I sat down to write about non-obviousness as a thought experiment. I’d cleared my desk of a litter of barely legible notes, making room for a Gedankenexperiment and a second cup of strong coffee. These notes were written in bed in the dark between 4 and 5 this morning. That’s a trick I learned from Lia though it’s taken me twenty years to put it into practice.
Then my phone almost saved me from myself. I was contacted, though not tasked, to see if there were any giraffes in my study. A safari of this kind required I reload an enormous back-catalogue of photos into Lightroom which left me with time and coffee-energy to write up a non-obvious journal entry.
You may not know that non-obviousness (US) and inventive step (UK) are requirements for patents. The protection of an invention requires that it be something beyond the state of the art; you might say a patent represents a step change in the UK that wasn’t obvious in America. Bright new ideas are treated differently across the spread of an ocean. As Oscar Wilde wrote in The Canterville Ghost in 1887 ‘we have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, language.’ And therein is the thought that wormed its way around my brain last night; what about the ideas the other seven billion people have? Don’t we see further because we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors? If a novel idea is good, and since we all have parents, it’s built on what went before, isn’t it good for everyone? If freely shared with everyone, isn’t it fairer and won’t humanity advance faster?
You’re probably annoyed and preparing the proprietary investment research defence. Let me redirect you and say that I bought global brand-name batteries in La Paz for one tenth the price of the US because that’s all the Bolivian market could afford. Or how I had a friend who worked for a bank that funded the return of an American cola into Burma. Prices were kept low by manufacturing inside the country. The fully depreciated machines were newer than you’d imagine but the price was market appropriate. Let me add that I was once prescribed a drug to combat bacterial pneumonia in Venezuela. I later discussed the side-effects at home with a dinner guest who worked for a major pharmaceutical company and who expressed disbelief. It turned out that her employer developed and produced the drug. It got withdrawn over ‘unwanted’ effects, the stock was supposedly destroyed not dumped in Latin America. To be fair, while the hallucinations were awesome and the paranoia was tough to handle, my fever had come down and I felt good enough to travel home (and that’s how I have a strange story to tell about Lockerbie another day). Draw your own conclusions on cost recovery deals, asymmetrical incentives, tax breaks or deferrals and all the things that might make sense of these imbalances. Or just accept that if you can pay more, you will. Call it involuntary philanthropy and feel good.
Is it a wonder that so many countries ignore intellectual property and patent rights? It’s an irrational mess. Such rights protection may be an inversion of Maslow’s pyramid; rewards accrue to the ‘one’ from the monetised benefits of the ‘many’. Surely promoting the self-fulfilment of the ‘many’ is among the highest objectives of ‘one’ humanity?
Some non-obvious or inventive steps are needed to manage the current pandemic, the aftermath and the aspiration to a better humanity:
– How about a look at the world’s lotteries that tax the poor in order to fund future olympians (in one country anyway)? Why not temporarily redirect the money to personal protection equipment and services?
– Why do we see military planes flying over cities in support of healthcare worker? Who doesn’t understand that military planes are ‘legitimised’ terror weapons that earn their living slaughtering?
– Why is it OK to highlight egg shortages rather than the slaughter of 500,000 hens that caught avian flu H6N1 in Ireland this week? Where are the penalties to discourage poor welfare management on behalf of the chickens and all the other animals that we eat? Bats notwithstanding.
‘Whose lives are considered valuable, whose lives are mourned, and whose lives are considered ungrievable?’ That’s a non-obvious and inventive step of logic by philosopher Judith Butler who won’t make millions from inventing the concept of ‘grievability’. Oops, the irony is that in English we ‘coin’ rather than ‘invent’ words, phrases and concepts. Arguably, Butler’s concept is worth far more to humanity than any drug or tool or widget that’s patentable. We attended her UCD lecture in 2019 on The ethics and politics of non-violence. It resonates to this day.
As Butler points out: ‘Precisely because a living being may die, it is necessary to care for that being so that it may live.’
Have we heard nursing homes, grievability and Covid-19 together in one sentence recently? Could it be there’s a shortage of eggs and ethics both? Here endeth the Gedankenexperiment.