IP and licensing on Instructables Answered
There have been some interesting discussions here in the Forums about intellectual property, Creative Commons, open-source hardware, and patent law- hopefully you've noticed and chimed in already. I sent a synthesis of the discussion out to friends, bloggers, and journalists earlier this week, and have gotten some good responses. People are excited to see Instructables users actually testing out theories of open source design, and will be following our progress to see what solutions we find.
What do you think?
Instructables is a leader in user-driven innovation, as discussed last Sunday in the New York Times, and we'd like to share the ideas and trends we're seeing with you so we can get your feedback.
Intellectual property (IP) rights are a hot-button issue among all creators, but few understand the legal details.
Those who create music, text, and images can copyright their work under the Creative Commons and similar licenses, but no such equivalent exists for patentable ideas. Instructables users may choose to license the copyrightable portions of their Instructables under any of the available licenses, but the problem remains- what of potentially patentable IP?
Current patent laws are geared toward large corporations- the law has been written to accommodate and reinforce the needs and goals of corporations and their lawyers. Individuals rarely have the time, money, and legal knowledge to file well-written patents, much less defend them- and a patent is only as good as the legal defense mounted in its support.
Given these systemic problems, what should an inventor do with his or her idea? It turns out that one of the best things to do with a new, good idea is to share it.
Instructables is a great forum to publicize your idea, whether you're interested in pursuing a patent or not. Under US patent law, one has a year after publication of an idea to file a provisional patent. Publishing an idea on Instructables provides exactly that stake in the sand, and can bring plenty of discussion about prior art and potential modifications to the original project.
That year can be a valuable time to test the waters. The Instructables community can help identify potential collaborators or business partners, and investigate the appeal and potential commercial viability of an idea. At the end of that year, you're more likely to know whether it makes more sense to apply for a provisional patent, or to simply let your idea pass into the public domain. This idea is then unpatentable by others, so the idea will be available to other inventors to use, build upon, and remix without restriction.
Instructables users are on the forefront of this discussion, testing the viability of these new models. For more information, check out Instructables founder and CEO Eric Wilhelm's Forum posts which cover these issues in more depth, and particularly the user discussions in the comments.
Open Source Hardware and the Creative Commons
The value of sharing patentable ideas
The cost of aggressive licensing of University patents
Open-source design of a keyboard system
What do you think should be happening in these areas? How do you see these developments affecting the individual inventor? We'd love to hear your thoughts via either public or private channels. Feel free to contact me at canida (at) instructables.com for more information.
Dan Goldwater wrote about some of these same issues a while back in the old Squid Labs blog: Advice for the budding inventor and Open Source Hardware and Industry.