Subject: Re: "incentive void" (was Re: A different patent covenant...)
From: "Ben Tilly" <>
Date: Tue, 3 Oct 2006 10:59:43 -0700

On 10/3/06, <> wrote:
> Ben Tilly writes:
>  > > As far as I can see this reduces to the assertions that (a)
>  > > demand-driven innovations, not demand-inducing, innovations are the
>  > > ones that matter, and (b) demand will bring forth the corresponding
>  > > innovation in a timely way; there's no point in having it in advance.
>  > > I think both assertions are quite questionable, (a) more so than (b).
>  >
>  > I do not think that (a) is involved.
> You don't believe in demand-inducing innovations?  How do you classify
> the (3M variety) Post-It note, or spreadsheets, or the web browser
> (yeah, right, J. Couch Potato is going to get his giggles by down-
> loading 10MB DNA visualizations and CERN preprints over his 1200 baud
> line), or the general idea of killer app?

What I meant is that I do not think that (a) was involved in Norbert's
statement.  I'm not saying that demand-inducing innovations are not
important.  Just that they are orthogonal to what Norbert was saying.

>  > However he has a very good point with (b).
> Well, I admitted that, and of course you think so!  (b) is the ideal
> workflow for hackers with itches, so in an environment of free
> software, it's likely that you're going to observe innovations that
> address current needs, not innovations that elicit needs that people
> didn't know yet.  Eg, the Cameron technology, which we've been told
> several times is oh-so-obvious and has been forever.  Consider your
> dependency criterion: is SIMD ten years old yet? Unicode is, and XML
> is getting close.

That is not why I thought so.

>  > is to look at the dependencies for the patent.  I'd like the patent
>  > system a lot more if it, for instance, said that you cannot patent
>  > anything that depends on a technology which is less than 10 years
>  > old.  For instance this would have blocked the insane number of "do
>  > X on the web" patents that we saw during the dot com era.
> *guffaw* It's harder than that to unbreak an egg.  Here, just cite Ted
> Nelson and you've got a couple decades leeway.

According to Wikipedia, the first software release for project Xanadu
was in 1998, so that egg remains broken.  Besides, all you need to do
is say that "depends on" in this case are dependencies for the actual

>  > And the fact that nobody claimed it yet just means that nobody
>  > claimed it yet.
> That's elegant enough to be worth saying.  In fact, I've quoted you so
> everybody will see it again. :-)

I like tautologies because they are always true. :-)

But I did have a point.  Which is that there is a world of difference
between ideas that nobody has claimed because nobody has gotten around
to it, and ideas that nobody has claimed because they really aren't
obvious.  The patent system is supposed to reward the latter and not
the former.  The problem is that the two can be hard to distinguish.