Patent vs. Open Source vs. Copyright

I have ideas. I have quite a few ideas, and one of the biggest challenges for me is determining what to do with my ideas. As Ludwig Wittgenstein put it:

The difference between a good and a poor architect is that the poor architect succumbs to every temptation and the good one resists it.

I started this blogging effort to document the work I was doing, and that work started out being very personal, a one-off effort to build the ultimate ergonomic guitar. It has snow-balled and diverted into becoming a small business developing and selling lightweight hardware for headless guitars. It is giving me a lot of pleasure, and seeing a finished instrument with my hardware is a great feeling.

My thoughts and design process are documented here, and I even publish the drawings for the bridges I develop. They are all licensed under a particular version of Creative Commons that means that you are free to use my ideas as long as you yourself publish and license them under the same conditions, and, most importantly to me, that you attribute the ideas to me. If you use anything that I came up with, you need to make known that the idea came from me and link to my site. This is a form of copyright (“copyleft”) that is just as legally binding as anything else, but is intended to minimize the effort of sharing. I recently found the first derivative works on eBay without this attribution, and it concerns me. Obviously something is amiss in my thought process.

Why patent? I can pursue a copyleft/copyright violation in pretty much the same way as a patent infringement. The cases are not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but for this discussion, I don’t think it is a big difference (not being a patent expert.) The difference is that a patent becomes a commodity – a piece of intellectual property that can be traded and sold. If I come up with an idea that is novel, I can patent it and obtain a well documented basis for protection of the idea and whether I use it or not in my own work, it is something that I can trade.

But if it’s public, it’s not novel. It’s common knowledge and considered “prior art”. Quite a few of my ideas are in this limbo right at this moment.

Let me know your thoughts. My copyleft strategy is intended to build goodwill and my name. This in turn will lead to business, and even if someone copies my work, they have to give me free advertising as the original developer. The patent strategy, on the other hand, will allow me to get a finer granularity of who can use my ideas, with the same “advertising”, but possibly make money from it as well. I also get better protection, but at the expense of the “open source” type development that I started with.

3 Comments

  1. I am so glad that you bring this up. I think it is a very important question.

    I am not sure which strategy is best for you, but I know which one I would prefer that you take: The open one. That will allow me and a lot of other readers to follow your development. We will be inspired and entertained and perhaps suggest useful alterations to your designs.

    Alternatively, if you’re going for old-fashioned IPRs on you inventions, development is most likely to take place in secrecy, by you alone or in an closed group of participants.

    I can see the problem of people using your design without proper attribution. I think this problem is hard to overcome because there’s no money involved. If you sue them, you are going to spend money on an attorney. And for what? For an attribution that might even be of little value in terms of goodwill. They probably know that. And all they risk (I imagine) is that they will have to attribute you properly in the future. I am no expert, but I have not heard of attribution violators paying heavy damages to the rights holder. I haven’t looked into it, though. But it seems to me that unless you’re a decent person who thinks the inventor should have his due credit, there isn’t really much incentive to respect the license term.

    On the other hand, if you patent your inventions, there is still the risk of someone violating them. And if they did, would you have the money, time and dedication to do anything about it? I wouldn’t!

    But then, to me, guitar construction is only a hobby. I don’t expect to make any money from it. Your situation might be different. But I would sorely miss studying your inventions and following your thought process if you decide that secrecy and patenting is the necessary way for you to go.

  2. Thanks for your comment Alex. I agree with you regarding not having the time, money or dedication to pursue patent infringements. And, what’s more, I’m not sure I have the time or money to file for IPR. Considering the amount of patents there are out there for guitar bridges, it’s not an easy field to penetrate either. There’s always the option of inventing someting and license/sell the idea to someone else and let that someone pursue the patent. But for the immediate future, I need my ideas myself to move forward in the development.

    The jury is still out. I would love to hear more views on the subject.

  3. Hi,
    I read now about your problem.
    I sent two mail to you, but I like to write here also.
    Everything published on your site is under Creative Common License.
    So everybody want to use you project is free to do it, according with licence.
    Reading at the bottom of the site you can read the condition, and if i’m not wrong, I can build or publish every proyect of the site, but adding the intellectual property owner (ola strandberg) and the CC logo.
    So if somebody use you intellectually property, you can ask to him to publish the owner and the CC.
    You are not alone, ask to a big linux community, or directly to Creative Commons.
    I’m sure you will found some help.
    Sorry for little English.
    Best regards

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