michael naimark
Open Patent Protection - An Experiment

The topic of patents in the new media world is particularly touchy. The “open” community wants transparency over secrecy and questions the idea of ownership. The business community sees patents as a form of currency, particularly when “sitting at the big table with the grownups” such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, or Sony. Patent applications generally require lawyers and are expensive, thus creating an even bigger abyss between these two communities.

I’ve been experimenting with how to maintain both patent transparency and reasonable protection. This began several years ago as a potential means to support the new interactive media program at USC and has been encouraged by USC’s new innovation center. I’ve also had the good fortune of working with very talented collaborators. The goal is to create intellectual property well-positioned for real-world development without jeopardizing academic and artistic integrity along the way. (Personally, I'd rather walk away with half of a big number doing things exactly as I wish rather than not, and the sort of people I like working with are the same.)

This experiment engages two relatively new components. In the US, Provisional patent applications were introduced in the mid-1990s as an easier and lower-cost option for first patent filing ($110 today, doable online). Applications can be in plain English, no lawyers are required, and the invention is protected for one year to the extent that it is articulated. (They are also not examined by the Patent Office, just held, so taxpayer money is not tied up.) Conventional legal wisdom is that Provisional patent protection is weak and it’s therefore best to keep things quiet and only disclose on an as-needed basis.

The second component for this experiment is the Blogosphere. It’s the ultimate witness and time-stamp. I’m willing to take a leap of faith that inventions can be reasonably protected by posting their applications online. Public scrutiny strengthens good ideas.

This "middle way" approach to patents needs to be encouraged and explored. When I mentioned "open patent protection" to the director of a well-known media lab, he replied "Well, if you're pissing off both sides, you're probably doing something right."


January 2010

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