Should ideas be ownable?

The other day, in response to a comment on this blog, I wrote that “ideas should be ownable”. Another commenter disagreed, citing how laws that govern ownership of ideas are so complicated that the only beneficiaries are lawyers and how our Constitution only specifies protections for ideas that “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,…”.

All this got me to thinking.

First up, da law.

To get a better handle on how ideas are protected, I started reading up on patents and  copyrights, but mid-research I decided that there was a more important issue on the table than HOW ideas should be protected, which was SHOULD ideas should be protected. In other words, should my ideas belong to me, if I can establish that my ideas are indeed my own? I think the answer is YES. Granted, the process of establishing an idea as one’s own can get complicated, but that is not a good reason to simply deny anyone the ownership of his ideas (or ones he’s purchased or otherwise legally acquired).

Consider: If people like me were not protected by copyright and patent laws, then we would always be at the total mercy of those who had the most capital. Always. Say, for example, I wrote a song and Coldplay wanted it. Under current law, they couldn’t have it unless I let them. However, if ideas were not ownable, they could just take the song, use their massive capital to record it, distribute it and promote it and capture all royalty payments. I would get nothing. Or think about business: let’s say I have an idea for a fundamentally better approach to memory in a computer (think Rambus). Without patent protection, Intel could just take my idea and integrate with their latest processor design and reap all the rewards. I would get nothing

No, ideas must be ownable. Otherwise, those who own today’s best ideas would always own tomorrow’s, too. And our culture would stratify far worse than it already has, then stagnate, with those in the highest strata would always stay put.

Now, what about The U.S. Constitution, which states that The Congress shall have power… To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries

Honestly, I have problem with this bit of Founding Father folly. Specifically, I don’t like giving the government power over subjective concepts, such as “progress” and “useful”. I mean, to the Taliban, “progress” is a return to the caveman culture and “useful” could be applied to the Koran, while the Bible, well, that’s not so useful. Instead, I think we would all be better off if ideas were simply ownable, provided one can prove beyond a reasonable doubt to jury of his peers that he indeed either came up with the idea in question or acquired it legally.

Stepping off my pedestal. Thoughts?

Oh, and here are some definitions!


the exclusive right granted by a government to an inventor to manufacture, use, or sell an invention for a certain number of years.


the exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc.: works granted such right by law on or after January 1, 1978, are protected for the lifetime of the author or creator and for a period of 50 years after his or her death.