"There are good reasons to keep trade secrets. But when an invention can be patented, keeping it as a commercial secret prevents the public from knowing how its invention works, which deprives the public of the opportunity to improve, combine or invent around the # 39; invention. "
In 2014, Elon Musk made Tesla's patents available to all for free, claiming that "technology leadership is not defined by patents." Earlier this month, Musk announced again that it had released all of Tesla's patents, promising the company to pursue patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology. "
Musk believes that patents only serve to "curb progress" and that by releasing patents, it can help advance progress – and that this progress will somehow be in the fight against change climate.
But do patents slow down progress and will patent publication really have that result?
Patents are a trade with a government. The inventor agrees to disclose the invention to the public in exchange for an exclusive and limited right to the invention. No one else can manufacture, use, sell or import the invention without the permission of the inventor.
The public interest is served because the invention is disclosed publicly, so that everyone can improve the invention and patent this advancement. And everyone can design and patent this invention. If the invention has commercial value, there is no doubt that many people will embark on one or both.
Take the sewing machine
The patent system still functions in the same way as it was at the time of the advent of the sewing machine. Elias Howe invented the lockstitch. This is where a needle passes through the fabric with a thread, the thread is then sewn to the lock on the underside of the fabric, and then the needle is brought back through the fabric, pulling the thread with it. The tissue is moved a short distance by a flow and the process is repeated for a second point.
Since a sewing machine did not work without a lockstitch, Howe's invention was the basic technology of the sewing machine. But Howe fed the fabric through the sewing machine with a circular feed. This circular motion twisted the fabric, making Howe's sewing machine impractical and unmarketable. Singer saw this problem and invented a new flow that pulls the fabric (still used today), solving the problem of bundling the fabric and creating a marketable product.
If Singer had not been made aware of Howe's invention on a knot, Singer would not have been able to improve Howe's diet. But Singer did not just perfect Howe's sewing machine. More than 200 sewing machine companies were born at the same time, each with new inventions (sewing machines, levers, reels, wire tensioners, etc.). Most of these inventions have also been patented. The next time you observe the intricate mechanical workings of a sewing machine, know that most of the pieces were invented over 150 years ago by different people engaged in fierce competition for the biggest market of consumers ever created to date.
It is extremely rare that an inventor offers something completely new. Virtually all inventions are the result of combining existing elements and adding something new. When Howe invented the chain stitch, existing machines used threaded needles, knotted threads and fabric in machines, but it took Howe's insight and experimentation to use all of these existing pieces and understand how to tie knot on the underside of a single thread was pushed with a single needle.
All the things that Howe has combined have been disclosed to the public in one way or another, often through the patent system. Patents promote progress through public disclosure of the invention. Everyone can improve it, combine it or invent it. None of this is possible if the invention is not disclosed.
Musk clearly has no value for how patents promote progress. But he values trade secrets. Tesla is known for keeping a secret on his trade secrets. They protect these trade secrets to the extent permitted by law, including pursuing employees and the rest of the industry.
Tesla recently acquired the company's battery maker Maxwell Technologies for $ 218 million to better understand its trade secrets in dry electrode batteries. Obviously, Musk values manufacturing secrets, and he must believe that they do not hinder progress, otherwise he would have made them public as well.
However, trade secrets do not promote the progress of innovation. Trade secrets stifle progress.
A trade secret, by definition, is a secret. Secrets are only known to the secret holder, nobody else knows how the invention works. As no one knows how the invention works, no one else can improve it, just as Singer improved Howe's sewing machine by inventing a fabric feeding system. Not only can no one improve it, but no one can combine it with something new, as Howe did by inventing the chain stitch.
There are good reasons to keep trade secrets. Some things can not be patented, such as the Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe or customer lists. But when an invention can be patented, keeping it as a commercial secret prevents the public from knowing how its invention works, which deprives the public of the opportunity to improve, combine or invent around the # 39; invention. This secret slows the progress of innovation and therefore harms the public.
Trade secrets have become the preferred choice of many multinational technology companies for the protection of inventions. Many of these companies have a considerable number of customers with light products that operate on or behind Internet browsers. Most inventions in these areas can be hidden behind the browser, buried in the bowels of a data center, encrypted in code or embedded in a chip and thus easily protected by trade secrets.
In emerging fields, technology is advancing at a fast pace. Improvements invented by others could result in disastrous disruption for incumbents. In the Tesla electric car market, dry electrode batteries can be the breakthrough technology given the $ 218 million price that Tesla paid for trade secrets.
The biggest threat to the very existence of these huge multinationals is the creative destruction on the part of someone who invents something that his customers want, which they did not think of first.
As a result, none of these big multinationals wants anyone to learn how their inventions work, because they could be improved, combined or invented around them, which could disrupt their activities.
Hiding inventions in trade secrets protects these big multinationals against this threat of creative destruction. This is why huge multinationals are doing everything in their power to get tough laws on trade secret and weak patent laws. This is evident in Musk's low valuation of its patents and in the high valuation of trade secrets.
The protection of trade secrets of inventions that might otherwise be patented is bad public policy as it hampers the progress of innovation and consolidates money, markets and power within some huge corporations. who escape the threat of creative destruction.
But let's return to the selfish hypocrisy of Elon Musk. If Musk really wants to promote progress, thus saving the world from climate change, he would patent his inventions and protect his patents jealously, and he would divulge his trade secrets so that everyone can use them freely – especially the trade secrets that he had just acquired for dry electrodes. Battery.
Image source: Filing photos
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is managing director of US Inventor, Inc., an inventor organization working in Washington and the United States to advocate for strong patent protection for inventors and startups. Paul crisscrossed congressional meeting rooms and sat down with hundreds of bureaus to explain the damage to the inventors as a result of patent reform. Paul is an independent inventor with dozens of patents and pending patent applications in enterprise software. He is also CEO of OrgStructure, LLC, a start-up business middleware provider in northwestern Indiana.