Building on our previous episodes on intellectual property, today Ronni and Brittany discuss why this is such a heated issue.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Ronni.
Ronni: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: So, we did a couple of episodes. We did one on, I can’t remember. So, we did one on, oh, different intellectual property, and that’s, remember property that comes from your mind. So, things you create, think intellect, like your brain, intellectualism, things like that. And then we did an entire episode just on patents, which is really interesting because your dad is an inventor and you are an inventor also, which I thought was really cool, and I’ll have you recap that in a second. But first, just want to go over, well, so, what we’re going to do today is we’re going to continue talking about intellectual property, which they abbreviate as just IP. So, if you hear us say IP, that just stands for intellectual property. So, I want to go over what that means again really quickly. So, there are, I think four main kinds of intellectual property, and that’s a trade secret. And think of that as a recipe. Nobody can make a soda exactly like Coca-Cola because they have a trade secret. So, basically all intellectual property, when we talk about it this way is somebody getting to go to the government and saying, I want you to protect my invention or my intellectual property so that no one else can copy it. So, I think of sodas or different recipes that people can’t copy. I think that would also be a medication. That’s why you see something called Advil, for example, and then something called Ibuprofen. Advil is the name brand that first got the trade secret to it. And then other brands will come and make similar products. So, that’s a trade secret. And then you have a trademark. Think of this like a mark, A mark you’d make with a pencil. It’s like a logo, right? It’s something visual. So, a trademark would be McDonald’s. You have the golden arches. I keep going back to Coca-Cola. You have the red and white logo, and then also slogans that come with it. So, KFC, Kentucky Fried Chicken has Finger Licking Good, something like that where it’s like, okay, that’s their slogan. When you hear those words, when you see those symbols, you automatically think of those companies. And then you have, well, let’s say patents fast. So, then you have copyright. Copyright is probably the one we hear about the most because copyright is like a catchall. So if you have a piece of art, if you create a piece of art, if you wrote a book, if you wrote a song, if you composed music in any capacity, that would be protected under copyright laws. And then you have patents which are for inventions. Think about inventions. So, these are things. So, we’re going to go into a little debate in this episode, a friendly course where we’re going to have to take two different sides and just kind of discuss, not really a debate, just discuss why there are good and bad things to letting the government protect this. Because there’s a lot of people that would say, well, it’s technically property. And we believe if you believe in limited government and liberty, you do believe that there’s some things the government can protect, life, liberty property, or pursuit of happiness. And so you might say, okay, intellectual property that has the word property in it, I think that counts as property. And then other people might say, no, it doesn’t count as property. I don’t think it does because the government can’t own an idea. And since all of these things start in your head, like we said, intellectual, there’s no idea that that’s something that really can’t be protected. Everybody has the right to it. So, it’s a very heated issue, and it’s something that even people who agree on everything else at limited government, they’ll still have disagreements on this one subject, which I think is really interesting. I think it’s fun to not agree with someone all the time to take different views, because one, I think it helps us become stronger in our own views. We can see other points and learn to not necessarily argue, but discuss those. And I think it’s just good to be exposed to different things and it teaches you how to be a better debater. So, let’s get into this. First, Ronni, if you can explain a little bit about patents and your background in patents like your dad, that would be great.
Ronni: Yeah, you mentioned that there’s many people who will agree on limited government and everything else, but that the issue of IP is still something that they support. And I feel as if that probably is a little bit more along the lines of myself, but I also like learning. And so I’m excited to go through this a little bit more with you because yeah, I think being able to talk about things, who knows, it might open my mind and I might understand this better, but so my bit of background is, so, I grew up with a dad who invented things and he had a few patents over the years. And so I grew up, he was always drawing ideas and tinkering with these little metal things he used to make. And so I’ve always been strong patents, especially, that’s what I know the most. I know that more than trade secrets or trademarks or copyrights. So, I tend to lean a little bit more to the pro-patent side. I actually once also applied for a patent for a baby product, which I talked about in the last.
Brittany: Yeah, explain again. I think it’s so cool.
Ronni: So, it was just this item, it was a pacifier holder. In hindsight, it’s somewhat silly to think about, but I went through the whole process of trying to patent it, and then I eventually ended up abandoning the patent. I realized that there was one part that I thought was unique to my patent or my design, which had never been done before. I ended up finding, it’s called prior art. So, I found a patent from the 1980s that talked about this. But because there was already a patent a long time ago that was already in the public domain, it made my patent a moot point. So, I couldn’t protect anything.
Brittany: And a moot point would mean, I’m trying to think of how to explain.
Ronni: It doesn’t matter.
Brittany: Doesn’t matter. This is really interesting about a patent. So, even though the rest of your idea was new and original because one of the parts existed, you couldn’t patent any of it.
Ronni: No. So, you can only patent anything that is new and original. However, in my research when I was trying to get a patent and you have to study all the prior art, prior art means anything else that’s ever been created.
Brittany: They don’t do that before. You have to do it, right?
Ronni: You have to do it. Yeah, you have to do it. Otherwise, the patent clerks later will do it, but then they’ll just deny your patent. So, you need to do all of it first. Sometimes you’ll hire lawyers and stuff. I did it all on my own because I’m weird like that. But anyway, so the one part that I thought was actually the unique part, I mean, we’re talking about a pacifier product, a baby product that people have been dealing with or using for a hundred years. So, I knew that there’s only so much left to be truly unique in. So, I realized that I guess the one part I thought was unique was not actually unique. So yeah, that’s how patents work, but oh, were you going to say something?
Brittany: Nope. Waiting for you.
Ronni: So, anyways, generally, I tend to be a little bit more pro-patent side, maybe not for what I was inventing, which was something a little bit smaller and that anyone could maybe come up with. But my dad especially, has created a lot of very technical designs and created valves that go in gas cabinets that change the flow of gases that help create made products. So, the things that he has created matter a lot more. So, for him to have been able to spend all the time designing, testing out, creating these new valves and different little ways of bending shapes or having curves here, all types of stuff like that, that took a lot of time and it took years for him. And oftentimes he was doing this on his own dime, which means he was spending his own money and his own time to develop this. The reason why he spent so much time doing this is with the understanding that he could, after he finally created it and was ready to bring it to market in order to make money off of it, is that he could be a little bit protected. Because I think that there are times in which patents can actually encourage innovation. Because if my dad had known that he would have to spend years developing a product, and as soon as he had developed it, anybody else could go and see that and go, oh, that’s how he did that. I’m going to recreate this exactly, and then go and sell it. Well, let’s say that my dad is a small inventor and has a small company, but some huge store goes, or some huge other company goes and makes it and they sell it for cheaper, which, yes, free market, I get that, but it’s a little bit, it doesn’t inspire my dad to want to create anything new if he knows that he’s not going to be able to have any type of financial return on it, because it can easily be copied. It’s a little bit different than just marketing like, oh, this company’s marketing it better, and my dad just had to market it more. So, I don’t know. I would just argue that I do think that sometimes patents can actually inspire innovation. That’s what I would say.
Brittany: No, that’s a really good point. I’m going to counter that with, I always tell the Nicola Tesla story, and I am not an inventor, so I don’t have firsthand, I wonder if I, there’s sometimes, I have ideas for things, but again, with the patent, I would never go through that because I’m too lazy. But the Nicola Tesla story is really interesting to me, and that is that he spent years and years like your dad, years and years in his life, just inventing this amazing, amazing technology. In fact, things like the radio neon lights, he set the precedent for, they exist because of him. So, one of his inventions, and I don’t remember which one, so that can be a homework assignment for you all. He spent years of his life, like I said, doing that. And then somebody was jealous of him, and they took his idea and they got to the patent office first and actually, I don’t think I explained this. So, basically what we’re talking about with IP is the government protects it. So you go to a patent office or fill out paperwork if it’s for other things, and they say no one else is allowed to do what you’re doing, or you can sue them and get a lot of money and tell them that they can’t do it. So, if you invented a, let’s say an invention, nobody else could make it and sell it. And there’s usually a period of time. So, it could be like, I don’t remember. I dunno what it was like 12 years or something like that. Or actually, I think it’s much more. And until the patent expires, nobody else can make anything. And that gives you the time to sell it and manufacture it and do what you want with it. But some people never do. So, with Tesla, someone took his ideas and they ran to the patent office, and then he was blocked from using his own inventions. So, there’s terrible things that can go wrong with that, where if someone gets wind of your idea and then they go to the patent office first, it’s really just a race to see who can get there first. And then, so yeah, that’s one possible thing.
Ronni: I would counter that then with, I don’t know how the provisional patent process started, but the provisional patent process is meant in a way to protect from something like this.
Brittany: Interesting. Explain, I didn’t know that.
Ronni: So, let’s say that you have a brand-new idea of this thing you want. Tesla discovered this idea and designed it and thought of it on his own, and he really wanted to make it, but he needed some time to test it out first before knowing if it was a good idea. Well, as soon as he has the idea of it, and he’s like, Ooh, I need to get this on the books somewhere to show that I am the one who first came up with this idea, that’s the provisional patent. So, you file a provisional patent at the very, very early stages with just more of a basic idea. You might not have all the super fancy drawings yet or anything, but you give a basic idea of what it is that you’re creating, what it does, et cetera. And then you’re given, I believe, the provisional patent, the possible downfall is that it only gives you a year before you have to file the full patent, but still it gives you a year. There might be exceptions for longer and certain situations, but I’m not sure. And during that time, you still keep your invention that you’re working on a secret, but if it ever comes out later that someone else tries to make it, you can go, no, no, wait. I actually have on file that I came up with this first. So, I would say perhaps we could have a better patent process rather than get rid of patents altogether.
Brittany: That’s really interesting. And who knows, because Tesla, this is the 19 or 18 hundreds, excuse me, maybe that didn’t exist. I knew, I don’t know the history of patents either. That’s sounds like a really boring topic, but important. But that’s really interesting. I didn’t know that. So, you would say maybe there’s some flaws, but we could reform it.
Ronni: Yes, that’s what I would say.
Brittany: Okay. So, another point that a lot of really avid free market people make is that it’s not just in the idea, it’s how you sell the idea. And you touched on that a little bit. So they would say, okay, let’s say you use the Starbucks logo, and I say this because somebody did this, somebody made a kind of a spoof, meaning it was almost like the Starbucks label, but it was a little different. It’s like that green logo with some sort of weird woman’s head on it. I don’t even know if she’s a mythical creature or not.
Ronni: I think it’s a mermaid.
Is it a mermaid? Okay, well somebody made, yeah, right. I dunno. Yeah, that doesn’t really have anything to do with coffee. So that’s interesting. So, somebody took that logo and it was like a joke. They knew that it was a joke and they made a spoof coffee shop. It was still coffee, but it was like, I think it was coffee. Anyway, so then Starbucks sued and they had to change that. But what some people would say is it’s different marketing. It’s whoever markets it better. If somebody took the same trade secret as Coca-Cola, but they were better marketers and they won that share of the market, then that’s more important than the recipe. So, it could be argued that Coca-Cola is so good at marketing that they don’t even need the trade secret, that they would’ve been fine either way. And so that’s what a free marketer would say. They’d say, well just market it better. And I think there are good points to that to be made because you think, okay, that’s part of, we talk about competition, and competition makes things better, and it’s good too, maybe if somebody markets it better, then they make it cheaper. And then there’s this war of making things cheaper and making it more affordable to consumers. So that would be one interesting topic. And then Ronni, I’m going to throw it to you for the last point and then we’ll wrap up.
Ronni: Okay. I actually don’t disagree as much as far as is their usefulness in things like trade secrets or trademarks or even copyrights and some, but for myself, I do tend to be, patents I do feel is a little bit different perhaps than the other kinds of IP. So, I think that’s why I’m not necessarily debating the other points as much.
Interesting. That’s cool. Well, I think this is, again, a really fun conversation because I think it’s great when we have different viewpoints and sometimes it’s like we both agree there are problems with the system, but how we would fix them would be different. And I just think it’s so much more interesting when we can have these conversations. So, thank you so much, Ronni. I think it’s so cool that you come from a family of inventors. That’s awesome. So we will wrap it up there. Don’t forget to like and share and subscribe to the podcast. And until next time, we will talk to you soon.
Ronni: All right, see you soon.