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[FYI] FFII Advisor Dr. Karl-Friedrich Lenz on certain Aspects of Patent Law.
FFII Advisor Dr. Karl-Friedrich Lenz on certain Aspects of Patent
Mr. Karl-Friedrich Lenz, Law Professor at the Aoyama Gakuin
University in Tokyo, has decided to provide a comment on my earlier
posting on the removal of a certain US Patent from the public on-line
patent database mainatined by the U.S. Patent and Trade Mark Office
(USPTO). Dr. Lenz writes:
"[...] On the other hand, Axel H. Horns might be right in commenting
that the basic social contract behind the patent system is granting a
temporary monopoly in exchange for public information. That would
mean that the very fundaments of the patent system require that every
lunatic on the planet is served by the Patent Office with information
about how to use ricin for the next large scale attack.
That in turn would seem to lead to an excellent argument for
wholesale abolition of the patent system, if anybody should get
inclined to call for such abolition, for example as a reaction to the
mess caused by software patents.
"Look! The patent office is helping terrorists to develop their WMD
ability! And we can't even stop that without compromising the basic
social contract the patent system is built on."
This is a strong argument. I am personally very much interested in
preserving a free Internet. However, I draw a line at pages
describing technology to build weapons of mass destruction. Leaving
this information freely available can kill people. The level of
damage possibly arising from that is extremely high.
I'll be happy to come back to this case if I ever feel that there is
no other hope left than calling for abolition.
And, by the way, if the patent in question can still be found in
foreign databases, that only proves that it needs to be removed from
those immediately as well. [...]" Firstly and on a more pragmatic
level I must say that Dr. Lenz's proposal to remove the said patent
from other on-line databases is as futile as the manipulation of the
public database of the U.S.-PTO was because of the said patent
document has been in the public since more than fourty years, and
surely there are too many copies out there barring any attempt to
successfully re-collect all of them. These copies are not only
availabe in more or less centralised databases but also in
collections of patent documents stored on CD-ROMS and sold to
everybody who wanted to have them, not to forget the paper-copy
collections maintained in many places around the world. A lot of
patent information centres, companies with an interest in patents,
patent searchers, patent document suppliers and the like own vast
collections of patent documents on CD-ROMs or even on paper. You
can't put such stuff back into the bottle after more than forty
years, and any attempt to calm down the genral public by such actions
is in effect nothing else than disinformation.
Secondly, I would like to note that the said patent, if seen from the
perspective of 1962 (the year in which the patent was granted and
published), is not necessarily as directed to "lunatics" as
attributed by Dr. Lenz. I am neither a chemist nor a pharmacologist
but I know that sometimes poisonous substances extracted from various
plants might be valuable pharmaceuticals if given at a very low
dosage or if chemically modified. So far as I know today there is no
medical usage of ricin or of ricin derivates but might it have been
worth in 1962 just to consider thinking of such potential "positive"
usage of ricin? It is a rather simple task to point at the risk of
terroristic misuse of ricin from today's point of view. It is quite
another task to forsee future implications of any new technology.
Finally, I think that it is necessary to point out some more general
implications of Dr. Lenz's proposal. It is not very difficult to use
the "International Patent Classification (IPC)" scheme to wade
through myriads of patent documents e.g. in the field of explosives
(e.g. IPC Classes C06B, C06C) or weaponry technology (e.g. IPC
Classes F41, F42). Should all these documents be kept secret?
Moreover, reportedly the bombs in the Madrid commuter trains have
been triggered using some mobile phone technology. Thereorectically,
patent documents in this field might have been helpful in preparing
such devices. Why not trying to keep secret even all patent documents
in the field of telecommunication?
Each and every effective technology has a certain potential to
provide power to those individuals who are in a position to make use
of it. To tackle the fear of terrorism this way would mean that any
powerful technology must be locked away and hidden from the general
public, and only a small sworn-in fraternity of "monks of technology"
trusted by the state can be allowed to deal therewith as it is
currently attempted to enforce with regard to nuclear weapons
technology (without much success as it looks). This would be,
needless to say, absolutely incompatible with any concept of an open
The above-quoted comments provided by Dr. Lenz are interesting all
the more as he surely can be seen as an influencial adivsor of Mr.
Pilch, President of the FFII e.V. So it is not very much surprising
that Dr. Lenz considers public anxieties against mis-use of
technology as a "strong argument" to harm the patent system even if
he serves some lip-service to assure that he is interested in
preserving a free Internet. Effectively, there are strange parallels
between the position of this advisor to the FFII e.V. and proposals
coming from another side as already reported in my earlier posting
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