Skip to main content Accessibility Feedback

The Inventor’s Dilemma

Did you know that the point of the Copyright Act of 1790 and the Patent Act of 1790 was not to help creators maintain exclusive rights indefinitely or line their pockets with cash?

In fact, the intent was actually to promote useful art, create a rich public domain, and help drive the spread of great ideas. It was about improving the common good.

When an inventor creates something new, he or she needs to recover not just the cost making that good, but the research and development costs as well. Copycat products don’t need to recover research costs, so they can sell their product for much cheaper. This makes its difficult for original inventors to recover their investment cost, and disincentives creators.

The Copyright Act and Patent Act were created to provide inventors with a short window of exclusivity in which to recover their costs.

Over time, this notion of exclusive ownership spread. Companies like Disney lobbied for longer protection periods. The notion of intellectual property - ideas and not just products as property - was formed.

Copyright and patent law today often hinder rather than help the spread of great ideas.

Kirby Ferguson covers these topics and more in the fantastic and final installment of his Everything is a Remix series. You can watch all four videos here.