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The public interest is best served by the free exchange of ideas.
John Kane
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A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state to a patentee (the inventor or assignee) for a fixed period of time in exchange for the regulated, public disclosure of certain details of a device, method, process or composition of matter (substance) (known as an invention) which is new, inventive, and useful or industrially applicable.


  • A country without a patent office and good patent laws is just a crab and can't travel any way but sideways and backwards.
    • Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)
  • Before then [the adoption of the United States Constitution], any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.
    • Abraham Lincoln, Second lecture on discoveries and inventions, February 11, 1859 [1] (from page 356b) [2].
  • If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
  • If one does not know whether a system “as a whole” (in contrast to certain features of it) is good or bad, the safest “policy conclusion” is to “muddle through” – either with it, if one has long lived with it, or without it, if one has lived without it... If we did not have a patent system, it would be irresponsible, on the basis of our present knowledge of its economic consequences, to recommend instituting one. But since we have had a patent system for a long time, it would be irresponsible, on the basis of our present knowledge, to recommend abolishing it. This last statement refers to a country such as the United States of America – not to a small country and not a predominantly nonindustrial country, where a different weight of argument might well suggest another conclusion...
    • Fritz Machlup, An Economic Review of the Patent System (U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights, Study No. 15), pp.79-80 (1958).
  • In the field of industrial patents in particular we shall have seriously to examine whether the award of a monopoly privilege is really the most appropriate and effective form of reward for the kind of risk bearing which investment in scientific research involves.
  • Patents are the best and most effective means of controlling competition. They occasionally give absolute command of the market, enabling their owner to name the price without regard to the cost of production... Patents are the only legal form of absolute monopoly.
  • Well, then, the moment there is a patent case one can see it before the case is opened, or called in the list. How can we see it? We can see it by a pile of books as high as this invariably... Now, what is the result of all this? Why that a man had better have his patent infringed, or have anything happen to him in this world, short of losing all his family by influenza, than have a dispute about a patent. His patent is swallowed up, and he is ruined. Whose fault is it? It is really not the fault of the law; it is the fault of the mode of conducting the law in a patent case. This is what causes all this mischief.
  • The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.
    • Henry L. Ellsworth, commissioner of the Patent Office, 1843 report to Congress (note that the context is the increasing workload at the patent office) .[1]


  • Certainly an inventor ought to be allowed a right to the benefit of his invention for some certain time. Nobody wishes more than I do that ingenuity should receive liberal encouragement. In the arts, and especially in the mechanical arts, many ingenious improvements are made in consequence of the patent right giving exclusive use of them for fourteen years.


  • "Everything that can be invented has been invented."
    • Often attributed to comissioner of the U.S. Patent Office Charles H. Duell and dated 1899. Although versions of this quote/legend (sometimes with names, dates, and other details changed) are widely circulated, they appear to be a distorted expansion of the Ellsworth quote above, taken out of context.[1]


  1. a b Samuel Sass (May-June, 2003). "A Patently False Patent Myth still". Skeptical Inquirer.

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