Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

A World Without IP

Day 1: John invents new computing material that highly outperforms silicon and is cheaper to make as well. Having just finished watching The Wrath of Khan, and because of its remarkable similarities to siliconn, John has named his invention Silly Khan.


World 1, Day 5: John freely releases the designs and procedures for constructing this new material. Richard Stallman hails this support of open source. He also accepts a high paying job from a company to help train in making the material and selling it, and he is invited to conferences to discuss his work and its advantages. All of this is breaking news everywhere.

World 2, Day 5: John does not release the design, but he accepts the aforementioned job. He forces the company to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which the company accepts. All of this is breaking news everywhere.

World 1, Day 30: John is making tons of money, as is the company he's working with. Another company, whose spokesman is Billy, has taken John's design and figured out how to manufacture it themselves. They advertise it as Silly Khan-Dul, because they are Korean and the word for the number 'two' is 'dul'.

World 2, Day 30: Billy's company gets a hold of John's material and starts to reverse engineer it. There's huge profit in this, they want in. John refuses to license it to them, but even if he didn't it would be for too high a sum.

World 1, Year 1: John and his company aren't so successful anymore selling Silly Khan, and they've moved their main resources on to other things. This is because everybody is making Silly Khan now. But people see how successful it was, they are researching how to make it better. The designs are still completely open, so it's easy to tinker with.

World 2, Year 1: Reverse engineering is complete, and the lab at Billy's company has successfully produced a replica product. The process is being prepared for mass production. John's company is phenomenally successful, being the only group in the world with this material.


World 2a, Year 1.5: Billy's company starts making John's product and selling it under the name of Silly Khan-Dul. IP laws such as copyright, trademark, and patents don't exist, so John and his company are frustrated but cannot legally do anything about the new competition.

World 2b, Year 1.5: Billy's company makes the product, but IP laws exist. John's company sues Billy's company for copyright infringement (they're claiming they invented their technique), trademark infringement (Silly Khan was registered as a trademark), and patent infringement (Silly Khan was registered as a patent).

World 2a, Year 2: Converges with World 1's Year 1. Everyone is making these things, and now people are trying to improve on the original design which is common knowledge even though John never officially released it.

World 2b, Year 2: Lawsuits still going on. Eventually reach a conclusion with John winning, and Billy's company being forced to halt manufacture and pay hefty fines.

World 2b, Year 5: John's company still the only one selling and making Silly Khan. Price is the same as it was when it came out. There is some research on improving the design, but it is limited because any reverse engineering is also not shared and any published improvements will bring lawsuits upon them.

World 2b, Year 90: John finally dies, and in a legal dispute he loses rights to his creation. Everyone starts copying it, eventually research on improving it happens.

World 2b, Year 92: Converges with World 1's Year 1 and World 2a's Year 2.


What's the point I'm trying to make here? IP laws, including copyright, trademark, and patents, are crap. They hurt and hinder progress. They're completely worthless at protecting ideas. They're morally wrong.

Copyright law was permitted under the US Constitution under the following:

[The Congress shall have power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

How does copyright hurt progress? The youngest generation will have to wait until I'm dead before they can listen to and be inspired by copyrighted music or copyrighted books for free without fear of being accused of pirating or infringing the dead author's rights. Artists cannot use photography for inspiration in their art because even an eyeballed tracing is infringement. There is much more argument to be made here; see the Copyleft movement.

How do trademarks hurt progress? How does someone or some entity own pieces of a language, even if used in a specific context? Why can I not call my operating system, complete with a fancy windowing manager that trounces Gnome and KDE, Windows? Don't give me the dumb Apple excuse of "It could cause customer confusion"; if that's the case, customers need to smarten up. I'd support a government initiative to require tests before allowing people to use computers, much akin to driver's ed. (Of course parents will let their kids use computers before they're smart enough to pass the test, but just as parents let their kids drive or steer the wheel should anything go awry it is the parent's responsibility.) If you really think you should be able to have rights over a word or series of word in a language, I'd like to know why.

How do patents hurt progress? This is a huge topic of which many people have written many words about. In short, software patents are bad, most hackers agree with this. It amounts to patenting an idea that's probably not very unique. It creates patent trolls who fill out a patent with no intention of creating a product, wait for someone to come along and make that product, and then sue them. There are a gazillion cases of dumb patents in the US history book, and 0 cases of good ones. I agree with Paul Graham that if you're against software patents, then you're against patents in general. It all boils down to protecting an idea: but humanity moves forward together, and this is especially obvious in the maths and sciences. If Einstein hadn't produced General Relativity, someone else would have. Similarly, Newton was one of two people of that time to independently invent Calculus. The saying here is that you own any ideas in your head, so long as they stay in your head. Once they leave your head, they belong to humanity.

I may sometime make a strong and compelling argument against all these, one at a time, but for now this suffices. There are no single humans smarter than the other six-billion-minus-one people on the planet; ideas are not that unique, so share them and benefit humanity without all the hassle. Besides, as my crude timeline at the beginning showed, all paths eventually converge toward innovation--it's your choice as a producer to make that happen sooner or later.

Posted on 2009-09-27 by Jach

Tags: morality, philosophy


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Anonymous June 17, 2017 02:18:59 PM I agree copyright and patent is no good. So, I avoid them in my own invention! It is public domain so anyone can use, make improvement, and so on, without needing to question anyone, you can do free, please.

Trademarks might be OK if the laws are sufficiently limited so that they do not restrict too much. However, it is unsure by now.
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