It has been suggested in a recent publication, that once an inventor makes an invention, it becomes public property. This is an interesting assertion and leads to a new view of the relationship between inventor and society, as presently regulated by patent and related laws. These laws as they exist in most countries today are woefully inadequate to protect the interests of the inventor on the one side and the interests of society on the other.

The interests of the inventor

Our patent laws, although made with good intent, have proven to be inadequate to provide any kind of acceptable protection for the inventor. For one thing, the laws are too complicated and the procedures for examining an invention and granting a patent too arbitrary, put into the hands of "patent examiners" that may or may not comprehend the essential newness of an invention and so reject it with the conception that "it cannot possibly work".

Inventors often spend years of their life and huge amounts of money to get an invention patented, only to finally give up in resignation and disgust at the barriers that an efficient bureaucracy can put in the way of anything new. Small wonder that some inventors in their embitterment decide that mankind is really not yet ready for their invention, and that many a good invention instead of being used to the benefit of all dies with the inventor, the secret being taken into the grave to be buried forever.

And if the inventor by sheer persistence manages to patent his invention, he then has to either sell or license the use of his patent. And there are many cases of inventors trying to collect what is due to them from powerful industrial societies who have at their disposal the best lawyers and who rarely pay without legal action. An uneven match to say the least.

The interest of society

Our patent laws also do not protect the interest of society, which is an interest in seeing that inventions once made actually get applied. Patents do not give an assurance of this, although some countries have regulations to force licensing of patents or production of the things patented. But in the face of commercial reluctance to use certain new procedures that would make yesterday's investments worthless, these regulations are quite inadequate.

How often have patents been bought by powerful financial/industrial interests and have been put away in a deep drawer, never to be heard of anymore. I am sure some inventors would have stories to tell.

It can certainly not be in the interest of society that an invention that is of potential benefit to the society can be bought and its use effectively prevented, using the very patent laws that should assure the invention getting into the hands of the public. In this way, the best of a society's intelligence is abused and suppressed, resulting in an artificially prolonged use of backward technological solutions, witness the state of our high-pollution energy production and car industries.

I have purposely refrained from citing specific cases of suppression of inventions and/or inventors, because there exist books of well researched cases that are available to the interested reader and for certain further cases will appear in the course of debate of my suggestions.

But what about our patent laws?

Inventors in a way are very similar to artists. Theirs is a creative intelligence able to envision things that escape the notice of us mortals. They are the cream of society and their creations determine whether we will be able to live better in the future.

Their inventions, once they are made become public property but the inventors, for making the invention, should be adequately recompensed. The compensation should be in line with the value of the invention, as expressed by its success in commerce.

All inventions should be freely available to anyone to produce and put into commerce, save only the duty to pay a small percentage of the end-price to the inventor. The inventor's royalty thus becomes a part of the cost of the item. The inventor himself should not be taxed on royalties collected, given the intrinsic value of his creative work to society.

There are of course some changes that would have to be made to the present patent laws. For one thing, Patent offices should have only these duties:

The patent office should not issue or approve in any way a patent. No criteria may prevent the filing of an invention with the patent office, not even the previous filing of the same or a similar invention by another. No longer should there be an exclusive use of an invention granted to anyone. The inventions, after all, are public property.

In order to collect the inventors' royalties, an association representing the inventors' interests should be established and affiliated to the patent offices. This would be an association similar to the associations that collect royalties for musical performances and pay these to the composers.

The association of inventors would have as its main purpose the individuation of products on the market that utilize inventions which have been filed at the patent office, and the collection of a percentage of the sales-price, to be turned over to the inventor, minus a small charge to cover administrative costs.

Disputes about the chronological precedence of inventions or the amount of royalty due should be resolved by a commission composed of both inventors and industrialists, attached to but independent from the patent office. Failing resolution of the dispute, the matter could then be taken to the normal courts.

Thus we would have a new situation where all inventions would be freely available for commercial realization. The inventors would be recompensed for inventions that are actually being produced, in proportion to the usefulness of the invention as measured by its commercial success.

Also, inventors would be free to make further inventions, instead of having to engage in court battles to get compensation for their work already completed.

One could say: But what happens to all the inventions that are being made by the inevitable madman that are of no use to anyone? Don't they have to be eliminated by some process of selection as we know it from the present system of patent approval?

No. They will simply be filed, published and then forgotten, because there will be no further interest in them, and at least no industrialist will be found to produce them.

And if one of them gets produced anyway?

Well, maybe then it wasn't such a bad invention after all.

Josef Hasslberger
Rome, Italy