Steve A wrote:We often say on these pages that you don't need to register copyright on a song or composition because the copyright automatically belongs to you when you create something. I find it curious that in cases such like these, it is apparently only an expensive patent that can protect you from other people copying your designs.
Without getting into too much detail, patents, copyright and design rights are different things with different objectives and different durations. Lots of countries don't have any kind of design right protection at all.
For all of them though, you have to go back to the purpose of intellectual property laws (ignore trademark for now, that's a different beast). Why would a government grant a monopoly to an individual for a new idea or piece of technology? What's the public benefit?
If we go back to the US constitution* we get this:
"[the United States Congress shall have power] To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."
Now a lot of people get this back to front in terms of purpose and mechanism, but the manner of writing is consistent across large chunks of the constitution. Purpose, followed by mechanism (see also the 2nd amendment for a good example).
Purpose: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,
Mechanism: by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
The purpose of copyright and patents is not to provide an income for inventors and creators, it's to promote the progress of arts and science. The mechanism is to give these creators a limited-time, government-backed monopoly to exploit those ideas, so that they can create more.
Ideally, if you wanted to really drive innovation and creation, you'd look at all the available research, work out over what period a new product achieves the bulk of its income (the short tail) and set your duration to that point.
After which the public gets its payback from the monopoly by those rights entering the public domain. That's the quid pro quo.
So to going back to the original point, patents aren't granted automatically** because they need to show a non-obvious development or enhancement. They're expensive because when you submit it an examiner needs to look through the existing body of relevant work and determine whether your innovation is a genuinely new and useful improvement. Well, that's what should happen, there are a lot of stupid patents granted that don't do this.
If your new design is just moving around the sequence of functions, or extending their range, or doing any other obvious development of an existing idea - no patent.
Design rights or design patents in the US have a 15 year life, it's similar in the UK. So even if these classic synths were registered at the time (a lot won't have been) they'll now be long out of protection.
And the world gets to move on and enjoy the innovation that is built off the back of them. :)
* partly because it applies to most of the main distribution channels but also it has some of the clearest discussion around the pros and cons and was arguably less influenced by lobbying than the statute of Anne (on which it's based).
** It's worth remembering that for a long time copyright only existed if it was similarly registered, the automatic copyrighting only came about in 1992. If you're in the US and want to take legal action you still need to register your copyright first to have any sensible chance of a successful challenge.