Fame is a distorting and highly overrated quality — as the late, great David Bowie knew so well. Especially now in the Internet Age — when everyone shares publicly every tiny facet of their existence. Especially now in the Omni-Media Age, which introduced us to the phrase, “famous for being famous” (See: Kardashians).
But the things that allow people to achieve and maintain fame (and wealth, and freedom, and opportunity, and just about everything worth anything) are for the most part invented by people almost no one has heard of. Inventors toil in anonymity to make the famous possible.
But if you know any inventors, you know that’s how most of them want it. And even the ones of whom we all have heard, we almost never think of as inventors. Bowie was world-renowned as a musician, fashion icon and actor. But Bowie was also a really creative, innovative inventor. And lest we forget — he invented his songs and various personas.
Billions of people knew Bowie as an innovator but didn’t think of him as an inventor. Which is a shame. Because you can’t innovate without first inventing.
Artur Fischer just passed away at 96 years of age. He was not famous. But he did more to improve our lives than just about anyone in the 20th Century. Because he was an Inventor par excellence. He had more patents over the course of his life than did the famous Thomas Edison.
Der Spiegel wrote, “What Bill Gates was to the personal computer, Artur Fischer is to do-it-yourself home repair.” Which sells Fischer way short, because his inventions revolutionized the entire construction industry. And the photography industry (the synchronized flash — his first invention). Fischer created all sorts of things that make life for millions (billions?) cheaper, easier and better.
Oh — and inventors are the font of the creation of a LOT of jobs. Lots of people have gigs manufacturing, distributing and selling what Bill Gates has invented. The number of ancillary gigs (and wealth) created by people using Gates’ inventions is literally incalculable.
One of Fischer’s inventions was a nylon plug that made driving a screw into plaster walls much easier. Today, fourteen million of these plugs are manufactured every day. That is a LOT of gigs and wealth, primary and ancillary.
What makes Fischer’s, Gates’, Bowie’s and every inventor’s life possible is intellectual property protection. Legal protection of their inventions, so they can derive compensation for their creations — and roll that coin into their next ideas.
Unfortunately, there are currently some famous people looking to undermine the largely anonymous world of the inventor. Their efforts would allow people to steal short-term — at the expense of the long-term viability of our entire economy.
To wit: Mark Cuban. Cuban in 1995 co-founded Broadcast.com, and in 1999 Yahoo! way overpaid $5.7 billion for it. Ever since, Cuban has (in Donald Trump-like fashion) built himself into a brand — The Entrepreneur. He even has a business start-up TV show (like Donald Trump had) — Shark Tank.
Unfortunately, Cuban is on a very public campaign against what he calls “patent trolls.” He has funded a Chair at the Electronic Freedom Foundation dubbed, “The Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents.” He has said “Dumbass patents are crushing small businesses. I have had multiple small companies I am an investor in have to fight or pay trolls for patents that were patently ridiculous.”
But patents are a form of the intellectual property protection so vital to all that we do. Cuban is missing utterly that point in multiple directions.
Lost on Cuban? If there are patents that are “patently ridiculous,” that’s the fault of the government. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) approved bad patents. So fix the USPTO.
But that’s not where Cuban’s efforts are aimed: “Cuban says that he’d like to either end software patents or give them a much shorter shelf life, to end design patents all together, and to ‘require that all patents be used in a business within five years or otherwise become public domain.’”
“End design patents altogether?” There goes Artur Fischer’s entire career. And the hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars created — and the countless lives improved — as a result of Fischer’s ability to protect his ideas.
Also lost on Cuban? The fact that just this sort of idea-protection made possible his enormous wealth. He and his partners owned exclusively Broadcast.com — a “monopoly” protected by law. If they didn’t, Yahoo! wouldn’t have way overpaid for it, and Cuban wouldn’t have had the amazing life he has since had.
Lost also on Cuban? “Patent trolls” are actually nothing more than people who own patents and are fighting to protect them from thieves. I wonder how Cuban would respond were one of his ideas being stolen?
Oh wait — we know. He’d sue: “Earlier today, BuzzFeed News reported that Wal-Mart would start selling the wildly in-demand scooters called ‘hoverboards’ online in time for the holiday season. Now Mark Cuban, the billionaire entrepreneur who has signed a letter of agreement that would give him the exclusive license on the American patent for ‘a two-wheel, self-balancing personal vehicle,’ says that the world’s biggest retailer has a rude surprise coming: ‘They are in for a nightmare,’ Cuban wrote to BuzzFeed News after being informed of Wal-Mart’s plans.”
So Cuban loathes patents — unless they’re his patents. If his patents are threatened, he dons his troll garb and calls his lawyers.
Fame is fleeting. Ideas are forever. We should not allow famous, confused people to fundamentally transform how we protect ideas — often given to us by unknown geniuses.
Rest In Peace Artur Fischer and David Bowie. And here’s hoping we can lay to rest the attempts to undermine the idea protections that made their lives possible, and our lives exponentially better.