11/08/2011

If You Still Think Patents are for Inventors...

Here's a quote from a book a family member recently picked up entitled "England in the Eighteenth Century (1714-1815)" by J.H. Plumb that I think quite nicely shows the folly behind the idea of patents solely as a social good to protect inventors:
Jealous of her own inventions and the supremacy of her industries, England viewed those of other nations with an envious eye. Naturally she welcomed Protestant refugees from France, Especially when they brought the secret of new industrial processes, but the most spectacular achievement in this field was by the brothers Lombe, an achievement which caught the nation's imagination. In Italy, the manufacture of silk yarn was highly mechanised, though its mechanization was a profound secret; but in 1716, John Lombe went to Italy and managed to steal plans of the machines which he and his brother, Thomas, patented on his return. A vast factory, 400 feet long, which became one of the sights of England, was built on an island at Derby. Unfortunately, John died but, in fifteen years, Thomas had made a fortune of £120,0000 and earned a knighthood. In 1732, the patent lapsed, but a grateful Parliament bestowed £14,000 on Thomas and the industry, now open to all, spread rapidly.
Wikipedia doesn't have much more detail, but when you see stories like this it does tend to highlight how systems like patents and copyright aren't at all what they're made to be publicly, in the past nor the present.

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