Through the MCDM

February 3, 2009

Patents and Patents

Filed under: Reflection — captainchunk @ 10:27 am

Looking at the history of the telephone, it is obvious that understanding how to work the United States patent system is critical in the process of being recognized for an innovation. Should you invent the perpetual motion machine, but have no desire to gain credit for that innovation, then you are all set because you won’t have to do anything. But more often people want credit and the ability to make money from their invention which is where the USPTO comes in. Just based on the story of the telephone, it seems as though if you don’t have the right lawyers and a solid strategy for the patent office, you are going to have an upward hill to climb. In the case of the telephone, Bell used the patent office to better effect than Gray.

I am curious about how inventions are now worked on in our current technological world. Back in the 1800s and earlier, you could have inventors doing their work in relative isolation due to the limited communication available at the time. So you have competing technologies being developed at the same time with, I would guess, not as much crosstalk amongst the inventors about their inventions. I wonder if this isolation is good for the initial innovation? Do innovators try to work isolation today? The initial innovation would probably be a very different process from post-invention in wanting to use the ideas and work of other innovators.

Reading Winston’s account of the telephone development, the entire innovation process is extremely convoluted as opposed the more “common” ideas of how something is invented. I am not sure where the concept of a person working on an idea and then they just invent something came from, but it doesn’t look like it happens that way. The telephone development process of starting with an idea that doesn’t really work very well, or is in the wrong direction, or is complicated, or is really an entirely different innovation altogether is probably how innovation happens in almost every case. How innovators must work around existing patents in order to get their invention cleared with the patent office. The patent system really has two opposing goals. One is to protect the inventor and their invention so they can make money from their work and the other is to foster innovation. Maybe they are not entirely opposing, but they don’t seem to be in perfect harmony either. It is unlikely that the US patent system will be changing anytime soon which makes it all the more important for innovators like Bell and Gray to fully understand the system in order to get the credit they want.

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1 Comment »

  1. Brian, if you have heard of the Netflix contest, which offers one million dollars to anyone that can improve the Netflix alogrithm by 10%, then perhaps you are aware that two of the groups working on it have joined together in hopes of improving their chances. It would be interesting to know if collaboration is more or less today in invention. Competition has only seemed to increase. Wikinomics looks at that. Thoughtful post. Meg

    Comment by mgm5 — February 8, 2009 @ 5:57 pm


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