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The Abe Lincoln Facebook-Patent Hoax and the Future of Innovation

May 11, 2012, 10:00 (0 Talkback[s])

At a meeting on Capitol Hill last month hosted by Public Knowledge, open-source hardware enthusiasts discussed why they choose to invent without patents, and why patents don’t provide the “fuel of interest” they once did. Alicia Gibb, head of the new Open Source Hardware Association, explained that patents were created in the spirit of open sourcing. “When you get a patent, you have to open-source the designs,” Gibb said. “You have to tell people what you’re doing and how you did it.” The difference, of course, is that patents give creators 20 years of exclusive rights to their invention.

The open-source model, on the other hand, invites anyone to re-create, redesign, and improve a product as they wish. Many small or independent inventors (or makers, tinkerers, etc.) post their designs online to get feedback from the community. Since they don’t really want exclusive rights, they don’t see value in securing patents. Instead, they want their products to spread around and be improved upon rapidly. To them, as Public Knowledge attorney Michael Weinberg describes it, patents are a barrier rather than a shield.

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