On innovation and patents

I just got schooled on innovation and patents by a 12-year-old. My 12 year old, to be precise.

“I just invented a new way of putting wheels on,” he said. They’re playing lego – he and my other son, who’s 8.

He showed me how he did it – a neat way of taking the wheels off the built-in axels they come from the factory on, slipping them into small pieces with a hole in them, and embedding the small piece within the body of the vehicle. Neat indeed.

“It’s much stronger,” he said. “Don’t tell Aidan.”

Don’t tell Aidan. There you have the essence of the patent system. Not exactly, because patents actually reveal something about methodology … but basically. I figure out how to do something good, and you can’t copy it.

This is what threatened Linux a decade ago; it’s what threatens Android now; it’s what has caused a thousand lawsuits and a million settlements.

Mine. Not yours.

It’s very human of us. Doesn’t mean it’s good.

But I think I know how this story is going to end. Sooner or later, Ethan will show Aidan how he put together the wheels in a whole new way. Then Aidan will know how too.

Somehow, that’s how I think our current patent situation in the the US and Europe might end up too.