PATENTS


In the preface to "Design For the Real World", Victor Papanek (1971) says that his book is written from the viewpoint that there is something basically wrong with the whole concept of patents and copyrights. He says that if he designs a toy that is therapeutic for handicapped children to play with, it would be unjust to hold up the availability of the design by 18 months whilst he applied for a patent.

He also says that it is wrong to make money from the needs of others, especially since ideas are plentiful and cheap. He quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying that he intended to publish anonymously the details of his invention, the hemp-break, so as to pre-empt the blocking of it by any interfering patentee.

Papanek, like Jefferson, prefers not to be granted patents on his designs, but is keen that no-one should be able to patent them either, and his way round this is to put the design into the public realm, to make it public property rather than private property.

Fuller was extremely wary of business interests jeopardizing his projects by patent chicanery, but he took the opposite course. He employed the best patent lawyer he could afford and made sure to obtain absolutely airtight patents for all his inventions.

Referring to the geodesic dome patent, he said:

"The moment domes became big business, the great companies like General Electric and Kaiser wanted to build them, and came to see me about doing so on a royalty basis. I sent them all to Robertson. He told me that each of their patent attorneys had said to him: 'Of course, the first thing my clients wanted me to do was to find a way to get round the geodesic patents, but I couldn't do it they are so superbly drawn.'"

Two points arise from this for Fuller: big business, which now makes its major profits out of know-how, deliberately steals know-how wealth whenever possible and secondly, as he put it:

"If I had not had those patents, you never would have heard of me."

Fuller's earliest excursus is chapter 36 of Nine Chains, "Throwing in the Patented Sponge", and he returns to the theme 45 years later in Critical Path (pp.146-150).

Patents and designers' initiative is briefly discussed in Dymaxion World (p.64).

Fuller's patent lawyer, Donald W. Robertson, wrote a short book about the former's patented livingry designs.



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Paul Taylor 2001