The existing patent system acts as an unintended barrier to the flow of ideas from individual inventors' minds to marketplace products. Consider the case of a woman who came up with an idea for a simple invention and called a large manufacturing corporation, described the idea, and asked if they were interested in manufacturing the invention. They said they would consider buying the rights to her idea if she were to get a patent. But the cost of getting a patent is more than $1000 dollars. As a professional singer she can't afford that cost. A different woman did successfully obtain a patent, but she had to mortgage her family's house to afford to do so. When she said she was getting an idea for another invention her husband said, "Get it out of your mind! I don't want to deal with another one!"
How would increasing the number of inventions improve the economy? Each new invention offers the potential of a new product in the marketplace, adds jobs for manufacturing and marketing the product, and provides lucrative new investment opportunities.
More broadly, inventing is a wealth-creating activity and an economy prospers more from wealth-creating activities than from wealth-shifting and resource-maintenance activities. Besides inventing, other wealth-creating activities include manufacturing, product design, farming, film making, music composing, software development, and book writing. Examples of wealth-shifting activities include the work done by bankers, insurance professionals, lawyers, and real estate investors. Examples of resource-maintenance activities include the work done by doctors, police officers, and wastewater treatment employees. Notice that only wealth-creating activities produce what can be sold or exported, so they contribute the most to the economy.
Why would an inventor choose to share his or her invention instead of monopolizing it? The inventor could gain access to higher-paying jobs by listing the patent on his or her resume. Also, inventors who share their ideas would become eligible to win monetary awards given for the best open-patented inventions. Furthermore, many inventors would rather continue using their creativity to create more inventions instead of dealing with the challenges of manufacturing and marketing the new product, and suing infringers.
Adding this second kind of patent would significantly increase the burden on the patent office. Yet this burden can be financed by requiring a small royalty from businesses that manufacture open-patented products. To reduce the number of inappropriate open-patent applications, a small registration fee of about $150 would be required. Also required would be a refundable deposit of about $400. The refundable deposit would be kept only if the inventor failed to recognize that the idea is unpatentable or to discover that it has already been patented.
The most significant disadvantage of adding a second kind of patent is that it complicates international patent law. Yet the effort to revise international patent law would lead to such a dramatic improvement in the worldwide economy that the efforts would be very worthwhile.
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