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   Re: The next wave: patent your DTDs

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  • From: "Steven R. Newcomb" <srn@techno.com>
  • To: tbray@textuality.com
  • Date: Wed, 15 Mar 2000 19:48:11 -0600

[Tim Bray:]

> I'm making an effort to let my amusement over the profound silliness
> of patenting a DTD counteract my disgust at the business climate
> that makes this kind of behavior thinkable.  -Tim

Hear, hear.  I have recently learned, to my disgust, that the real
purpose of a modern US patent is to provide a fig leaf so that people
will feel just a little bit justified as they rush to bet their cash
on technologies that they are incapable of evaluating.  Such investors
counsel themselves: "A patent's a patent, and that's real protection
for the intellectual property!"  Patents, and especially software and
business process patents, have become just another phony credential
for use in what amounts to a confidence game.

Several hundred years ago, there was a similar bubble in tulip bulb
investments.  Just as it did then, reality will catch up and today's
technology bubble will burst.  "Yeah, but in the meantime," we
secretly and greedily counsel ourselves, "...let's get rich!"  We're
witnessing the subversion of the patent system by the raw power of the
"bigger fool" theory of investing.  A patent is a lot like a tulip

After the bubble bursts, the US will evaluate the complicity of the US
Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) in the creation of the current
technology investment bubble.  The current role of patents in this
investment climate is quite different from the function the founding
fathers intended the patent system to fulfill.  Instead of being a
system for rewarding inventors with a portion of the value their
inventions contribute to society, while inducing them to share their
insights with the public ("patere" is Latin for "expose"), the patent
system has become the foundation of a huge array of scams to trap
greedy people with more dollars than sense.  At the end of all this,
the patent system itself may be entirely discredited.  Given the
present situation, maybe that's a good thing.  Maybe there will be
meaningful reforms, such as meaningful patent examinations and a
guarantee that the work backlog of the PTO will not exceed 30 days
(yes, these are conflicting requirements).  I don't think the
alternative of locking up real technological breakthroughs in
corporate vaults -- failing to expose (patent) them -- would be good
for humanity.  Right now, however, the years-long backlog of the PTO
is having a similar net effect.


Steven R. Newcomb, President, TechnoTeacher, Inc.
srn@techno.com  http://www.techno.com  ftp.techno.com

voice: +1 972 517 7954
fax    +1 972 517 4571

Suite 211
7101 Chase Oaks Boulevard 
Plano, Texas 75025 USA

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