from the locking-stuff-up-isn't-a-very-good-thing dept
We’ve had plenty of discussions about Thomas Jefferson’s views on the patent system. He is, clearly, the father of the patent system in the US. While he was incredibly skeptical of the idea of granting any monopolies originally, he did come around to accept patents in very limited circumstances, and when he oversaw the patent system, he was careful to make sure that the downsides of such monopolies were limited. Separately, for many years, I’ve heard the story of how Ben Franklin purposely decided not to patent his stove invention, stating:
“As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”
However, I had not heard of a similar story involving Thomas Jefferson refusing to patent certain inventions he came up with as well. Reader jprlk points us to a recent Straight Dope column, which is mostly about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s exposure to marijuana, but there is one interesting part about how Jefferson refused to patent his “hemp brake” patent, because he found the invention to be “too important”:
Jefferson invented a better “hemp brake” to separate the fibers from the stalks, something he thought was so important agriculturally that he refused to patent it.
Combined with the Franklin quote, this is quite telling. In both cases, they realized that the invention could be a lot more useful if it were not limited. This goes against claims by patent supporters that (1) an invention is not a “real invention” if it’s not patented and (2) the patent system is necessary for better dissemination of ideas. It’s nice to see (yet again) that Thomas Jefferson, despite overseeing the early years of our patent system, clearly was quite skeptical of the actual benefits of such a system.