The recent 350th anniversary of the invention of the piano brought to mind the immense changes we have seen in how inventions and creations are treated from then to now.

The whole idea of patents and copyrights is relatively new.  And it is flawed.

If Bartolomeo Cristofari had patented his piano, he would have been receiving payments from a sizable percentage of the revenue of all music written and performed on the instrument since then.  Well, his heirs would have.  Until some German put a sustain pedal on it.

So what happened in the late 1800s that glorified inventions and ideas to the point where ideas based on ideas are infringements, requiring payments to what may have been registered as the original idea?  And, let’s admit, there are virtually no totally original ideas.  Everything is built on the past.  Or as Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Let’s agree that the originator of an innovation or idea should be rewarded.  But for how long and to what extent?

Patent trolls account for two thirds of the new patents in the US over the past few years.  Some of these are for software patents that are so vague that they can cover functions the original patenter never even imaged.  And some give rise to trolls who use the legal system to extort from unaware users because the cost of defending is more than the legal vultures are asking for.  It is estimated that this has accounted for $500,000,000 in payments since 1990.

The internet is littered with innovators who did not see their ideas as patentable or did not have the ability to legalize and enforce their innovation.  And the trolls can swoop in to take ownership.  Our company has solved problems over the years through technology but we never had the mindset or legal orientation to patent those solutions.

Innovation is often based on taking an existing idea and giving it a subtle twist to garner a new patent.  Like adding an 89th key to a piano.

Systems of law should do more than protect and enrich lawyers.  The copyright and patent laws were not written for the digital age.  They need to be revised and updated to allow the free flow of ideas that comes with innovation in today’s environment.  Otherwise we all end up with lawsuits.  Say, can you patent “lawsuits?”

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