Of course Steinbeck is railing against the rich lawyers and manufacturers that are taking advantage of poor inventors. And I sympathize, being a formerly poor inventor myself. However I took the path that Samuel should have, I developed my inventions into useful products and built businesses around those without seeking any government enforced monopoly.
I do have a problem with the constitution, on this I agree with America's first patent examiner, Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to Isaac McPherson in 1813 he said:
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property. ... Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.
GreatCommunicator: your reading skill seems in need for improvement. Maybe for being a talking head for too long?
It looks like you have beef against the US Constitution. Anyway, in the unlikely case you come up with a new idea, you can give it to me and maybe I will give you a job. Well, maybe not, I need someone who can read.
If Steinbeck is saying that patent trolling is a disease, I agree. If this inventor actually tried doing something productive like building the machine he invented either by himself or as an employee of another company everyone would be better off. But instead he decided to become a parasite and use the patent system to extort money from productive manufacturers. It's quite likely than many engineers independently developed similar ideas, they always do, fortunately not all of them become patent trolls. Everybody loses in these cases except for the patent lawyers.
Patents have been shown to be a huge drag on innovation. Time and time a again we see that whenever an industry wasn't protected by patents it flourished, and as soon as patents were introduce it withered. James Watt's patent of the steam engine quite possibly delayed the industrial revolution by 20 years, and he didn't make any money until after his patents expired. This is because after the patent expired there was an boom of steam engine manufacturing and everyone wanted Watt's expertise.
The current patent debates are fascinating because they seem to evoke tremendous emotion - and yet there is so little agreement as to the right thing to do. Since current complex technologies like SmartPhone incorporate hundreds of "inventions", they are more susceptable to counterclaims and lawsuits than a "simple" device from the past. That said, I look back in history and see that the "hot" technologies of the time, like steam engines for which my great-grandfather invented an improvement in 1908, were a complex system of component inventions. While I don't believe his invention went to litigation, perhaps the patent battlegrounds just change through the years.
"Meanwhile Samuel got no richer. He developed a very bad patent habit, a disease many men suffer from. He invented a part of a threshing machine, better, cheaper, and more efficient than any in existence. The patent attorney ate up his little profit for the year.Samuel sent his models to a manufacturer, who promptly rejected the plans and used the method. The next few years were kept lean by the suing, and the drain stopped only when he lost the suit. It was his first sharp experience with the rule that without money you cannot fight money. But he had caught the patent fever, and year after year......"
John Steinbeck, 1952
Mr. President, have you done anything for the Samuels of America? Do you think they have all disappeared, turned into a lesser copy of Mr. Suzuki, the company men? When IP rights cannot be enforced, how much of America will be left in 10, 20, 50 years?
As we unveil EE Times’ 2015 Silicon 60 list, journalist & Silicon 60 researcher Peter Clarke hosts a conversation on startups in the electronics industry. Panelists Dan Armbrust (investment firm Silicon Catalyst), Andrew Kau (venture capital firm Walden International), and Stan Boland (successful serial entrepreneur, former CEO of Neul, Icera) join in the live debate.