Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Patents: Too Much of a Good Thing?

(Analysis) At what point do strong patent rules strangle innovation? That's what James Surowiecki wants to know in his provocative article in the New Yorker this week on patent protections.

Definitely worth a careful read, particularly this historical note:

The great irony [Surowiecki writes] is that the U.S. economy in its early years was built in large part on a lax attitude toward intellectual-property rights and enforcement. As the historian Doron Ben-Atar shows in his book “Trade Secrets,” the Founders believed that a strict attitude toward patents and copyright would limit domestic innovation and make it harder for the U.S. to expand its industrial base. American law did not protect the rights of foreign inventors or writers, and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, in his famous “Report on Manufactures,” of 1791, actively advocated the theft of technology and the luring of skilled workers from foreign countries. Among the beneficiaries of this was the American textile industry, which flourished thanks to pirated technology.

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