Following-up a recent post on copyrights, I want to share some further thoughts I have on the topic, and about patents, too.
First of all, the concept of a copyright is meant to protect the author from others unduly benefiting from their work. One obvious conclusion to make from that statement is that after the author ceases to live, they can no longer claim to receive any benefit from their work. I know I certainly wouldn’t care about royalties after I die.
Second, only individuals or their proxies should be allowed to claim copyright over a work. By proxy, I would include work created for a company in the context of something sold and/or shared publicly.
My proposed fix for copyright law would be to cap copyrights at 25 years, or the life of the author – whichever is shorter. If something is written for a corporation, the copyright could be retained either by the author(s) or the company, but it will expire no more than 25 years after it has been written (this would cover the case of one of the authors being tragically lost due to illness or accident). Knowledge grows when information is spread. The more people have access to information, the more applications of it can be made. And, overall, knowledge is a Good Thing™!
With regards to patents, I think there are many broken aspects of the current system: not the least of which is that non-physical “things” can be patented (algorithms, software, etc). While not an inherently bad thing to be able to protect a proprietary process or method for accomplishing work, the fact of the matter with regards to modern society (speed/quality of communication, the ability to analyze data, etc) is that whether you patent your process for accepting multiple inputs at once to a program or not, someone will be able to [nearly] instantly copy what you did.
My first fix to the patent system would be to cap patent life at 10 years from the date of issuance, and 15 years from the date of filing (honestly, if it take more than 5 years to get it issued, your competitors have already caught and exceeded you). I would also preclude the ability to extend the life of a patent through any means – innovate more if you want, but you cannot extend the life of a patent past its expiration.
My second fix will be to ban the ability to patent software. It would not be just to apply a new law to old thinking, so extant software patents would not be affected beyond the ability to extend their life.
My third fix would be to ban security orders being placed on a patent (as the NSA has been known to do with regards to encryption algorithms). No one – private individual, corporation, or government agency – should be allowed to “preview” patent applications and attempt to get the blocked or hidden.
My final fix to patents would come with streamlining the application and approve-or-deny process. The USPTO is overwhelmed with applications. Some of this comes from companies trying to file exceptionally-broad applications just to see what they can get away with (“I know! We’ll patent the process of processing patents!” – or some other silliness). Some of this comes from inadequately-informed patent officers – there is no possible way every patent officer can possibly know about all the fields that patents are asked-for and -about! There needs to be an improvement in the general population of the patent office, whereby more skilled/knowledgeable/talented people are put in place to review patents (not saying they don’t have talented people now, but that needs to be increased).
Lastly – and this would related to copyrights, trademarks, and patents – a public database of all current patents and trademarks should be made available. That database should also show all expired patents and trademarks. And, for those authors who have chosen to register their copyright with the USPTO, a database of authors, their work(s), and the copyright date (and, by calculation, its expiry) should be visible.