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"F**k Michael Powell. Let him sue us."
May 12, 2010 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Home Depot was having an issue with employees cutting their fingers off while sawing wood for customers. Michael Powell invented a safety device that Home Depot then copied without Powell's permission. Today, Powell won a $25 million judgment in federal court.

"Home Depot knew exactly what it was doing," U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley said. "They simply pushed Mr. Powell away and they did it totally and completely for their own economic benefit."
posted by reenum (141 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent. And the "tort reform" folks should be checking in complaining about hot coffee spills in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...
posted by joe lisboa at 1:33 PM on May 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's unclear from the linked article, but does this mean that Home Depot has to remove all the safeguards?

If so, Powell needs his ass kicked too.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:36 PM on May 12, 2010


Related?
posted by Think_Long at 1:36 PM on May 12, 2010


This is one of those dwindling-in-number times when IP law is a good thing.
posted by malaprohibita at 1:36 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look my fingers got cut off because of McDonalds coffee. There is just no way that high speed saw blades should have been in my coffee. I don't care what people think. McDonalds was to blame.
posted by Babblesort at 1:37 PM on May 12, 2010 [21 favorites]


The roughly $25 million judgment could have been avoided had the company agreed in 2004 to pay Powell the $2,000 he offered to charge for each device. That bill would have come to $4 million.

This made me smile something awful, as did this:

In the year before the devices were installed, the company paid out $1 million in claims related to injuries caused by the saw. In the year after the gadgets were installed, it paid out $7,000.

Keep in mind, unless I'm mistaken, Home Depot is considered a successful corporation. Speaks volumes.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:38 PM on May 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


I read about this on a few other websites earlier today. The whole situation was ridiculous, with Home Depot refusing to pay $4million for the invention, subsequently installing it in thousands of stores, and their worker's comp claims for saw injuries went from something like $1m in the year before to $7K after...

Now they have to pay Powell a LOT more money to use his invention than he asked for. I didn't read anything about having to remove the device from the saws, so I think the worker safeguard will remain in place.

Ultimately, Powell wins, HD employees win, and HD as a corp gets a slap on the pocketbook for being assholes.
posted by hippybear at 1:40 PM on May 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


and MCMike beat me to all my points. Preview is my neglected friend.
posted by hippybear at 1:41 PM on May 12, 2010


I think it's great that the little guy won, but the article is light on details. Did Powell have a patent on the device? Did he develop the product under contract with Home Depot or on his own? AFAIK it is typically not illegal to copy someone else's design if it is unprotected. Shitty, but not illegal - happens all the time with software. A link to a more substantial article would be appreciated.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:42 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's unclear from the linked article, but does this mean that Home Depot has to remove all the safeguards?

The implication is that they wouldn't have to. They owe $25M, that is in recompense for the violation.

"This is the kind of activity that people look at that engenders outright disgust for the legal profession," Hurley told Moss. "It is shameful."

What a great judge.
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:43 PM on May 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


Is there a link to this invention? Short of searching the US Patent Database I'm unable to find any description of the device.
posted by enamon at 1:46 PM on May 12, 2010


Something similar happened with automatic coupling devices for trains. Rail cars used to be linked together manually by workers fitting a metal rod into a linking system. You could gauge how good a railroad worker was by the number of fingers he still had after a year. The feds had to force them to use automatic couplers and they ended up saving loads of time because it was so much faster and they didn't have to deal with injured workers.
posted by stavrogin at 1:47 PM on May 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I didn't need another reason not to shop at HD, but I'll happily take it
posted by Mick at 1:48 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is one of those dwindling-in-number times when IP law is a good thing.

Wait, what? If I want to install a certain kind of safety device on a power saw, I have to pay this guy $2000 when I could make it myself for $1200? How is that a good thing?

I understand the need to incentivize invention, but that sounds more like extortion.
posted by callmejay at 1:49 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Powell had been a 20-year independent contractor who, the judge noted, previously had a good relationship with the company and who trusted the company enough to provide the prototype, although he had not yet patented it.

“It is sad to say, but Home Depot literally organized the theft of the Powell invention,” Hurley said. “That is what they did. Big, wealthy Home Depot just blew off Michael Powell.”

A key piece of evidence was a photo of a former Home Depot executive carrying tape measures, pencils and pads, and examining one of Powell’s prototypes that had been installed at a Georgia store.

The $20.8 million verdict is the result of two separate rulings. A 14-day trial began in February, and the jury awarded Powell $15 million in damages. The jury also determined that Home Depot’s actions were intentional and willful, which afforded Herman and Brown the opportunity to return to court and ask that the judge add additional damages as a penalty for Home Depot’s conduct.

A second hearing was held Monday to request such an award and to ask that the court declare the case “exceptional” for purposes of awarding attorneys’ fees. The court granted both requests, ordering Home Depot to pay an additional $5.8 million, plus prejudgment interest accruing since May 16, 2006 – the date Powell’s patent was issued.
posted by rtha at 1:49 PM on May 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think it's great that the little guy won, but the article is light on details. Did Powell have a patent on the device? Did he develop the product under contract with Home Depot or on his own?

U.S. Patent 7,044,039 to Michael Powell, "Radial Arm Saw Safety Top"
posted by Pastabagel at 1:49 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I want to see the vault where the Home Depot CEO has been storing all of those fingers!
posted by Theta States at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2010


I like my coffee like I like my men.

Burning hot and in my lap.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2010 [20 favorites]


The lawsuit said that Home Depot alerted Powell of a safety issue with the saw that was causing injuries. Powell, who had been a 20-year independent contractor with the company, came up with the solution, a "Safe Hands" device, to protect Home Depot's employees. Home Depot refused to pay Powell for the device and began installing the safety device on its saws without permission.

From here. So yeah, sounds similar to the delayed wiper lawsuits. I have to go return a small item to HD today - I'll see if I can swing by the saw and see anything obvious as I can't find any pictures of this device on the web.
posted by Big_B at 1:50 PM on May 12, 2010


Also unclear from the article was the extent of the copying on the device.

You can't patent the mere idea of "a device that keeps your fingers from getting chopped off."

What you're patenting / protecting is "a device that looks and acts exactly like this that keeps your fingers from getting chopped off."

What did Powell's device do and look like? What did the Home Depot device do and look like? How blatant were they?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:52 PM on May 12, 2010


$25,000,000? That number has a lot of digits, and this is an incisive story, but now is not the time to be pointing fingers. I think responsibility should be shared jointly.
posted by Ratio at 1:53 PM on May 12, 2010 [21 favorites]


Apologies for the immediate proto-derail re: coffee and tort. What someone should do is invent some sort of guarding device, a guard-like attachment that can be affixed to the start of a thread and thus prevent de-railing. We can call it a derail guard. That will be $25 million. Paypal in profile.
posted by joe lisboa at 1:54 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


posted by callmejay If I want to install a certain kind of safety device on a power saw, I have to pay this guy $2000 when I could make it myself for $1200? How is that a good thing?

Ask me after I make millions by copying and selling my version of your safety device without paying you a dime.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I've never had a gripe about physical inventions ever since I heard of the delayed-window-wipers guy and even though sight-unseen I think $2000 is probably excessive, I'm going to have to side with him. Home Depot could've easily modified their saws and applied a safety guard of their own invention but instead took the easy route. It's those goddamn procedure inventions that need to be vacated.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Based on my experience attempting to get plywood cut at Home Depot, this device works by removing any trace of a Home Depot employee from the entire lumber section of the store.
posted by bondcliff at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2010 [88 favorites]


Did Powell have a patent on the device?

Presumably this one.
posted by Skeptic at 1:56 PM on May 12, 2010


It makes me wonder how much longer Home Depot was going to go paying out millions of dollars a year to employees who lost their fingers or when they started thinking "We should stop all these fingers from being cut off." I would think after the first 20 or so incidents they would be looking at getting different saws, better training, or something. I would think these retail workers aren't getting paid enough that losing fingers is an acceptable risk.
posted by amethysts at 1:57 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's patented in his name. I've never had much luck linking to PAIR, but here's Powell's patent for a Radial Arm Saw Safety Top.

It's application number 11/375255, patent number 7,228,773, in case my link doesn't work. The patent was issued on June 12, 2007.
posted by punchtothehead at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2010


$25,000,000? That number has a lot of digits, and this is an incisive story, but now is not the time to be pointing fingers. I think responsibility should be shared jointly.

Sounds like you're stumping for a lower fine.
posted by prunes at 1:58 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I like my coffee like I like my men.

Burning hot and in my lap.


I like my coffee like I like my severed fingers.

Spinning in a graceful arc away from the radial saw, trailing blood and shards of bone, spattering the DeWalt cordless drill display.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:59 PM on May 12, 2010 [18 favorites]


How blatant were they?

Blatant enough that a federal judge took the time to deliver a lecture to Home Depot and its legal team about their contemptible behavior, in addition to awarding the plaintiff damages.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:00 PM on May 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


$25,000,000? That number has a lot of digits, and this is an incisive story, but now is not the time to be pointing fingers. I think responsibility should be shared jointly.

Sounds like you're stumping for a lower fine.


I'm just glad they got Home Depot to knuckle under.
posted by Floydd at 2:00 PM on May 12, 2010


If Michael Powell's involved it's clearly a matter of life and death.
posted by tigrefacile at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


$25,000,000? That number has a lot of digits, and this is an incisive story, but now is not the time to be pointing fingers. I think responsibility should be shared jointly.

Imagine one paper cut, multiplied by 25,000,000.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:03 PM on May 12, 2010


Wow, that's interesting that they backdate the penalty to the date he got the patent, and then charged interest going forward from there, at a million dollars per year.

Also that the attorneys fees for Powell were $2.8 million. Was someone saying something about tort reform?
posted by smackfu at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2010


25m isn't nearly enough. What is that in terms of net receipts for HomeDepot?

If an individual blatantly stole something created by another and made profit from it, they would face jail time. But you can't lock up a corporation, and the people in the corporations maintain the disdain for the law and for real people secure behind the corporate veil, the only way to punish such people is to hit their pocket books, hard. And they spend so much lobbying for tort reform so they can further escape any responsibility.
posted by Some1 at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ok, I take back the price check, cuz it's got lasers and shit. That looks like a sophisticated invention right there.

The feds had to force them to use automatic couplers...

And where was OSHA during Thumbgate?
posted by jsavimbi at 2:05 PM on May 12, 2010


Part of the reason the attorney's fees for Powell were so high, according to the article, is that Home Depot's lawyers purposely flooded them with 6000 mostly unrelated documents during discovery.
posted by mercredi at 2:06 PM on May 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ask me after I make millions by copying and selling my version of your safety device without paying you a dime.

Well, duh, I get how it's good for Powell. What I don't get is how it's good for society. I was under the impression that the justification for patent law is that it benefits society. I don't think it's just a priori true that if you come up with an idea, nobody else has a right to implement that idea without handing you a fistful of cash.

Consider the number of fingers which could be lost because of people and corporations who can't afford (or choose not to purchase) the device.
posted by callmejay at 2:06 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


(I am not, for the record, defending Home Depot. Just questioning the utility of patent law as it applies to this case.)
posted by callmejay at 2:08 PM on May 12, 2010


Wait, what? If I want to install a certain kind of safety device on a power saw, I have to pay this guy $2000 when I could make it myself for $1200? How is that a good thing?

I understand the need to incentivize invention, but that sounds more like extortion.



Well if he hadn't invented it you would still be cutting your fingers off. How is that a good thing?
posted by caddis at 2:08 PM on May 12, 2010


What I don't get is how it's good for society.

Patents are good for society because inventions are a good for society, and patents protect the rights of inventors to make a livelihood from creating new and better things.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:09 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have to pay this guy $2000 when I could make it myself for $1200? How is that a good thing?

Why would you have to pay him? Wouldn't you just be using it at home, in your garage or something? Who would even know you're ripping the guy's invention off?
posted by Greg Nog at 2:11 PM on May 12, 2010


Well, duh, I get how it's good for Powell. What I don't get is how it's good for society. I was under the impression that the justification for patent law is that it benefits society. I don't think it's just a priori true that if you come up with an idea, nobody else has a right to implement that idea without handing you a fistful of cash.

It's good for society because perhaps Mr. Powell would not have been motivated to spend the time and money to invent the safety device if he had no way to gain monetarily from his invention and no way to prevent his invention from being ripped off by big entities like Home Depot.
posted by gyc at 2:14 PM on May 12, 2010


Powell had been a 20-year independent contractor who, the judge noted, previously had a good relationship with the company and who trusted the company enough to provide the prototype, although he had not yet patented it.

And this is exactly why, whenever I give one of my un-patented prototypes to a company that I worry will rip me off, I always make sure that the version they get is one that will create the greatest amount of shrapnel, fire, and carnivorous locusts once it's spun up to full speed.

They never try to steal my design, an they always pay me to turn it off.

Just good business sense, that is.
posted by quin at 2:15 PM on May 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


$25,000,000? That number has a lot of digits, and this is an incisive story, but now is not the time to be pointing fingers. I think responsibility should be shared jointly.

Joint responsibility? Home Depot used prestidigitation and a five finger discount to pinch the plans.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:16 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Part of the reason the attorney's fees for Powell were so high

Is because they bill based on the client's likelihood to afford and pay their fees or they take a estimated percentage of a possible payout, not because they had to sift through medical records, research patent law or because the defendant's attorneys were being meanies.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:17 PM on May 12, 2010


I wonder if the HD officers who presided over this fiasco will be getting a nice shareholder suit to match. If I owned HD stock I'd be livid at the epic mismanagement of my money and contempt for the law that was exercised in this case. Breach of fiduciary duty, anyone?
posted by mullingitover at 2:17 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


On one hand, Home Depot were clearly in the wrong.

On the other, patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best. If anything, these things should be mandatory on all saws.
posted by schmod at 2:18 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


>>Part of the reason the attorney's fees for Powell were so high

>Is because they bill based on the client's likelihood to afford and pay their fees or they take a estimated percentage of a possible payout, not because they had to sift through medical records, research patent law or because the defendant's attorneys were being meanies.



When courts award attorneys' fees they look at the logs of billable time spent and what the lawyer charges in other cases. This isn't the same as a contingency fee (though there may have been a contingency agreement in place in case there was no fee award.). If you think that the courts are biased in favor of plaintiffs and the plaintiff's bar, you really have not been paying attention.
posted by Some1 at 2:28 PM on May 12, 2010


My grandfather's invention paid for at least 4 grandkids' colleges, kept my uncle's family afloat after he broke his neck in an accident, and is now starting to help out his great-grandkids.

So, yay IP law.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:28 PM on May 12, 2010


"If anything, these things should be mandatory on all saws."

How exactly would that preclude the inventor from still getting, you know, paid for it?
posted by kyrademon at 2:28 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


...the delayed-window-wipers guy...

If you haven't seen the 2008 movie, 'Flash of Genius' (starring Greg Kinnear), I recommend watching it to understand the story behind that 'David vs. Goliath' affair.
posted by ericb at 2:34 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"If anything, these things should be mandatory on all saws."

How exactly would that preclude the inventor from still getting, you know, paid for it?


This. I believe there's good case law out there regarding "safety" inventions that basically says the inventor can't get an injunction forcing the person infringing on his design to stop using it -- because that would be, well, bad for people -- but there's nothing in the law that prevents that inventor from suing the pants off the infringer for damages.
posted by devinemissk at 2:46 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other, patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best. If anything, these things should be mandatory on all saws.

We'll put aside the fact that, as kyrademon points out, your first statement has no bearing on your second statement.

Why should safety devices be immoral to patent? Many other things that benefit society are perfectly legal to patent. Vaccines and medicines are. Perhaps you lump them in as safety devices.

How about -

You know, fuck it. Here's the bottom line: you can't remove class X of product/idea from the real of "okay to profit from" without calling into question the whole concept of capitalism. Which, ya know, feel free to dislike it. People do.

But asking folks who do something that works to the good of others to completely absent themselves from the concerns of life is just silly and I suspect you aren't consistent in this matter. If you've ever questioned why we pay teachers a shitty wage then you're practicing cognitive dissonance.

Or put another way, why should we pay cops, teachers or anyone else who labors for the good of society at a pay scale equal to that of other folks? What they do is needed, why pay them full price?!
posted by phearlez at 2:49 PM on May 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


25m isn't nearly enough. What is that in terms of net receipts for HomeDepot?

Home Depot 2009 Fiscal Year:
Net Sales: $66.2 billion

Gross Profit: $22.4 billion

Consolidated Net Earnings (from Continuing Operations): $2.7 billion.
posted by ericb at 2:51 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Home Depot netted $342 million in the quarter ending January 31st.

Also, Powell offered $2000 per device. Home Depot could have countered with something other than stealing his invention.

I'm not wild about the various abuses of IP law, but this sort of situation is exactly why patent law was created in the first place.
posted by dirigibleman at 2:52 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


you can see the patent here on google patents. The USPTO requires quicktime to view the illustrations, who knows why.
posted by delmoi at 2:52 PM on May 12, 2010


On the other, patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best.

Home Depot charged me $3.99 for a pair of safety glasses last week, the morally dubious fuckers.
posted by IanMorr at 3:01 PM on May 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


On the other, patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best.

OK, so if you invent something that saves lives or prevents injuries, the optimum outcome for the public would be to have it implemented everywhere ASAP. What does the inventor get in this scenario, a thank-you letter and a warm fuzzy feeling? Technology doesn't invent itself, you know. If there's no reward to be had for the creation of safety devices, then what incentive is there to do so, instead of earning money or resting?
posted by anigbrowl at 3:08 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best. If anything, these things should be mandatory on all saws

So many comments about patentability share this same broken logic. The idea behind patents is that without the ability to patent the safety device, there would be no safety device. You can't just magically dictate that "these things" be made mandatory on all saws if "these things" DO NOT FUCKING EXIST.

I'm not talking about whether this basic argument for patents is true or not (i.e. whether people would still invent at the same pace if they couldn't protect their inventions). I'm saying that you can't base an argument against patents on an assumption that the foundational argument for patents is false. I'd file it under begging the question.
posted by madmethods at 3:08 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


If there's no reward to be had for the creation of safety devices, then what incentive is there to do so, instead of earning money or resting?
Well, you could get paid a salary to invent those. Like, say, all the people who work for the various corps who actually own most of the patents out there.
posted by vivelame at 3:13 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's worth point out here that the reason Home Depot is paying $25 million isn't because they stole the invention. The damages for patent infringement are generally limited to "reasonable license fees" and realized profits. In this case, that'd be $4 million, because Home Depot didn't actually earn any money with the device.

Unfortunately, Home Depot elected to be a dick about it.

Being a dick about patents, i.e deliberate infringement, gets the book thrown at you like Home Depot did here. The penalties for willful infringement are way worse than inadvertent infringement. The latter can include either simply not being aware of the patent (meaning you didn't do your due diligence) or honestly thinking your particular device doesn't infringe a known patent and having a judge disagree with you.

I'm thinking this ruling isn't going to look very good on a few Home Depot executives' resumes.
posted by valkyryn at 3:15 PM on May 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I pay nearly five hundred dollars a month for patented drugs that the doctor says I need to make sure my blood keeps running (yeah, I made the mistake of moving within the USA with a preexisting condition and don't have as good insurance as I once did). Just a few months ago a number of people were telling me, and all the world how fair those charges were. shrug.

Now that Mr Powell has won this case, we are hearing how mistreated poor ol' HomeDepot is, and how this device should be free. I don't want to double check people's posts, but I think some people might be in both of these groups. I wonder if Mr. Powell's name were General Electric or Boeing which side would you be on? Do you realize how much money these corporations spend to convince you they are so, so wronged in all these ways? Or how much money they make from getting a freer and freer hand due to lack of oversight and civil protections?
posted by Some1 at 3:25 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


On the other, patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best. If anything, these things should be mandatory on all saws

Which would then put the cost of basic radial arm saws out of range of many people that would find benefit from them.

I am absolutely in favor of many safety devices, especially in work environments but there is a point where operating dangerous equipment at home safely is just a matter of being aware and careful. I use various fairly basic spinning blade devices a few times a month for medium sized projects. Hooking on a $1 - 2K tag for each would preclude my use, and be frankly unnecessary.
posted by edgeways at 3:29 PM on May 12, 2010


Home Depot didn't actually earn any money with the device

Powell's safety device facilitated providing a value-added service to customers who wanted to cut wood in-store, while reducing the company's injury liability profile. It seems plainly obvious that the device contributed to Home Depot's profit margin, well beyond savings from evasion of paying for the right to use the invention.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:30 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


vivelame, that makes no sense. first it's absurd that a business should be able to make money but that an individual can't for doing the same thing. Second, the comment I replied to decried the idea of patents on safety devices, which would make it equally pointless to operate a business towards that end.

There seems to be an assumption here that no product without safety features should be sold in the first place, and that implementing such a law would force corporations to hire safety engineers as a matter of course. This is neither sensible nor practical. Not all outcomes are foreseeable at the time of an invention, nor is it reasonable to place the entire burden of safety on a single vendor. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to buy kitchen knives, because of the possibility that they might end up in a daycare center: we properly make the managers of the latter responsible for safety issues, not the manufacturer of the kitchen knives.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:33 PM on May 12, 2010


Well, you could get paid a salary to invent those. Like, say, all the people who work for the various corps who actually own most of the patents out there.

A corporation is not going to waste much money on inventor salaries if it can't take ownership of the inventions.
posted by colinshark at 3:39 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


This infatuation with corporations is really, really weird. HD stole this inventor's device rather than paying him what sounds like a reasonable price for it.

Have any of you corporate apologists paused to wonder why you get a chubby when a company like HD posts large (arguably obscene, even) profits but get in an individual's face when they stand to make a bit of money off of their ingenuity or hard work?

I was reading a thread elsewhere about "strategic walkaways" from mortgages; judging by the comments you'd think making a rational business decision as an individual, within the terms of the contract signed--the same decision lauded when made by a company--was the equivalent of raping a troop of girl scouts while shitting on a bible wrapped in the American flag handed to you by your mother straight from the grave of your killed-in-action father.
posted by maxwelton at 3:46 PM on May 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


Here's how it would work in a perfect world:

1. Person creates an invention that will save lives.
2. Person makes the plans for that invention available to everyone who asks, at cost, so they can make their own.
3. Person makes the device available to everyone who asks (including companies), at cost + a small profit, so they can have one without having to suffer the inconvenience of learning how to make their own.
4. Person makes the device available to schools and not-for-profits, at cost, so they can have one without having to pay more than necessary.
5. Everyone is safer, and the inventor makes enough money to justify all the initial work he did, plus reward him for making everyone safer.

Even in this altruistic process, patents are necessary -- because there are so many non-altruistic ways to shortcut this process so that the reimbursement/reward to the inventor is eliminated, or even circumvented into the pockets of people and/or corporations who did not invent the device.

Without this single safeguard in place, why would anyone invent anything? If your answer is "for the good of society" or something similar, consider: by what mechanism will society take care of the inventor who self-financed the invention (the days of inventing truly useful things from scrap wood in the backyard are long-gone.)

Of course, the real answer there is: society DOES take care of that inventor. By providing reimbursement/reward for good, useful inventions. Enforced through patents and the court system. Which is what happened here.
posted by davejay at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2010


Have any of you corporate apologists paused to wonder why you get a chubby when a company like HD posts large (arguably obscene, even) profits but get in an individual's face when they stand to make a bit of money off of their ingenuity or hard work?

My guess? You can't own stock in a person, so you can't share in his profits.
posted by davejay at 3:48 PM on May 12, 2010


On one hand, Home Depot were clearly in the wrong.

On the other, patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best. If anything, these things should be mandatory on all saws.


You could make the case, though, that allowing patents spurs innovation, which may have been what was needed in this case to come up with the safety design.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:50 PM on May 12, 2010


Is because they bill based on the client's likelihood to afford and pay their fees or they take a estimated percentage of a possible payout, not because they had to sift through medical records, research patent law or because the defendant's attorneys were being meanies.

I would say that when your actions cause a judge to say, "This is the kind of activity that people look at that engenders outright disgust for the legal profession," which he said in specific response to the Home Depot lawyers dumping thousands of pages of useless crap on Powell's lawyers, you're probably not just being a meanie, even granted that judges love little more than decrying the abysmal state of the lawyering they see around them.

More generally, the "load them up with millions of pages of shit" approach to discovery is pretty unsavory and has basically created a law firm arms race to see who can hire the most people to mindlessly sort the thousands upon thousands documents they're throwing at each other.
posted by Copronymus at 3:56 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can't you build any device you want, regardless of patents? I would think that it would be specifically selling or distributing patented devices that would be illegal, in the same mold as selling or distributing copyrighted material.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:13 PM on May 12, 2010


Man, in a Juggalo court, they'd just say it was a mystery how the Home Depot saw works, and that Powell should shut the fuck up.
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:16 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I guess Home Depot took DIY a little too far...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:32 PM on May 12, 2010


Can't you build any device you want, regardless of patents? I would think that it would be specifically selling or distributing patented devices that would be illegal, in the same mold as selling or distributing copyrighted material.

Home Depot distributed this device to 2000+ stores.
posted by vorfeed at 4:37 PM on May 12, 2010


Can't you build any device you want, regardless of patents? I would think that it would be specifically selling or distributing patented devices that would be illegal, in the same mold as selling or distributing copyrighted material.

There is an "Experimental Use Exception" for patents, but recent decisions have unfortunately eroded this protection quite a bit. You can violate a patent for amusement or for "philisophical inquiry", but cannot gain from the activity in any way (including scholarly research).

This becomes a problem when security researchers try to find vulnerabilities in security products, for instance.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:45 PM on May 12, 2010


I believe there's good case law out there regarding "safety" inventions that basically says the inventor can't get an injunction forcing the person infringing on his design to stop using it -- because that would be, well, bad for people

I don't think the case law is quite there yet, but it has moved a lot closer as of late. I think if the injunction would remove all access then it probably would not be granted. If it left access expensive but not beyond reach it probably would. You still need to balance: (1) whether the patentee has suffered an irreparable injury; (2) whether money damages are inadequate to compensate for that injury; (3) whether considering the balance of hardships between the plaintiff and defendant, an injunction is warranted; and (4) whether the public interest would not be disserved by a permanent injunction. This guy would never get the injunction as (1) he suffered no irreparable injury as he was not actually selling them so his market was not destroyed, (2) he only wanted money to begin with, (3) this one has always been a bit circular (4) the public would be quite disserved by an injunction. His money damages were pretty good though.
posted by caddis at 4:48 PM on May 12, 2010


OK, so if you invent something that saves lives or prevents injuries, the optimum outcome for the public would be to have it implemented everywhere ASAP. What does the inventor get in this scenario, a thank-you letter and a warm fuzzy feeling?

Continued use of all of his digits, which was the original goal.

The whole concept of patents is pretty fraked. And when you try to marry it to liability... well, sued if you do, sued if you don't.

Seriously, IP is pretty much the Lawyer Employment Act.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:57 PM on May 12, 2010


OK, so if you invent something that saves lives or prevents injuries, the optimum outcome for the public would be to have it implemented everywhere ASAP. What does the inventor get in this scenario, a thank-you letter and a warm fuzzy feeling?

Continued use of all of his digits, which was the original goal.


He wasn't using the saws and his digits were in no danger. So what's he get for spending his time thinking about this?
posted by dilettante at 5:05 PM on May 12, 2010


A corporation is not going to waste much money on inventor salaries if it can't take ownership of the inventions.

Exactly so. Which is why ambitious and clever people go out and do start-ups with their own inventions.

And there are plenty of ways to screw people like that in the ground, you betcha.

you can see the patent here on google patents.

And a picture, finally. Much obliged, never knew about google patents.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:10 PM on May 12, 2010


The whole concept of patents is pretty fraked. And when you try to marry it to liability... well, sued if you do, sued if you don't.

Seriously, IP is pretty much the Lawyer Employment Act.


No. Really....no. Perhaps the way patent law has been expanded (business processes, etc.) is less than ideal, but saying that the concept of patents is fraked just ignores the economic realities. People will not invent shit if they cannot protect that shit. We have copyright law for the same reason, because people will not write books unless they know that they, and only they, can make money off of that creation.*

*This is, admittedly, a simplistic explanation. But it's still valid.
posted by devinemissk at 5:13 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


"This is the kind of activity that people look at that engenders outright disgust for the legal profession," Hurley told Moss. "It is shameful."

If this is the case, shouldn't the judge be imposing sanctions of some sort on the law firm as well (disbarments or suspensions or whatever, not just fines they can pass on to the client)? Or is a judge not allowed to do that because there is technically no rule against crapflooding the discovery process? (Honest question, not snark.)
posted by No-sword at 5:46 PM on May 12, 2010


He wasn't using the saws and his digits were in no danger. So what's he get for spending his time thinking about this?

Actually, it's not clear from the linked article. Are you looking at something else?

People will not invent shit if they cannot protect that shit.

That's just BS. It's like saying people won't write without copyright. Only they did. For centuries.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:56 PM on May 12, 2010


I was referring to callmejay's question about whether the patent required him to pay to build one for his own use.

That's just BS. It's like saying people won't write without copyright. Only they did. For centuries.

And how does the quantity of material created on a yearly basis pre-copyright compare to the quantity of material created on a yearly basis post-copyright?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2010


It's pretty funny watching all the people who usually rant and rave against corporate greed come here and stand up for corporate rape.
posted by caddis at 5:59 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I want to install a certain kind of safety device on a power saw…

…and you're just some guy who doesn't want to get his fingers cut off when he's building bird houses in his garage? Fine, you can go ahead and build it for $1200.

But when your name is Home Fucking Depot? No, fuck that. You pay.

patenting safety devices seems morally dubious at best

Patents are supposed to act like carrots—like prizes. Society benefits from your work, and you get exclusive control for a limited period.

If a homeless shelter were holding a raffle, would it be morally dubious to accept the prize if you're the winner?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:09 PM on May 12, 2010


People will not invent shit if they cannot protect that shit.

Or, just as likely, people will invent and never share the invention with the rest of the world, and we're thrown back to medieval guild logic, where each company or individual holds tightly onto their few discoveries to prevent anyone else from getting a market edge by copying it.

Improvement is slowed to a crawl, and cross pollinating technology becomes a lotto game rather than the common feature of invention we have today.
posted by yeloson at 6:15 PM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


And how does the quantity of material created on a yearly basis pre-copyright compare to the quantity of material created on a yearly basis post-copyright?

Quantity != Quality

I'm actually OK with Jeffersonian copyrights, but the current ones are just onerous. Patents aren't quite as bad, but not quite as necessary either.

If a homeless shelter were holding a raffle, would it be morally dubious to accept the prize if you're the winner?

Yeah, I'd think you a bit of a douche. Unless it were a perishable item. That couldn't be used by the shelter.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:21 PM on May 12, 2010


That's just BS. It's like saying people won't write without copyright. Only they did. For centuries.

For most of those centuries it was not really practical or profitable to copy other people's works on a significant scale.
posted by jedicus at 6:57 PM on May 12, 2010


For most of those centuries it was not really practical or profitable to copy other people's works on a significant scale.

Yeah. It'd be great if it was. Then we'd have a lot more of those ancient texts. Maybe the entirety of the Library of Alexandria.

Wait. What's your point, again?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:02 PM on May 12, 2010


I'm actually OK with Jeffersonian copyrights, but the current ones are just onerous. Patents aren't quite as bad, but not quite as necessary either.

But this is just an issue of implementation, not of the fact of copyrights or patents. Yes, patent law (and copyright law and intellectual property law) is more expansive now than it was when the constitution was written, but that still doesn't mean there's no value in it.

Or, just as likely, people will invent and never share the invention with the rest of the world, and we're thrown back to medieval guild logic, where each company or individual holds tightly onto their few discoveries to prevent anyone else from getting a market edge by copying it.

Yeah, this is the real kicker.
posted by devinemissk at 7:03 PM on May 12, 2010


But this is just an issue of implementation, not of the fact of copyrights or patents.

Huh? It's a statement that more is worse. It's not precluding that none is better.

Or, just as likely, people will invent and never share the invention with the rest of the world, and we're thrown back to medieval guild logic, where each company or individual holds tightly onto their few discoveries to prevent anyone else from getting a market edge by copying it.

Oh, please. Most patents are frakin' obvious (despite USPTO guidelines.) Making things like "One Click" dependent upon "Trade Secrets" would be an undeniable improvement.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:08 PM on May 12, 2010


PG: "And how does the quantity of material created on a yearly basis pre-copyright compare to the quantity of material created on a yearly basis post-copyright?"

If you score it per-capita, adjusting for literacy, probably not much different. I'd wager that the key to the creative explosion of the last century has been the population explosion coupled with the sizable portion of the population idled by mechanization, multiplied by increased rates of literacy. I'd argue that a great deal of our cultural wealth in that regard has been produced in spite of copyright, and not because of it. What benefit do we really get from having 'Happy Birthday' locked up by copyright?

/derail
posted by mullingitover at 7:13 PM on May 12, 2010


>Home Depot didn't actually earn any money with the device

Powell's safety device facilitated providing a value-added service to customers who wanted to cut wood in-store, while reducing the company's injury liability profile. It seems plainly obvious that the device contributed to Home Depot's profit margin, well beyond savings from evasion of paying for the right to use the invention.


They saved money, to be sure, but it was not actually a source of revenue for the company. That's what the law is looking for here.
posted by valkyryn at 7:20 PM on May 12, 2010


Anyone know what law firm(s) represented Home Depot here?
posted by onlyconnect at 7:23 PM on May 12, 2010


ChurchHatesTucker: the inventor was a contractor who had been contracting with HD for 20 years, making them stuff. He made this for them, in order that they would give him money. Instead, they stole it. If he had had no expectation of getting paid, he would not have made this device, and hundreds of people would have lost fingers. Without patent law those people would have lost their fingers. Clear?
posted by agentofselection at 7:32 PM on May 12, 2010


Most patents are frakin' obvious (despite USPTO guidelines.)

Citation needed.
posted by kmz at 7:38 PM on May 12, 2010


Anyone know what law firm(s) represented Home Depot here?

Looks like a firm called Shook Hardy & Bacon. (That's a Google cache link since the firm's website appears to be experiencing problems.)
posted by devinemissk at 7:41 PM on May 12, 2010


"Oh, please. Most patents are frakin' obvious (despite USPTO guidelines.) "

That's a ridiculous assertion.
posted by phearlez at 7:41 PM on May 12, 2010


Shook Hardy & Bacon? Hurr that sounds like my wedding night!
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:50 PM on May 12, 2010


Is everyone else reading a different story? Y'all have details I'm not seeing.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:12 PM on May 12, 2010


Wait. What's your point, again?

My point is that copyright is largely pointless when copying a book requires writing out a copy by hand, assuming you're even one of the .1% of the population that is literate to start with. Thus, the fact that lots of things got written without copyright at a time when copying was laborious and books were irrelevant to the vast majority of people really doesn't say anything about copyright's relevance or importance in the modern era.
posted by jedicus at 9:05 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and in related news, Home Depot announced today that they will now charge customers $1 for each cut they make on any wood product. A company spokesman was quoted as saying "Home Depot wants to continue offering this service, but current economic times has forced us to charge this small fee. When you cut upwards of 25 million pieces of lumber per year, the cost to Home Depot is not nominal"
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:05 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]




Well they were happy to have their works copied. So once you make that easier...

Wait, what's your point again?

posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:39 PM on May 12, 2010


Well, that was a copy/paste fail.

One more time:

Thus, the fact that lots of things got written without copyright at a time when copying was laborious and books were irrelevant to the vast majority of people really doesn't say anything about copyright's relevance or importance in the modern era.

Well they were happy to have their works copied. So once you make that easier...

Wait, what's your point again?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:56 PM on May 12, 2010


Wait, what's your point again?

You're still comparing apples and oranges. There were vanishingly view professional authors at the time. Shoot, the novel as a medium (at least in the western world) only dates back a few centuries. So the few people who wrote things may have been okay with their works being copied only because they were not reliant on being paid per copy for their livelihood. Most often they relied on the patronage of the wealthy, the church, or the government.

But in the modern era we have a fine division of labor that admits things like professional authors who are paid by individual consumers of their works. But then we eliminated the inherent scarcity and difficulty of copying that comes with tying the copyrighted work to the physical embodiment. The end result is that something like copyright is now the only practical way to sustain the system that evolved over the past 200-250 years.

You can't ignore the massive technological, economic, and cultural differences between the modern era's approach to the production and consumption of written works and the pre-modern approach. To say "things were written before copyright, they'll still be written if we get rid of it" is facile, as is to say "500 years ago authors were happy to have their works copied, so authors will be happy to be copied again today." Yes, that may be true, but it may also be true that it would mean reverting to a system whereby a lot of kinds of writing can only feasibly be done by those who can curry the favor of wealthy patrons such as corporations, the government, or religious groups.
posted by jedicus at 10:01 PM on May 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Churchhatestucker: this extra information comes from the article linked in this comment. So, now are we clear on how patent law, in this case, saves fingers?
posted by agentofselection at 10:02 PM on May 12, 2010


Home Depot says...

"We have a strong commitment to dealing with our business partners fairly and with integrity. . ."

Home Depot does...
"In July 2005, former employee Michael Davis. . . filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Home Depot, alleging that his discharge was in retaliation for refusing to make unwarranted backcharges against vendors. Davis alleges that the Home Depot forced its employees to meet a set quota of backcharges to cover damaged or defective merchandise, forcing employees to make chargebacks to vendors for merchandise that was undamaged and not defective."

Oh, and there's also the co-founder of Home Depot, Bernie Marcus...

"If a retailer. . . has not . . . spent money on this election . . . if he has not sent money to Norm Coleman and all these other (GOP candidates), they should be shot. They should be thrown out of their goddamn jobs."
posted by markkraft at 11:45 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks to this thread I just finished watching Flash of Genius. Ford Motor used similar tactics against Robert Kearns (inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper), including sending him hundreds of documents when he requested one. It made me think about the fight for justice and how far is too far. You lose a lot of time, money, and relationships. Michael Powell lost about six years (so far, they'll probably appeal, although it's great they have to pay interest if they do and lose), while Robert Kearns fought through decades and ended up representing himself.

I'm one of those people who can't "let things go". I hate the phrase "life isn't fair", not because it isn't true, but because it usually means "so let's not do anything about it". I'm glad Mr. Powell got his judgment, I'm sure it meant more to him than money.

The movie was a little long but worth watching, especially if you're one of the people who doesn't understand why we need patents. In a perfect world we wouldn't, but this isn't.
posted by Danila at 2:52 AM on May 13, 2010


I pay nearly five hundred dollars a month for patented drugs that the doctor says I need to make sure my blood keeps running (yeah, I made the mistake of moving within the USA with a preexisting condition and don't have as good insurance as I once did). Just a few months ago a number of people were telling me, and all the world how fair those charges were. shrug.

Better or worse than no such drugs at all?
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 6:29 AM on May 13, 2010


Don't bother arguing with ChurchHatesTucker. After watching his comments in this thread, I've come to realize he is adamantly opposed to:

a. anyone getting compensated for work they do that he doesn't consider worthy of pay
b. see above
c. all of the above

...so you might as well not waste your time. Of course, the difference between this and the "how to pay the writer" thread is that a major corporation slashed (ahem) their worker's comp injury costs by an extraordinary amount thanks to this inventor's device -- it isn't as if a fan of "not slicing off fingers" made one for his own use at home and now they're going after him. Home Depot deserved to get spanked, and spanked hard, for their actions here.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:01 AM on May 13, 2010


Churchhatestucker: this extra information comes from the article linked in this comment. So, now are we clear on how patent law, in this case, saves fingers?

Ah, thanks, missed that. Not sure it follows that granting a monopoly on the tech saves fingers, though.

Thanks to this thread I just finished watching Flash of Genius.

Oh gods, that is the worst example of someone patenting the bleeding obvious. Now, because it's a movie, it's the gold standard. (Seriously, intermittent circuit + windshield wiper = flash of genius?)

Don't bother arguing with ChurchHatesTucker. After watching his comments in this thread, I've come to realize he is adamantly opposed to:

a. anyone getting compensated for work they do that he doesn't consider worthy of pay


A) It's not for me to decide worth. Nor is it the job of the government (by way of granting artificial monopolies.)
B) Eponysterical
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:11 AM on May 13, 2010


To paraphrase holistic detective Dirk Gently paraphrasing someone else I can't be bothered to look up. Genius consists of making the hitherto nonexistent blindingly obvious. e.g. the catflap.
posted by Babblesort at 8:23 AM on May 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Genius consists of making the hitherto nonexistent blindingly obvious. e.g. the catflap.

So does it follow that patents should cover the blindingly obvious, e.g. one-click shopping?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:33 AM on May 13, 2010


Not sure it follows that granting a monopoly on the tech saves fingers, though.

Patents don't create monopolies. The patented invention is licensed to vendors who compete in the marketplace with their varying implementations of such.
posted by ericb at 8:45 AM on May 13, 2010


Not sure it follows that granting a monopoly on the tech saves fingers, though.

It's not for me to decide worth. Nor is it the job of the government (by way of granting artificial monopolies.)

A patent is not a monopoly. A monopoly prevents any competition. And while a patent is a right to exclude, anyone who wants to can enter the market with a better (or even just different) product. A patent just prevents everyone from benefiting from the sale or use of one specific product without paying for it, for a limited amount of time.

Or, as Frank Easterbrook has said, a patent behaves like a grant of real property, in that the owner of a house may exclude others from using it, but he certainly does not have a monopoly over the real estate market.
posted by devinemissk at 8:49 AM on May 13, 2010


a patent behaves like a grant of real property, in that the owner of a house may exclude others from using it, but he certainly does not have a monopoly over the real estate market.

This is an inaccurate description. It's more like the owner of the house may exclude others from constructing houses just like his.
posted by symbollocks at 8:57 AM on May 13, 2010


A patent is not a monopoly. A monopoly prevents any competition. And while a patent is a right to exclude...

I.e., a monopoly.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:05 AM on May 13, 2010


It might be a "limited" monopoly or a "regulated" monopoly or a "legal" monopoly but it's still a monopoly.

Definition of monopoly: a market in which there are many buyers but only one seller.

So: A market for the patent where the patent holder would be the only seller.
posted by symbollocks at 9:11 AM on May 13, 2010


This is an inaccurate description. It's more like the owner of the house may exclude others from constructing houses just like his.

I think by saying this, Easterbrook (as translated by Keith Wood in the linked article) was trying to point out that intellectual property isn't different from real property. Yes, a patent is not like a house, because when you own a house, you own just the one house while when you own a patent, you own the right to create as many of the patented products as you want. But pulling back a bit, the concept of ownership as applied to the house and to the patent is not different -- you own the right to exclusive use of something, whether it's the house or the patent. What you can do with that something, and what you can exclude others from doing when you own that property differs depending on what the property is.

In other words, your distinction turns the higher-level analogy into something more literal. After all, building plans for houses can be protected, usually by copyright. That's not the point Easterbrook is making.
posted by devinemissk at 9:14 AM on May 13, 2010


trying to point out that intellectual property isn't different from real property

Unfortunately, he failed to make this point as much as he may have wanted to make it.

the concept of ownership as applied to the house and to the patent is not different

This is precisely my problem with intellectual property rights. They violate physical property rights: my right to do whatever I want with what I own, regardless of whether someone has done it before or not. Physical and intellectual property rights are not the same thing if they contradict one another.
posted by symbollocks at 9:26 AM on May 13, 2010


This is precisely my problem with intellectual property rights. They violate physical property rights:

No, they don't. If you buy a safety cover for a rotary saw, you can do whatever you want with the one you buy. What you can't do is duplicate it and sell it -- because you don't own the patent. You own the object, you don't own the patent.

Look, property rights are not absolute. Even real property rights are not absolute. Let's say you own a condo. It's your condo, you can do what you want with it, right? No, you can't. Because you don't own the land it's on or the walls that surround it or the pipes and wires that bring water and electricity to your condo.

There's this way of thinking about property rights where those rights are analogized to a "bundle of sticks" and how many sticks you have determines how many rights you have. There's the right of exclusion, of alienation, of resale, of succession -- just to name a few. Intellectual property rights consist only of some of these "sticks," and real property rights consist of others of those sticks. They overlap in some places but not in others -- because not every property right is concerned with the physical (nor is every property right concerned with the intangible). That's why thinking about property in physical terms is not really useful.
posted by devinemissk at 10:38 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


So if I understand your "logic" ChurchHatesTucker, I should be allowed to copy George RR Martin's Game of Thrones seried word for word, slap it into paperbacks with the same titles, and sell them without giving Martin a cent.

Cool. So when Martin's IP lawyers come after me, it's OK if I refer them to you, right?
posted by happyroach at 11:13 AM on May 13, 2010


Was someone saying something about tort reform?

No, but someone should be saying something about the inability to multiply a settlement by an apparently reasonable 10% fee for services rendered. Look, I am not even a trial lawyer much less an attorney who specializes in IP or patent (no, just a lowly constitutional lawyer / contract lawyer / educator) but this is ridiculous on its face as an objection to tort reform.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:19 AM on May 13, 2010


No, they don't. If you buy a safety cover for a rotary saw, you can do whatever you want with the one you buy. What you can't do is duplicate it and sell it...

Yeah, therein lies the conflict.

Why not? Because the state has said that you cannot. Why? Because the state has granted a monopoly to somebody.

In the EU (as I understand) has a first to file system, so this doesn't even have to be the person who was the first to be annoyed by his cat trying to get outside and figured out the obvious solution, it just has to be the first one who presented the idea to the bureaucrats.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:22 AM on May 13, 2010


So if I understand your "logic" ChurchHatesTucker, I should be allowed to copy George RR Martin's Game of Thrones seried word for word, slap it into paperbacks with the same titles, and sell them without giving Martin a cent.

If my concept of copyright was in effect, yes, you could.

And then maybe he'd get off his ass with the latest one.

Instead of worrying about fanfic, for crying out loud.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:25 AM on May 13, 2010


Why not? Because the state has said that you cannot. Why? Because the state has granted a monopoly to somebody.

It is also the state that says you cannot walk into a person's home and take their things. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that property rights aren't a product of the state.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:29 AM on May 13, 2010


Hum. So ChurchHatesTucker, in your perfect world somebody should be able to grab an iPad or Prius, duplicate it, and then sell exact copies (down to the labels) that you can call "iPad" or "Prius"? Or do only corporations have the right to make money off their inventions?

You aren't by any chance writing on an "Appel MacIntash" that you acquired in a shop in Hong Kong, are you?
posted by happyroach at 11:35 AM on May 13, 2010


It's your condo, you can do what you want with it, right? No, you can't. Because you don't own the land it's on or the walls that surround it or the pipes and wires that bring water and electricity to your condo.

But then you would be violating someone elses property rights... So you really can do whatever you want with the parts of the condo that you own. I don't understand what you mean when you say that rights are not "absolute".

It is also the state that says you cannot walk into a person's home and take their things.

Maybe so, but you fail to consider that I can tell myself that I should not be walking into people's homes and taking their stuff. Same with murder.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that property rights aren't a product of the state.

Certainly the state has it's definition of property rights, but don't you as well? Well, let's hear it. After all, property rights are the most ubiquitous tool of human kind. It's all but meaningless to say that you are "against" property rights.
posted by symbollocks at 12:38 PM on May 13, 2010


But then you would be violating someone elses property rights... So you really can do whatever you want with the parts of the condo that you own.

Just like you can do whatever you want with the property rights you have in that safety guard. You can't duplicate it and sell it because that violates the patent holder's property rights. That's what I mean when I say that property rights are not absolute. Just because you own a "thing" doesn't give you title to every single property right that might vest in that thing.

If you want to make an argument for some kind of natural or moral property right, well, you might find that a hard sell. For most of human history, the only property right was "If I can take it from you, it's mine." I suspect you're not arguing for a return to that model.
posted by devinemissk at 12:54 PM on May 13, 2010


um. So ChurchHatesTucker, in your perfect world somebody should be able to grab an iPad or Prius, duplicate it, and then sell exact copies (down to the labels) that you can call "iPad" or "Prius"?

Nope, that's what trademark law is for. (Or was for, until the lawyers got nutty with the whole 'dilution' thing.)

But if someone wants to make a tablet, or hybrid car, that should be encouraged, not entangled in the courts.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2010


Certainly the state has it's definition of property rights, but don't you as well? Well, let's hear it. After all, property rights are the most ubiquitous tool of human kind. It's all but meaningless to say that you are "against" property rights.

I also have my concept of intellectual property rights. We can babble on about ideal configurations and definitions of those rights, but the reality is that no property right has ever existed without a state of some kind creating and defining it. Pretending that there's some kind of inherent or ultimate or "real" property right outside of states is silly and anti-historical.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:27 PM on May 13, 2010


Pretending that there's some kind of inherent or ultimate or "real" property right outside of states is silly and anti-historical.

So outside of the rule of law there are no rights? Arguable, but rather theoretic at that point. However, pretending that an injunction against 'dressing like me' is the same thing as taking my house is pretty silly itself. (Well, silly really isn't the word, but I'm making an analogy. (Or rather the opposite of an analogy. (What's that called?)))
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:54 PM on May 13, 2010


the reality is that no property right has ever existed without a state of some kind creating and defining it

What do you think about the work of Elinor Ostrom? Her research seems to indicate that property rights can indeed develop outside of the influence of the state, even in opposition to it.

Do you think it is necessary for the state to define property rights? Is it necessary that everyone's conception of those rights be exactly the same as everyone else's in order to work?
posted by symbollocks at 5:18 AM on May 14, 2010


ChurchHatesTucker: "So outside of the rule of law there are no rights? "

Beyond the rule of law you can have whatever rights you're able to enforce on your own. If you have all the guns and decide you have a right to everyone's money, *poof* that's your right.
posted by mullingitover at 2:50 PM on May 14, 2010


Yeah, without the MEN WITH GUNS, your rights are about as important as any given gnat.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:56 PM on May 14, 2010


Well, we could probably do with a crash course in the definition of 'inalienable,' but since, as I pointed out, the argument is theoretical absent the rule of law, I won't bother.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:41 PM on May 14, 2010


A right being "inalienable" simply means that the government that grants it promises not to take it away.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:12 AM on May 15, 2010


A right being "inalienable" simply means that the government that grants it promises not to take it away.

And we're back to theoretical vs. practical definitions.

It's turtles all the way down, either way.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:14 PM on May 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


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