Patently absurd

Jul 18 2011 by Janet Howd Print This Article

Patenting is a hugely expensive exercise which can all too easily be thwarted by a similar but unpatented product from another source that catches audience attention, gains a paying public and becomes unstoppable in its sweep of the market.

The deliberate infringement of patents is clearly a legitimate cause for law suits. But often the likely reason that one product appears too similar to another is that equally competent engineers and inventors from across the globe have come up with the same idea at one and the same time.

When communication was virtually impossible between one village and the next - let alone one continent and the next Ė the exact origins of ideas were extremely difficult to source. We now know that inventors devised things in the East that only became common place or common knowledge in the West some centuries later.

Who in the West, for example, would name Ibn Khaldun when referring to great philosophers? Yet this eminent scholar who propounded the power of Social Forces well before the period of the Enlightenment in Europe, was from 12th Century Tunisia - the country that everyone now has in their sights as the instigator, via twitter, of the Arab Spring.

Charles Darwin might easily have been pipped to the post by Wallace as the author of the theory of Evolution - for both men had come to the same conclusion by working in separate ways.

No matter that Darwin's work had been on-going for many more years and was therefore infinitely more evidence based than that of Wallace; had the younger man's courtesy and reverence for the older man's work, plus a rigorous and class-ridden academic referencing system not been in place, Darwin could well have lost out.

That fact that the above is now known as an instance of co- invention does not mean that it would not have been thought of as copying by observers at the time.

But copying in itself can surely be validated as a good thing.

Had it never occurred, human progress would not have occurred.

Had the first guy to chip a stone and create a primitive axe not permitted others to do the same but instead sought out and killed off any who had seen him do so, where would micro chips be now?

Progress has only ever been made through lively, inviting and inclusive communication of ideas and actions.

Apple, currently in the news re its patents being infringed by others, is not the first company to complain about its ideas being ripped off and its products copied. But, if it allows too much of its profits (particularly in this uncertain economic climate) to be wasted on taking care of its already-planted saplings instead of making sure its untried seeds are viable and get propagated, even so successful a company may go under.

It's worth noting here that Nature does not seek to curtail copying but to ensure that the most robust product is the one that survives.

Until now Apple has been first class at growing products of this type. But, as much as the buying public have been enamoured of the fine design of its products they have also enjoyed the positive, well-designed messages that have accompanied them and the theatrical, stand-up delights of Steve Jobs' ardent presentations.

If Apple now allows itself to give too much voice to complaint and too much energy to divisive behaviour, those same people who flocked to buy will quickly tire of the rancour of the new message and turn to manufacturers with more upbeat messages - for no one really wants to hear a tale of woe when they ask how you are doing.

"The important thing is this:'" said the eminent 19th Century French literary critic, Charles DuBois. "To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we might become."

For Apple - as for any other company - this suggests that to remain successful, time and energy should be spent on keeping the company story optimistic while money should be almost exclusively spent on products that will grow future excellence.

To help this, maybe patent infringement should in future be communicated to the public as the sincerest form of flattery!

Allowing word of an occasional stealth attack on a genuinely invasive species from another source to come to light would then add just the right touch of high drama to the company's on-going saga.

more articles

About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.