Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Law and Technology's Social Conscience

Patents are tricky creatures of intellectual property rights because they operate on a first-to-register basis. Some innovators have sacrificed quality to beat their competitors in the registration game. Others have resorted to covert operations in protecting trade secrets and thereby ensure competitors cannot patent such secrets (think along the lines of Coca Cola). Still others have twisted and manipulated the rules just to get patents on products which are neither novel nor inventive (think along the lines of pharmaceutical companies).

It makes you think, between law and technology, is there a place for morality? Pranav Mistry, an MIT graduate, decided to go against the flow of the me-first’s and gimme-gimme’s and showed the world that above law and technology there is still morality and social conscience. Mistry came up with the Sixth Sense technology allowing digital information to be projected on physical objects around the user.1 Users could project maps, games, web pages, documents, and every application you could think of placing in a computer, cellphone, or gaming device. Not only would they be able to project these applications but they would be able to interact with them such that a cafĂ© wall would be transformed into a tablet PC; a roll of tissue paper into a PSP; a person’s palm into a cellular phone; and a person’s fingertips into a camera lens.

Any legal mind would immediately cry “Patent!” at such an invention. Mistry chose the road less travelled by practicing the kindergarten philosophy that to give is better than to receive. Mistry refused to patent his invention and made the technology available to all so that it might be used for advancement of areas for the benefit of the common good. By so doing, Mistry enforced the very reason for the birth of intellectual property law – to encourage inventors to create in order that society might benefit from innovations and in order that society’s body of knowledge might be furthered. This only shows that law and technology has a social conscience, if only it would not be ignored.

Maricris L. Real (Entry No. 1)

Follow the links to take a look at Pranav Mistry's Sixth Sense:


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