A recent study found out that 1/5th of all research papers are being abandoned because of conflicts with patent holders. One of the slashdot readers asked why. There was this remarkable answer, which was different than other normal economics drenched answers.
We have them because the average American wants to believe in a world where he/she can one day strike it rich by inventing some widely used product.
The problem is, the patent system doesn’t really work that way, no matter how much patent supporters pretend it protects powerless inventors. In practice, a small inventor gets screwed anyway, because 1) complex ideas tend to rely on other complex ideas (giving rise to widespread cross-licensing among already powerful corporations) and 2) even with a patent, a small inventor will need incredible financing to legally enforce the patent. How does a small inventor get such incredible financing? Yep, by essentially giving the patent to a powerful corporation in return for a relative pittance.
The dream of striking it rich with a patent is a nice one, but it’s more like a lottery than anything. Extremely rarely, someone wins, but most of the time even those who invest large amounts (people who actually invent/create things) lose out.
Unfortunately, people don’t like letting go of dreams, even if they’ve been tricked into believing them; even if actual progress in arts and sciences grinds to a halt, many will happily make that sacrifice for an imaginary reward.
There was another answer which, while being a bit more esoteric, also gave a nice explanation.
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The Economist Dream is all about making everything a transaction, as if money-flow will solve every conceivable issue in this world. As we have seen, money is also generating problems for us, because these corporations are beginning to have a life on its own! “We have to do it because our stockholders will sue us.” “They have to do it because they have to maximize capital.” Etc. Etc. The excuses begins to pour in. Corporations should not be ammoral entities to an extent where they can control the people who “runs” them!
Decisions are being made based on money every day, and if it doesn’t get out of hand, this is a good balance. Nobody should do nothing and be rewarded for it, certainly. But if we let it take control of our planet, it will go very wrong.
Especially information is not suited to The Economist Dream. Information is intangible and can be copied almost without cost. Indeed, when information is shared it enriched everyone and leads to innovations the original author never thought about! If it is withheld it enriches only the few who hold it, if it ever does any good. The biggest potential for information is when it is freely shared, instead of going through a toll-booth.
However, those who believe in The Economist Dream believe EVERYTHING should be made a transaction. They fail to realize that a transaction also constitute a friction, a lowest barrier that must be overcome, while the natural state of information is frictionless. Software will naturally become commodized, because over time the market forces will force the value of software down to the natural cost of information. Open Source and Free Software (GPL) is only a catalyst for this process.