corner E enough that the curve always goes at least somewhat forward) or something like an inverted U. The latter is catastrophe so I will disregard it and look only at the S.

Specifically, I am looking at the growth of technology. The length of a patent should be related to the slope of the curve. When we were in the flat part at the start of the S this didn't happen because we didn't have patents in the first place.

We are now on the part of the S where it's heading up--until the curve starts to inflect we have no way of knowing where we are on it. There isn't an infinite amount of practical knowledge to learn (I won't say there isn't an infinite amount of knowledge. Some theories of cosmology have universes which are infinite or have an infinite number of universes. In either case a planet listing is obviously infinite.) Eventually that curve will inflect and bend back down.

Picture the very top of that curve as we close in on knowing everything. Improvements will become harder and harder to find and return a smaller and smaller benefit. Patent durations should increase to compensate.

Unfortunately, I rather expect this answer won't work very well for your world.

You might be able to have a society in which corporate power has grown unchecked resulting in increasing patent durations without economic justification. Progress all but grinds to a halt in such a society, if there is any possibility of an outside group it's going to fall behind and end up dominated/destroyed. (Look at China to see what I mean. They turned inward and froze innovation to keep it from upsetting the social order--and found themselves behind the 8-ball when the British showed up.)

Edit: For the commenter who doesn't understand the S-curve I am describing:

S-curve

Of course this is from the realm of biology which is where such curves normally occur. Just think of "carrying capacity" as "all knowledge".

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Ha. Thanks. I could understand it. Just when I Googled for images I couldn't see your 'inverted u'. I could see the 's' and I could see a 'backwards c'. So I thought you might have been mentioning something else! Thought I would ask to clarify rather than stay confused :) $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Feb 23 '17 at 7:13
  • $\begingroup$ Or was I getting confused because the generic images I was looking at that only showed the one side of the parabolic (or hyperbolic, I always get the names mixed up) the 'inverted u' that you were talking about? So I only ever saw a squashed 'backwards c' $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Feb 23 '17 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ This assumes that the main factor will be lack of areas to research (approaching limit of knowledge). It would seem that better tools and larger population would drive the rate to keep increasing $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Feb 24 '17 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ @sdrawkcabdear You're assuming there is an infinite amount of stuff to be discovered. I don't think that's the case. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Feb 24 '17 at 3:51
4
$\begingroup$

Ever heard that an idea was "ahead of its time?"

That's what Patent Durations are set up to measure, the time between the discovery of an idea and when it ought to become public knowledge. Patent law is not set up as a mechanism for companies to engineer convenient monopolies (although we know this happens a lot). Your patent is designed to guarantee two things:

  1. You get a period of monopoly so that you can recoup the expense incurred developing your idea.
  2. Once the patent period is up, your idea is guaranteed to become public domain.

(We agree not to rip off your idea now if you agree to give it to us for free later)

It's the second point that seems most pertinent today. Without patent law, it would be very bad business to share technology. The onus would be on the developer of a new technology to make it cryptic and complicated and hard to reverse-engineer. If it were a chemical formula, the onus would be to never disclose the process that produced it. We see this in the recipes for many popular foods and beverages (i.e. Coca Cola) whose formulas aren't covered by patent law. The monopoly guarantee of a patent is an incentive for companies to provide comprehensive design details sufficient to re-create the product to the public.

So what will happen to patent duration in the future? Obviously money follows the corporate lobby which wants longer and stronger intellectual property protections (People who've already got a good business model want to keep it). At the same time, the incremental value and scope of each technological change makes the useful duration of a patent much shorter. Technology is changing fast and if there is some technical barrier in a company's way, they are more likely to work their way around it with a different/new idea (which is getting pretty cheap) than to buy the license for another companies patent. So you say that's bad, don't let them duplicate work, now you are extending patent coverage beyond the original work of the patent. But there is a long vetting process in place to guarantee you can only patent something you fully developed. Patent law is designed to be good for consumers, and consumers should be active custodians of this law. Longer duration and broader protection will slow down the economy which isn't necessarily good.

Ideally patent duration should track with the incremental value and cost of making patentable advances. This trend is downward, not up.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Not clear that the trend is downward. When a field matures, advances become smaller and their incremental value is indeed lower, but the cost of making these advances is greater because the easy stuff has already been tried. So you if want these advances to be made at the higher cost you have to give patents for smaller improvements. For example combustion engines were revolutionary technological advance ages ago yet there is still tons of very expensive research being done to make, e.g., gas turbines more efficient 0.1% at a time and I'm sure this wouldn't happen without patents. $\endgroup$ – DepressedDaniel Feb 23 '17 at 5:40
  • $\begingroup$ @DepressedDaniel Factories are expensive. Prototyping is expensive. Being the first one is expensive. But the very worst thing is not having anything to compete with - you can be sure that with no patent laws, innovation would be stimulated, not represesed. The patent law gives you an incentive to make more patents, as wide as possible - to stop others from improving, regardless of what you actually do. It's a monopoly like any other. If you want innovation, don't use violence to stop people from competing with each other. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Feb 23 '17 at 8:45
  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify patents are revealed in full detail within about 18 months of filing not when the patent expires ... or so I believe $\endgroup$ – Knee Colas Feb 23 '17 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Luaan The "innovations" that come from cutthroat competition have usually nothing to do with technology, and more to do with having people work in inhumane conditions. Why would you spend millions to R&D an improvement when your competitor will be able to copy your work for comparatively nothing? You wouldn't; you'd just wait to see if your competitors innovate and then rip them off when they do. And you'd focus your efforts on outsourcing labor to countries where people make pennies a day for working brutally long hours, etc. The free market absolutely sucks and that's why we don't have one! $\endgroup$ – DepressedDaniel Feb 23 '17 at 16:38
4
$\begingroup$

There's a very reasonable reason:

To give the inventor time to recoup his investment.

That is the entire point of patents and IP law, after all. It's not literally recoup; it only provides the chance to recoup. The chance must be high enough to motivate the inventor, investors etc. to sink the up-front to take the chance.

So, if you have an exceptionally long patent, you may have an invention which, by nature, has an exceptionally long recoup time. Perhaps

  • sales are few and far between...
  • the up-front is staggering (think Moonshot)...
  • delayed development costs continue to accrue (think Manhattan Project**)
  • customers are profoundly affected by time (e.g. the invention is relevant to interstellar travel with decades in cryo-sleep)
  • some grave injustice was done during the invention (e.g. damage the DNA of thousands of test subjects, cursing their progeny) and the patent royalties go to needed and ongoing reparations.

This reason must be obvious enough for government to want to grant it.

We know the investment isn't money; because money isn't that patient. The resource is likely something else: massive societal commitment (Logopolis), a social debt, state/planetary security, something a mortal will want his great-great-grandchildren to have.

** don't forget the still-ongoing cost of nuclear waste cleanup at Hanford, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos etc. Hanford alone is going on four times the original Manhattan Project cost. Yes, inflation-adjusted. An expense that will seemingly never end. If Manhattan Project patents were monetizable, you bet they should be extended indefinitely, to pay for the cleanup.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

In the future Patent and Copyright laws merged, and became "Life of inventor plus 80 years". Several decades later Ron Swanson (no relation) discovered that a specific blend of herbs and spices applied to smoked bacon caused near immortality. In fact the only thing that broke this benefit was accidental ingestion of lettuce.

Unfortunately (for some) this meant that a large number of patent holders started living on the new diet, and the phrase "with immortality comes great profits" entered common use. Companies started complaining that individuals were managing to keep their new patents, while the patents they spent so much money developing were running out after a "mere" 80 years.

Lobbying happened to try to change the laws, but unfortunately money talks. And, well, there were more trillionaire individuals than companies. Time moved on, and not much changed. Individuals got richer, and pig farmers made profits often compared to the legendary "mineral water providers" of the early twentieth century...

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ A humorous scenario. But we both know it doesn't exactly answer the question. This is a pity. It's not everyday a chap finds out the recipe for immortality. Must steer clear of lettuce too. Fr now I'll have to mark your report card with tried and true "Can do better". Plus one with a warning. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 23 '17 at 11:14
3
$\begingroup$

There's a simple enough reason for patent terms to be extended in at least some fields, although I'm pretty sure it's not going to work with your scenario and the scope might not cover all patents in the general case; longer lifespans.

Copyrights on creative works, for instance, are to my understanding granted for the length of the author's life plus however many years on top of that (to allow the author's children/other family to exploit the benefits for a time). If people are, due to your advanced technology, living for several centuries, then those copyrights would naturally extend as well.

This wouldn't require any extensive changes, even, or any great suspension of disbelief: authors can claim with perfect logic that they should keep copyrights to their own works as long as they are alive to keep writing about those works. Note: with longer lifespans may come a clause to require them to create works set in any given creative world they made at least once every X years, or lose sole rights on grounds of disuse or some similar excuse (which is itself a potential starting point for a plot).

$\endgroup$
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ A patent is not a copyright. $\endgroup$ – Li Zhi Feb 22 '17 at 0:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @LiZhi, as far as I understood it. He wasn't saying patents were copyrights. Rather he was using copyright as an example of longer periods. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Feb 22 '17 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ @LiZhi I got the two mixed up, I'm afraid. Still, I don't think that invalidates the general premise of my answer: longer lifespans translating to longer patent/copyright terms. Patents and copyrights are likely both relevant here, as well. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Feb 22 '17 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ Patents and copyright are both forms of intellectual property. Similar arguments can be applied to both. This is a valid answer. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 22 '17 at 7:00
3
$\begingroup$

I can think of two reasons, bullet pointed here:

  • Cryogenics/Uploading consciousness
    Perhaps only for select individuals who are deemed worthy or extended royalties
  • Generational Corporation Slavery
    Families become tied to mega-corporations whereby they recieve no pay but tithes for patents their ancestors created. Notionally this is for individuals, but the corporation also takes home a large chunk of it.
$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

Security reasons.

The point of a patent is that you publish your invention. In exchange, you get patent protection. In exchange for giving you patent protection, the State (or the People) have persuaded you to publish your invention ... which benefits everyone when the patent term expires.

If patents didn't exist then inventors wouldn't publish their inventions ... instead they'd keep their inventions as Trade Secrets.

There's a disadvantage to Trade Secrets, e.g. they cannot be audited for security. For example if no-one knows what's in a medicine, or how an encryption algorithm works, or what material is bridge is made of, then people are less safe. Ditto if the inventor dies without having published it.

So a reason for extending the term of the patent laws would be if they were not sufficiently sweet for inventors, i.e. if inventors preferred to keep their inventions secret than to publish/patent them.

For example the patent terms might be extended to favour inventors, if there were some world-changing invention[s] (e.g. a seemingly-magic battery, a cure for cancer, an anti-gravity drive for spaceship), which the inventor[s] kept as a trade secret and refused to patent.

$\endgroup$
3
$\begingroup$

The only thing that makes sense if patents are super generic.

Invent a gun(from bullets to lasers), and now every size shape technique and etc is covered.

Invent a computer chip, and every chip is covered. From 1000nm to <1nm.

Invent a toothbrush, every variations is covered.

Then profits from said inventions would drive corporations want to protect the free money as much as possible. However, each patent would be so generic that there would 1000's if not 10,000 of thousands fewer patents.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

In the distant future, the strongest corporations have banded together into quasi-government cartels.

Corporations within each cartel share new inventions and discoveries amongst their own cartel in exchange for a period of exclusive use that the other corporations in the cartel will help enforce with their highly armed security forces.

This period of guaranteed exclusive use is a difference-maker when corporations are deciding where their allegiance will lie.

The official government would rather these inventions be shared with the entire public and discourage this vigilante enforcement. The government has been forced to keep up with the ever expanding period of exclusive use that these cartels have been offering and enforcing.

$\endgroup$
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ The distant future, heh. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Feb 22 '17 at 6:17
2
$\begingroup$

I don't know if this is helpful, but there would be consequences to extending patents to last even hundreds of years. Primarily the potential wealth generated by the innovation would be massively reduced, (I can produce quite a long argument for this). So if this happened regularly then the world would be much poorer - which is why governments restrict the length of patents. There are however alternatives to protecting an invention by patents:

  1. Create a black box that no one can see inside (already done in
    some book, but I can't remember the name)
  2. Establish solid commercial barriers to entry, such as the cost to develop this "thing" is so high (and the selling price so low) that it would take tens (or hundreds) of years to recover the investment.(Alternatively market dominance can provide protection - Google are I am sure happy to have both commercial and cost barriers to entry.)
  3. Government sanctioned licence to produce, potentially for armaments or "critical infrastructure" - but usually ends badly.

    Hope this is not too negative.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Always good to have the good and the bad... $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Feb 22 '17 at 20:43
1
$\begingroup$

I don't think it makes much sense to make significant extensions of the patent period.

The patent is more or less a social contract: in exchange for disclosure of trade secrets, the government will enforce prohibition of anyone else using your idea. The value to the government (actually to society) is that not only can everyone make, sell, or use and benefit from it after the exclusion period, but the state of the art can immediately be improved by improving on the idea (or just using it in a different context).

Investing in innovation is expensive, so if there weren't much profit to be squeezed out of an idea (possibly due to the enormous burden red-tape imposes), then it would make sense that if government/society wanted to encourage investment in them, one way to do it would be to lengthen the period. That means the more competitive a market is, or the more expensive the R&D investment, the longer the period (or protected profits) must be to justify the expense.

Obviously simple corruption can also result in the same outcome (longer period). But, consider an alternative: a restructuring of the law of patents and copyrights which makes most (or all) patents not based on physical things, but on the idea behind them (the intellectual property). If we make the protected "thing" the idea rather than the mechanism (or code), then copyright law might apply. And if you know anything of copyright law, the period they grant is ridiculous...try going into the business of singing the Happy Birthday song for hire and see how long it takes you to get sued. (Created 1893, U.S. copyright expires 2030, EU copyright expired 2017).

So, if you must get all patentable things protected, I think making the idea copyrightable is the way to go and perhaps gradually morphing all "things" into the novel ideas behind them...after all, at some point in the future the number of novel "things" (that is all simple components) will become exhausted - they'll all have been made (long before all of their uses have been explored).

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This talks about the original point of patents meant that they needed to be a short limited term, but then suggests copyright instead as a solution. But copyright was also originally intended to be a limited term. Originally they were only held for 14 years with one optional extension of another 14 years. It also seems like quite a conjectural leap to assume that at some point everything novel will have been exhausted. There have been many times in the past where people have declared "everything has already been explored or learned" only to be proven horribly wrong not long after. $\endgroup$ – Shufflepants Feb 22 '17 at 15:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Copyrights cover "expressions" of ideas, not the "ideas" themselves. Patents cover "ideas" that can be implemented. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Feb 22 '17 at 18:06
1
$\begingroup$

There are currently two competing ideas on the primary purpose of patents:

  1. to encourage the publication of inventions
  2. to encourage investment

The first idea is that patents are a 'necessary evil' to encourage publication. Patents are limited in term to minimise the evil. The term of the patent should be only just enough to get inventors publishing rather than keeping their inventions secret.

The second idea is that patents are wonderful, providing certainty for businesses thus increasing the investment and trade in technology. From this point of view limits in the term of patents are a historical quirk and a nuisance and should be extended (eventually indefinitely).

All that needs to happens for patent term limits to be increased to hundreds of years (or eliminated all together), is for the second idea to prevail. There is currently a gentle but persistent push from business world for the second idea. If governments lose sight of the original purpose of patents (the first idea), then it is inevitable that the second idea will prevail.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

If you want a rational economic reason then consider the point of a patent, which is that people will be more inventive and innovative if they can profit by being so. Allowing people exclusive rights over an invention allows them to profit by it after accounting for the expense of creating the invention.

Now consider the point of a patent expiring, which is that owning a patent gives you a monopoly on a technology or process. Monopolies are bad for consumers, so we should break the monopoly given by the patent ... ONCE you've enjoyed a reasonable period in which to profit from it.

So, if you want a reason for centuries long patents, you must be able to reasonably assert that it takes centuries to profit from an invention. One possibility is that the only inventions "left to invent" require enormous upfront effort and cost that can only be recovered over centuries of being the exclusive provider.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

I think this can happen quite neatly by time and law eventually blurring the lines between patents and other methods of preventing corporate espionage - namely, trade secrets.

As far as I understand it, trade secrets have a much longer lifespan - historically, they profited families for generations - but they also have two pretty strict limitations. For one, the processes have to be kept secret, and "insufficient effort" to protect a secret actually legalized its theft, and for another, there could (of course) be neither oversight nor regulation of trade-secret processes or productions.

Patents were supposed to be a compromise that got these processes into the public view (both for further innovation and for safety regulation) in exchange for limited protection and enforcement of the patent-holder's monopoly.

So, it makes sense there might be a government crackdown on trade secrets at some point in the future - especially if there were safety concerns - to the point where even trade secrets were required to be noted somewhere for regulation. And to induce cooperation instead of frantic evasion, the monopolies of registered trade secrets were offered legal enforcement - but because this was dealing with processes that the holders had already decided the patent time-limited protection tradeoff wasn't worth, it needed to have extra inducements. Namely, longer time spans, covering the generations a trade secret would have profited (rallying cry of "for the children" and emphasis on supporting one's family for those generations), and basically ending up valuing the ability to oversee and regulate safety concerns of trade secrets instead of encouraging innovation by making the processes open to the public after a more limited amount of time.

And from there, it was only a matter of time before the two processes intermingled, with patents simply acquiring the possibility of longer extensions - perhaps depending on value or perceived value of the invention, how innovative it is, the status or political power of the holder, the amount of time or effort that had been previously invested to let it be held a trade secret, or other considerations.

I would expect, in this system, patents that might be quite variable in length, either short or quite long depending on perceived value and the ability of its creator to negotiate. Some major leaps of innovative technology might have centuries of protection because the inability to regulate it was quite dangerous and its inventors bargained hard, some modifications and improvements might have rather short patents because it wasn't urgent enough to be worth offering more time in patent for.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

One could also do much as some of the setting development for the Traveller role-playing game did, and change the nature of patents - instead of being an exclusive right to manufacture/use a particular technology, it simply becomes a right to receive fees when it is manufasctured/used - but you don't have a choice as to whether John Doe is allowed to do so or not, as long as he pays the fees. Furthermore, if my invention is based on yours, a portion of my revenue stream from my invention goes to you for the use of your technology. Thus, useful inventions are available to society quickly, but you get a revenue stream effectively forever.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.