Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Patents are for the limitation of invention"

The text "Patents are for the limitation of invention" might seem to be from patent reformers of the 21st century. In fact, it came at a 1945 conference, and arose from one Harry Grundfest. The background debate concerned "how" government funding of science would be conducted post-World War II. A bill by Senator Kilgore proposed that patents from government-funded work would inhere in the federal government. A different bill by Senator Magnuson, which was favored by Vannevar Bush, left patent rights the way they were. A compromise bill was created, but the House offered an alternative that Vannevar Bush backed. The creation of the NSF was delayed for four years, in part because of the issue over patent rights. When Congress sees significant differences of opinion, it does not act, whether in 1945 or in 2005. In that 1945 period, physicist Philip Morrison noted that the desire to patent results would spread from industrial labs to the universities and destroy the traditional free cooperation of science, an argument re-cycled into the 21st century.

Vannevar Bush got his BS/MS degrees from Tufts, with his MS degree leading to US Patent No. 1,048,649, which issued Dec. 31, 1912 (application filed Feb. 2, 1912), before Bush graduated in 1913. [In the time of the prosecution of the Bush patent application, the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912 (recall the message interchange: Californian to Titanic: “Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice.” and R.M.S. Titanic to R.M.S. Californian: Keep out! Shut up, shut up! I am busy, I am working Cape Race. AND later RMS OLYMPIC: We're in charge here. Our ship is bigger and has a more powerful transmitter. Any requests to talk to TITANIC come through us. ) and Wilbur Wright died May 30, 1912, as the result of eating tainted seafood while in Boston meeting with patent lawyers.]

background: Jessica Wang, American Science in an Age of Anxiety


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