[thelist] Ethical issues concerning re-use (and heavy modification) of images

Arlen.P.Walker at jci.com Arlen.P.Walker at jci.com
Thu May 9 09:59:15 CDT 2002

>We could start with the automobile, the combustion engine, the
>the cpu, the modem, all of these things with small twists and each holding

While I'm not a lawyer, I do work for a manufacturing concern and I am a
patent holder, so I have perhaps a little more experience in this arena
than most. I think you've got it a little wrong in the above description.

Patents are fundamentally different from copyrights but even so the
statement is not quite accurate. If, for example, I have a valid patent on
a manufacturing process, and you invent a refinement for that process, you
cannot use your refinement without paying me royalties, because you are
using my patented process and applying your patent to it. However, we will
quickly be able to come to a mutually satisfying arrangement, as I'd like
to benefit from your improvement, which I cannot do because it's your
patent. So, we cross-license each other, and you can use my process without
paying me royalties, and I may use your improvement.

You see, patents inherently contain a mechanism for mutual benfit, which is
lacking from the copyright arena. The other point you overlook is that
patents run for a far shorter time than copyrights, and must be quite
specific. It's not possible to patent the automobile, in the main because
the patent office wasn't as stupid then as it is now, and broad, vague
claims were not allowed. You could, however, patent specific designs and
parts for the auto, and thousands of such patents were issued. Likewise,
each holder had to get the permission of the one his invention was based on
before manufacturing could start, but it happened, because the
cross-licensing idea works.

Note that every one of the original patents on the above mentioned
technologies are now public domain (heck, even the patent on the
compression algorithm in GIF is due to lapse in the next year or so).
That's what's fueling the innovation in industry. A particular cpu layout
is patentable; the idea of a cpu, and all of the fundamental building
blocks involved, are public domain. Some of the more advanced processes are
under patent, but new processes are invented all the time, as we combine
the blocks in different orders.

Don't confuse patents and copyrights. The fundamental difference between
patents and copyrights is that patents protect an idea, not the expression
of one, and the shortness of the term compels patent holders to seek
benefits today. I'm willing to cross-license the manufacturing process in
the example I use above, because I know it's just a matter of time before
you find a way to implement your patent without using mine, and I want to
use yours. So the patent system encourages me to make sure my patent is
profitable and useful now (not to mention the fact that if it isn't, I'm
stuck paying maintenance fees for something that I'm not benefitting from).
The patent system works, as witness the explosive growth of innovation in
the hardware arena, exemplified by Moore's Law. OTOH, copyright is broken.
Copyright today is stagnating the industries it applies to, while
innovation is thriving under patents. Do writers and artists really need 5
times the protection that manufacturing engineers do?

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen.P.Walker at JCI.Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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