Tuesday, March 3, 2009

[Yasmin_discussions] artists/patents - open source/artist funding/utilitarianism/techno-cultural history

Great idea to have discussion on art and patents. Thanks to all for
participating. I wanted to flag some issues to think about.

invention vs patentable invention: I agree with several people that
invention is a core process in the arts. This means creating new ways
to do things. Any discussion of this gets us into a general
discussion of creativity in the arts. I think we may be focusing here
on a slightly more restricted idea - that is, an innovative
functional entity that could potentially be patented.

Patents/open source - good or bad? Usually the common idea is that
patents tie up useful ideas in a socially dysfunctional way. There is
an enlightened side to patents. Part of the system is indeed to
protect the inventor. (although that often gets perverted when
corporations get the license.) Also it is designed to put the
descriptions of inventions into the public domain. In the US, you
can't get a patent unless you make public a full description of the
idea and supporting documentation. This potentially is a great
stimulus to new ideas. Open source would be an alternative if it
somehow also paid attention to creating a public archive

Artist funding: Artists face a major problem of how to support their
activities. Making some money off a patent is not necessarily an evil
way to go. Reasonable small royalties from ideas developed by an
artist seems a support method worth investigating. Also look a Mike
Naimark's essay that explored artist innovation support. He suggested
that artists might establish collaboratives that would generate
support partly from patent like royalties.
"Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Money: Technology-Based Art and the
Dynamics of Sustainability,"

How important is the utilitarian aspect? I teach a course in art and
research. One of the assignments ask students to generate a
conceptual patent and prepare its description in the same form used to
apply for patents. I think it is useful for artists to explore what
it would take to push an idea along to a specific form that could be
described in a patent application. The assignment asks them to create
an idea that is not utilitarian. Many have a problem with that -
patent means utilitarian ( as opposed to commentary, exploration,
humor, etc.) You can see some of the mock patents at the bottom of
this page.

Just a couple of other ideas to consider:

Patents as techno-cultural history and commentary. The corpus of
patents is an amazing repository The statistics indicate that only 1
in 10,000 in the US system or less go forward to any kind of
development, let alone distribution. It is amazing to see this
documentation of patterns of interest. Why do so many ideas become
abandoned? The market is not always the best decider. I fear the
culture is losing many ideas that could be quite
useful/valuable/provocative. When I was an artist-in-residence at
Xerox PARC I saw them abandon many wonderful ideas because they were
not marketable. Maybe there is a role for the arts to pursue orphaned

Invention vs production: I once went through the process to receive a
patent for some devices I had invented for my art. It was quite a
long, expensive and educational journey. I did it mostly to learn
about the process and maybe in the back of my head I thought I might
make some money to support my art. I met a lot of interesting and
sleazy people because I was featured in Venture magazine as the patent
of the month. I spent a year peddling the idea. I got a greeting
card company interested with a potential first order of 100,000 but
they wanted me to set up the production. Production engineering is a
lot less fun and quite different than inventing (although it does
require resourcefulness). I gave it all up because it was taking too
much time sway from the art and next inventions.

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