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In a Wikipedia age, should all ideas be free?

The US Supreme Court shouldn't weaken the patent protections that fuel technological progress.

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Would you spend countless hours developing a novel business method if you knew you couldn't protect it with a patent? Most of us wouldn't.

Yet before the US Supreme Court is a case that could have severe consequences for the incentives that fuel such job-creating innovations.

While a ruling in Bilski and Warsaw v. Kappos isn't expected until next spring, let's hope the court doesn't fall prey to the arguments of Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig and other supporters of the "open source" movement in computer software. They contend that intellectual property rights – which extend 20 years beyond the date a patent is issued – erect barriers to technological progress, discouraging collaboration and slowing economic growth.

Just compensation for hard work

In the Wikipedia age, it may seem that lots of people are happy to work free of charge for the common good. But the reality is that new ideas are scarce and their discoverers, as our Founding Fathers recognized, merit protection from those who seek to gain from their intellect, investments, and hard work without just compensation.

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution explicitly delegates to Congress authority "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."

Developing and successfully commercializing new products and technologies typically requires large investments of time and treasure. Most research and development (R&D) investments end in failure.

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