State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

Mark Twain’s Birthday: Thoughts on Patents

Today is Mark Twain’s 176th birthday, which makes it a perfect time to review some of his thoughts on the patent system.  Mark Twain wrote extensively about the patent system.  In the book, Innocents Abroad, he explains the virtues of our country and moral decay of Europe by contrasting the patent system to the preservers of art.  Remember, Twain was first and foremost an artist and he held this opinion.  He states:

The Popes have long been the patrons and preservers of art, just as our new, practical Republic is the encourager and upholder of mechanics.  In their Vatican is stored up all that is curious and beautiful in art; in our Patent Office is hoarded all that is curious or useful in mechanics.  When a man invents a new style of horse-collar or discovers a new and superior method of telegraphing, our government issues a patent to him that is worth a fortune; when a man digs up an ancient statue in the Campagna, the Pope gives him a fortune in gold coin.  We can make something of a guess at a man’s character by the style of nose he carries on his face.  The Vatican and the Patent Office are governmental noses, and they bear a deal of character about them. (Emphasis added)

In the last fifteen years we have extended the copyright term to be almost infinite, we have criminalize willful copyright infringement and we have had numerous government programs to protect intellectual property, which always means copyrights and perhaps trademarks, but not patents.  Alternatively, we have spent the last fifteen years stealing the fees inventors pay to the patent office, we have forced the publication of U.S. inventors’ patent applications for the world to see and steal, we have vilified the actions of our greatest inventors such as Edison, calling them trolls and some have even suggested that Edison really made incremental improvements on other people’s inventions, and called inventor’s monopolists.  Twain would be horrified by our capitulation to Europe.  It says something about our character that we are following in the Popes footsteps.



November 30, 2011 - Posted by | -Philosophy, Patents | ,

1 Comment »

  1. Three points:

    1. The cost in time and money of developing a patentable invention is easily much more expensive than the cost of developing copyrighted material.

    2. The very expensive marketing costs of copyrighted material are not any cheaper for other products. The cost of browsing a book before purchasing it or renting a movie before buying it is nothing compared to the cost of test driving a car.

    3. I just noticed that Twain may have been referring to Edison who invented broadband before he invented the light bulb.

    Maybe a plublicity stunt in the Supreme Court would bring attention to the inequality of how copyright holders and patent holders are treated. It’s probably a losing case to argue for equal treatment but it might get people to take this issue more seriously.

    Comment by Matthew Artero | November 30, 2011 | Reply

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