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Automating Invention is Robert Plotkin's blog on the impact of computer-automated inventing on the future of invention and patent law.

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November 30, 2008

Patents vs. Prizes

The patent system, when it works properly, can provide incentives to inventors to create new inventions and make them available to the public.  Patents, however, are not the only tool we have for encouraging innovation.  Prizes, as Anya Kamenetz reports in Fast Company, are another such tool. Innovation prizes "gave the world guns and butter--specifically, the AK-47 and margarine.  They sent Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis from New York to Paris and Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne almost 70 miles above the earth--twice."

As the article rightly points out, prizes can be a great way to spur innovations in certain circumstances, such as when the the prize-granter can clearly define the problem to be solved and the criteria that a winning solution must meet.  Patents, and markets in general, tend to do a better job at spurring innovation when the problem to be solved, or the kind of invention that will solve it, are not yet known.

Posted by Robert at 1:36 PM | Comments (0)
category: Intellectual Property Law | Technology Industry

November 21, 2008

Your Genome for $399

Not quite your entire genome, but for $399 the startup company 23andMe will analyze your genome and provide you with personal information including predictions of your risk of developing certain diseases.  All they need in addition to your $399 is a sample of your saliva, reports Technology Review.

Posted by Robert at 5:45 PM | Comments (0)
category: Technology Industry

November 19, 2008

Outsourcing Manufacturing Isn't Just for Large Companies Anymore

Are you an individual designer or inventor who wants to earn a living from selling your products but who doesn't have the time, inclination, or money to sell your products yourself, and who wants to be your own boss? No worries. Wired magazine reports that a company named Ponoko will let you upload your designs to them in digital form. They will then market your products for you. When a customer purchases your latest chair, Ponoko will use its laser cutters to cut your chair from a block of wood and/or plastic, based on your digital design, and then ship the resulting product to the customer's door. Ponoko sends you a cut of the sale price. The result is that you can focus on being creative and leave the messy details of marketing, manufacturing, and distribution to someone else. Ponoko is just one example the article provides of companies that are spurring the "rise of the instapreneur."

Posted by Robert at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)
category: Design & Engineering | Technology Industry

November 17, 2008

My Book on Invention Automation to be Published by Stanford in Spring 2009

My book on computer-automated inventing, The Genie in the Machine: How Computer-Automated Inventing Is Revolutionizing Law and Business, is scheduled to be published by Stanford University Press in April 2009, and is available for pre-order now from Amazon.com.

Those of you who have been reading this blog over the years are already familiar with the basic themes addressed in the book.  The book, however, goes into much greater depth, drawing on seven years of primary research into the topic, including dozens of interviews with pioneers in the field.

From the publisher's page:

We have long considered inventing to be a uniquely human activity. But just as the assembly line automated the process of manufacturing, today's computers are automating the process of inventing. Software can automatically generate designs for everything from toothbrushes to antennas to automobile frames more quickly and inexpensively than ever before, thereby ushering in a new era of artificial invention.

Inventors will use artificial invention technology to boost their inventive abilities to previously undreamed-of heights, enabling small teams of inventors to compete with mega-corporations who insist on inventing the old-fashioned way. Even consumers will be able to use artificial invention technology to become inventors themselves. We stand poised to see the emergence of the "digital renaissance artisan"--a person who will have the ability to not only design new inventions at the touch of a button, but also to manufacture them automatically from the comfort of home. As Robert Plotkin reveals in this landmark book, our decisions about these inventions today will dictate who gets to control this powerful technology tomorrow.

Should inventions designed by software be patentable? Should the software that produces those designs be patentable? The Genie in the Machine offers the first-ever examination of the implications of artificial invention technology for patent law, the law of invention. Along with practical advice for inventors, high-tech companies, and patent lawyers, this forward-looking book provides concrete recommendations for reforming patent law in light of the growing importance of invention-automation technology.

Advance praise for the book is already coming in.  John Koza, Consulting Professor at Stanford University, has the following to say:

Plotkin's book demonstrates that computer-automated inventing is not an academic curiosity or fad, but rather a new way of inventing that will dominate the 21st Century and change how we invent--and how we think about inventing--forever.

Stay tuned for many more updates as the publication date approaches.

Posted by Robert at 7:57 AM | Comments (0)
category: Genie in the Machine

November 16, 2008

Gamers Solve Problems in Science and Computing

New Scientist reports on an expanding breed of online games that use human problem-solving skills to make progress on cutting-edge problems in science and computing.  For example, the puzzles at www.fold.it require players to manipulate 3D structures to fit into the smallest possible space.  The web site uses the solutions provided by users to help scientists learn about how proteins fold in the real world.

This and other examples provided in the article are examples of ways in which clever uses of distributed computing are increasingly combining software with human problem-solvers to leverage and combine the strengths of each, and to achieve results that could not have been obtain by either computers or humans individually.

Posted by Robert at 5:56 PM | Comments (0)
category: Artificial Invention | Design & Engineering