I invent a clay pot. This is the first clay pot to exist in the world. I can use this clay pot to hold berries much better than leaves. Should others be prevented from creating their own clay pot by copying my idea? How about if they invented the idea on their own independently of me? If they are to be prevented because the idea of a clay pot is my property, what is the principle behind that idea?
I use a clay pot to hold water. I am the first to use a clay pot in this manner. This is much better than using leaves to hold water. Should the idea behind using it to hold water be mine? Should others be allowed to use the clay pot for berries, rocks, everything else, except for water? Does the principle identified previously apply?
I decide to take a clay pot and paint it red. I notice that people pay more for a red clay pot. Should others be prevented from painting a clay pot red because I came up with it first? Does the principle identified previously apply?
A clay pot exists in reality. Two people cannot have the exact clay pot (same atoms) simultaneously. Two people cannot have the same piece of cake because there can only be one A in the universe.
An idea does not exist in reality. Two people can hold AND invent the same idea simultaneously.
What is the principle behind property ownership of things that exists in reality?
Is that the same principle used to create property rights for things that don't exist in reality?
Is this rational?
They should be prevented from copying your idea if you desire and apply for that type of protection. Let's call it a "patent," which specifies not just a "clay pot," but the detailed method of manufacture and some information about how it's used. The duration of such protection should be limited.
Whoever invents and applies for protection for the patent first becomes the owner.
The principle is that you were the one who put in the time and intellectual effort to create the clay pot. You may have had to try many different materials and techniques before you found something that worked, that was durable, easy to make, held its shape, didn't fall apart after a few uses, etc. That effort is the basis for ownership, and ownership is the basis for protection.
Patents generally include a certain type of use. In this case, holding water may indeed be materially different from holding berries, but the reasons would need to be called out -- things like it doesn't change the taste like leaves do, or it doesn't leak, or protects it from evaporation, etc. In that case, then yes, that use of your invention would be yours.
It's the device and the use together that are protected, but since you often can't in practice provide a device while limiting how it's used, the use aspect is implied. In your example, the clay pot would be protected. If someone wanted to use it to carry rocks or whatever, that's their choice.
Color alone is usually not a material factor in an invention -- unless there was something special about the paint or glaze or how it was applied or how it affected the use or function of the pot, etc. Otherwise, no, people who have already acquired a clay pot by buying or licensing it from you should not be prevented from changing its color. No, the previous principle does not apply, because this aspect of the invention is not significant; it did not require any unusual effort or inventiveness to change its color.
Ideas are not physical; they are mental, but they most certainly exist in reality. Yes, two people can invent something at the same time. But a key part of what's being protected by patent law is not just the invention, but also the market that you develop afterwards. If you invent a clay pot for the first time, and through lots of effort you finally convince people to stop using leaves, then I step in an say, "hey, I've invented a clay pot, too -- use mine instead!", then even if my invention was made independently, I am benefiting from the market that you developed.
Ideas exist in reality, so this question doesn't make sense. It takes mental effort to develop an invention and its market, and it's rational to provide a means for you to own the fruits of that work.
answered Jan 07 '12 at 09:42