Patents, order and fairness

Who do you think should own a patent: the person who first made the invention or the person who got to the patent office first? In most of the world, it is the company/person who files first that owns the patent. In the US, inventors can prevent patents being issued to the first issuer if they can show they made the discovery first. This fairness doctrine would go away, if a recently proposed bill in the Senate passes.

Why do foreign governments choose "first-filer" rather than "true-inventor"? And why are companies in favor of this? Because using "first-filer" makes the patent system easier to enforce (for governments) and more predictable (for corporations). But it doesn't pass the smell test. It's the kind of choice that a system that favors governance over fairness would make. As in the Russian speaker who sniffed about the Virginia Tech massacre:
"This is a tragedy and we express our condolences [but] the situation where a country dictates rules of behavior to other countries, but cannot keep its own people in order, does raise questions."
Keeping people in order, indeed. Talk about preferring governance to fairness -- a system that prefers order would have thrown Cho Seung Hui in a mental institution. A fair system, which is where I'd rather live, worries about potentially locking up hundreds of innocents.

And besides, I'm not sure how much we should look at other countries for their defense of intellectual property. Microsoft is happy that only 30% of new PCs carry pirated operating systems in China (down from 90%). But, a recent report suggests that only 244 genuine copies of Vista have been sold in all of China so far. How to reconcile the two? It's possible that the non-pirated operating systems are mostly Linux, which folks wipe it out and install pirated copies of Vista over.

Talking of China, have you heard about the Chinese companies that make copies of GM and Volkswagen cars and sell them for less (The Economist estimates 50% less)? Since the real Volkswagen and GM build in China in factories that have huge economies of scale, how can a Chinese company make a copy of the car for less than it takes Volkswagen and GM to build the car in China? Who's providing the subsidy, and what's the motive?

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