The Big List
ON INVENTORS' SECRECY Feb 1996 William Beaty
The inventors of the personal computer published detailed construction
plans for their "Altair" home computer in 1976, in Popular Electronics
magazine. And over the years there have been large numbers of build-it
articles published in many electronics magazines, articles with detailed
construction info for very advanced devices, as well as many thousands of
lesser devices. How can people do this? Are they totally insane? Won't
their competitors steal all their work?
It's usually useless to patent an electronic product, so protection of the
ideas involve secrecy rather than patent protection. Patents on circuitry
are hard to defend sucessfully, so the main protection a company can use
is unmarked chips, unreadable EPROMs, board encapsulation, and other
methods for preserving the trade secrets. This being the case, why would
anyone EVER publish full construction information in a magazine? Doesn't
it totally wreck the secrecy needed to stay in business?
The answer is; SECRECY IS NOT NEEDED FOR SUCCESS. The construction plans
constitute powerful free advertizing. They also give considerable
protection for designs. If everyone knows your design, then everyone will
notice when someone starts making illegal copies of your products. Those
who want to steal ideas would rather NOT do it blatantly in front of the
whole world. A published article confers some copyright protection.
Also, there's protection gained from the psychology involving, "if they're
giving it away free, it must not be worth anything."
The secrecy vs. publicity argument has an analogy in cooking. Should a
master chef keep all his/her techniques secret? E.g. carefully regulate
who is allowed to learn secrets, only teach acolytes, start a "school,"
etc? That's one way to proceed. But why not instead make the whole world
a better place, and publish a cookbook? The presence of a cookbook
converts all your sneaky competitors into unskilled copycats in the eyes
of the public. To who will the big customers go when high-end consulting
is needed? Not to the competition! And a cookbook lets small customers
do it themselves, which tends to wreck the business of any unskilled ,
small competitors who survive by theft. And finally, it's impossible to
really teach everything via a cookbook. The same is true in many other
fields, so releasing the secrets is not incompatible with running a
restaurant, or being a sucessful inventor.
The inventors of the Altair home computer founded the PC revolution. They
could have carefully kept their device a complete secret, and sold it as a
sealed "black box", or perhaps sold it to a large company at the outset.
But had they done so, wouldn't the world be a very different place today?
Access to computers should be unlimited and total.
Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative
All information should be free.
Mistrust authority--promote decentralization.
George Wiseman's NO PATENT page
Brian Martin AGAINST INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY