Symbiosis in LOs LO11311

Richard K. Berger (
Sat, 07 Dec 1996 00:25:43 -0500

Replying to LO11275 -- wrote (and RKB replies):

Mr. Compton's comments are very insightful. I add to them as follows:

> IBM has made a lot of money through their patents. Novell has tried to do
> the same. So has Microsoft. A few years ago, in Dr. Dobbs magazine, there
> was an article -- or series of articles, perhaps -- about the implications
> of patent law and computer technology. It's been so long I can't remember
> the logic, but the conclusion was that patent law will have to change as
> technology progressively moves faster and faster.

Agreed. But until that happens the reality is that if information passes
into the public domain it will lose its patentability. This means lost
revenue recouped for R&D, which of course is instrumental in driving

> This also raises an issue of industrial espionage, which happens all the
> time.

Industrial espionage is a real issue, and one that I have dealt with
several times in my career. Simply put, stolen technology puts my
clients' businesses at risk -- it puts my clients' employees' jobs and
security at risk. From this perspective, protecting information is about
protecting people. Also, the theory is that in a "locked down"
environment the environment itself is freer because everybody knows that
no matter what happens the information is not allowed to "walk out the
door." Aside from technology issues, this is the only way that many
privately-held companies have been able to develop "open book"
environments in which everybody is shown the company's financials, taught
to undertand the numbers and their implications, and enlisted to roll up
their sleeves and offer their ideas and insights to make the system
better, more profitable, and more fun.

> For instance, at work we're required to close our blinds at night so
> no one can park outside the building and take pictures of the stuff on our
> whiteboards.

I've seen instances where competitors send cars to park outside of a
company's facility for a day or more just to who comes in or out.
Technology exists to from the street tie into a company's LAN and
"terminal" up on their intranet.

>Our workplace is peppered with paper shredders, so we don't
> put "confidential information" in the trash where it can be easily
> retrieved.

I don't think this is a bad thing. Aside from industrial espionage,
consider all the reported instances where people's identities have been
"stolen" from information taken from their trash. I am sure that you
would not want a contract being drawn up for you to be retrieved by your
competitor (or the press) from your attorney's trash. All this happens.
I have seen it happen. This is no constitutional privacy interest in
one's trash. It is free game (moral: one person's trash is another
person's emerging technology).

> My Dad works for a defense contractor. They've taken a new approach to
> this problem. They simply make everything public information, and never
> define which of all the stuff that is available is actually used. They
> even include "plausible distractors" which confuse the perpsective thief.

This is probably much easier if as a defense contractor the technology
belongs by law not to the company but to the government instead. On the
other hand, does this "leraning environment" flow of information for our
defense serve the interest of the organization, the nation, and our
defense? If it is just to save money (and I don't know that it is) it may
not be a great idea.

> It seems to me that this requires a lot of effort and money.

This is SO, SO true!

>Perhaps it is an uneducated and simple belief, but I still think the more
> freely we
> share the better we will become.

One might argue that this approach could destroy all but the largest
companies worldwide -- because by definition emerging technologies by
small firms will be released to large companies that will use its superior
financial clout to dominate the market with the technology. The innovator
lost its rights to leverage the technology to grow. The innovator loses.
The innovator has no financial incentive to invent. Invention becomes the
creature of the largest institutions exclusively. It IS the financial
incentive of patent law (originating from the US Constitution) that seeks
to provide the smallest innovator with the exclusivity to exploit the
invenot exclusively. So, the framers might argue, the more freely we
share our information -- AFTER THE PATENT ISSUES -- the better we will

>Maybe patent law, in some ways, tries to
> insulate us from the realities of our environment. . .could it try to
> separate us and our knowledge from nature?

Is this a little extreme, perhaps? In nature, do we tell our friends
EVERYTHING? Do we tell our spouses EVERYTHING? Do we tell our parents
EVERTHING? Do we tell our children EVERYTHING? Why do we have to tell
our competitors everything?


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