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Friday, November 18, 2005 

The humble Lego brick as intellectual 'property'

TCAL links to a piece by Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow on Lego losing an important - to them - legal battle in Canada. In short, though their patent on Lego blocks has expired, they were trying to prevent others manufacturing similar toys by claiming that the Lego block is itself a trademark of the company, and therefore protected. Thankfully, the Canadian judiciary has ruled against this potential new and abusive interpretation of IP law.

But CD in the course of his post goes on to claim:
"That’s the patent bargain: in exchange for asking the government to keep your competitors at bay, you agree to let the public copy your invention for free when the period of exclusivity is expired."
With all due respect to CD, that's a gross misunderstanding of the history and purpose of patents (legal eagles, insert any corrections/additions hereafter). They're bestowed by governments as an extraordinary monopoly to the holder for x number of years in order to have the opportunity to profit from his work, thereby providing a monetary incentive to innovation (or so the theory goes, at least. We'll leave that particular example of laissez-faire ideology to the Free Software and Open Source crowds to critique in the case of software).

But when that period expires, the holder isn't then cruelly robbed by the state of his 'property'- despite what the pigopolists, as The Register terms them, may tell us. Instead, a temporary, unfair privilege which was itself bestowed by the state in the public interest is merely reverting back to the public domain, in order to form the basis of further advancements for the common good.

It's important that this be understood in the context of the relentless lobbying these days by corporations to extend both copyright and patent law beyond their original intended purposes (a government intervention which temporarily deprives the public of our own 'intellectual rights', as we note above). "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants", as a scientist once said.

(post-edited 20/11/05 for grammatical clarity)

"Libel"-Richard Waghorne
"Attack blog"-Damien Mulley

About me

  • An early-thirties male Irish technologist living and working in Dublin, I'm a former (recovering) member of both Fianna Fáil and the Roman Catholic Church.

    I'm not a member of any political party these days, but my opinions can be broadly categorised as 'lefty' and republican. I am also a former member of the Irish Defence Forces.

    Please feel free to check out the FI Fie Foe Fum group blog, where I was once a regular contributor, and the Cedar Lounge Revolution, where I can usually be found in the comments.

    (This blog and its contents reflect only my own personal opinions as a private citizen, and not those of any other person or organisation.)



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