Description In most of current legal frameworks makers sharing instructions on modification and repair of patented devices may face legal threats. In order to prevent that, we are starting a discussion on a new legal framework – a patent exception for makers and making. It would cover non-commercial uses of patented solutions, their modifying, and sharing information with others both online and offline (within local communities). We called it “Greenlight”. The proposal of the Greenlight includes establishing a database where makers could publish their projects eligible for the framework's protection. By creating a non-compulsory central database, Greenlight would also improve the cooperation between makers and patent authorities. This would allow creating a new reliable source for patent examination.
Tags makers, patents
Person organizing Nata
Language en - English
en - English
Duration 5
Desired session Day 2


For decades developments in patent law have been focused on expanding patent protection and strengthening the exclusive rights of patent holders, with little or no consideration of third parties interests, such as regular users. Patent limitations that were established to balance rights and benefits of all parties involved are, substantially speaking, neglected and get a raw deal. Such a situation is a growing burden for makers and hackers. Those performing in high-tech fields, like robotics or electronics, need to be particularly aware of patents and resulting therefrom legal issues.

Overpatentisation is the clue to that trouble. Free tinkering on hardware and software becomes challenging because more and more space gets protected which can effectively block makers performance. Even new (disruptive) fields of technology get quickly saturated with patents on both basic and incremental innovations. As a result of such a practice, technologies are overloaded with patents granted on tiniest “new” ideas, slightest „new" betterments. Trying to share information about a highly-patented device is like walking on a minefield; it is often not easy for an individual to locate all patents in it.

Patent exclusivity is narrowed down with several limitations, e.g. allowing private use, testing new applications, tweaking for the sake of curiosity, or repairing of a device. However, all of them cover very specific and narrow uses and situations, and *do not* cover sharing information about the modification and giving specific instructions on how to replicate it. These actions can be considered a patent infringement in many legal systems. Since both the maker and the hacker movement endorse and rely on free flow of knowledge, these obstacles in knowledge dissemination could be especially harmful to innovative communities.

These problems became apparent in the course of a PhD research on the functionality of patent limitations. The project results with a proposal of a new legal framework – Greenlight – an exception tailored to maker activities. It would cover non-commercial uses of patented solutions by individuals, their modifications, and information sharing with others both online and offline (within local communities). It focuses primarily on the scope of patented solutions that is within reach of hobbyists, technology freaks, makers who do not work in highly equipped labs, but have their creative minds and skillful hands, and other makers to cooperate with.

In order for all parties: makers, patent offices and patent holders, to benefit from such a proposal, it should be something more than just another patent exception. We would like to establish a database called Greenbase, which would work as a legally sanctioned, open access peer-reviewed journal for makers. Individuals would be able to submit their ideas for modifications of already patented solutions to ensure their Greenlight status and have a proof that they are not infringing a patent by sharing information about it. This way the patent offices would gain additional source of information on "non-novel and obvious" uses of already-existing patents, which would facilitate their works in lowering the number of poor-quality patents. The patent holders in turn would gain additional information and "free development" of their solutions, which still would require a license to be used commercially.

With a PhD thesis on the way and a journal paper to be published, the discussion in academia is already starting. It can be maintained only with all interested parties' involvement. We would love to have hackers and makers worldwide participate in the discussion about patent law and spark local initiatives to investigate the possibilities of implementing the idea in their countries.

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