Sunday, January 17, 2016

Did Baum, the author of Ozma of Oz, think patents were humbug?

A post on patent reform by Kali Murray begins with the text:

In "Ozma of Oz," a sequel to the famed "Wizard of Oz," Dorothy comes across a remarkable copper clockwork man, a mechanical robot running on clockwork springs. Dismissing the invention, Dorothy's companion says that a clockwork man might be a "wonderful machine," but that "it is all humbug, like so many other patented articles."

Of the actual text, a card on the mechanical man stated:

| Patent Double-Action, Extra-Responsive, |
| Thought-Creating, Perfect-Talking |
| Fitted with our Special Clock-Work Attachment. |
| Thinks, Speaks, Acts, and Does Everything but Live. |
| Manufactured only at our Works at Evna, Land of Ev. |
| All infringements will be promptly Prosecuted according to Law.|

Then, we have the statement:

"Well, I declare!" gasped the [talking] yellow hen [Billina], in amazement; "if the copper man can do half of these things he is a very wonderful machine. But I suppose it is all humbug, like so many other patented articles."

Billina, the talking hen, is a cynical, but practical, character in the book. Her initial skepticism of the mechanical man is shown unwarranted.

Specifically, the mechanical man works as stated, and one has the later text:

"It's a very wonderful story," said Dorothy, "and proves that the Land of Ev is really a fairy land, as I thought it was."

"Of course it is," answered the copper man. "I do not sup-pose such a per-fect ma-chine as I am could be made in an-y place but a fair-y land."

"I've never seen one in Kansas," said Dorothy.

The book Ozma was published in 1907, one year after the Wright Brothers patent issued, which patent did describe a flight control system which worked and was not humbug.

Of the Murray post, there is no doubt that there are many people who are skeptics of the patent system, as Billina the talking chicken appeared to be. But in a perfect world (fairy land) things can work as advertised. It was not clear that Baum himself
was expressing criticism of the patent system.

Kali Murray is an associate professor of law at Marquette University Law School and a member of the school's Intellectual Property Program. The post is titled Let's stop treating patents as humbug


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