The Learning Curve

New tricks for an old dog.

A big problem with selling ideas

Aside from the fact that 98% of all bright ideas are crap, and the good ideas are difficult to distinguish from the bad ones, ideas as such do not have any recognized legal property value.

That may be a hard idea to accept.  Everything new under the sun started out as an idea.  Political campaigns are argued on the basis of different ideas.  Wars have been waged because of conflicting ideas.  The ideas of the assembly line and interchangeable parts have sparked profound social change with unforeseen consequences.  Writers build careers based upon ideas.  Some even write about selling ideas.  Ideas are valuable.

What about intellectual property laws such as copyright and patent?  Surely these protect ideas.


Generally, copyright law protects specific original expressions of ideas, but not the ideas themselves.  Patent law protects the specific expression of an idea in a “useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof” (35 U.S.C. §101), but not the idea itself.

“If you invent a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” would be an empty and meaningless statement if someone could own exclusive rights to the whole abstract idea of mousetraps.

The big problem with ideas is they cannot be owned.

But, that is not a problem. It is a very good thing.

Ideas are much too important to be trusted to the safekeeping of anyone in particular.  Ideas have plenty of value, but not as individually owned property.


Written by Tom Fox

12/15/2008 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Intellectual property

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