CSM article considers issues in patents debate

An article in the Christian Science Monitor ("Whose idea is it, anyway?", by Ruth Walker, 17 January 2002) presents arguments from many sides of the issue that while patents have been essential to ensuring innovation, the U.S. may now be limiting innovation by putting too many new developments under patent protection.

Among those quoted in the article is Chris Peterson, Foresight Institute President, who "thinks the patent system has been overextended – not just in volume but in kinds of patents. . . . The US economy has prospered, she says, in part because of the strength of its property rights, including patent rights. ' We have deeply learned the lesson of private property … but we've gone too far. As far as I can see, the property rights model works with physical things, but not ideas. We're pretending they can't be shared.' "

The article also notes that "Patent skeptics, such as . . . Peterson, argue that to treat ideas like physical things – "rounding 'em up and branding 'em like cattle" – is to deny everyone the full benefits of an economy based on infinitely sharable ideas. The patent advocates counter that it is precisely because so many of today's new products are almost pure "idea," with little physicality, that robust patent law is necessary."

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