Philip Galanter
Since the beginning
Works in United States of America

generative artist using installation, video, audio, and print

also faculty member at Texas A&M

also writer exploring complexity theory, art theory

also curator for generative, robotic, complexity, and tech art

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It's not just a question of how soon can the general public use a patented process for free. It's also a question of providing an incentive structure to not only make discoveries public, but to also give the discoverer an incentive to work on making the discovery in the first place.

First, mostly for others following along, remember that patents on a process that can be used to make art does not in any way impact the art ideas embodied in the work, nor does it impact the use of similar looks or styles or other aesthetic aspects. Those are still all up for grabs.

To put it figuratively, a patent *cannot* restrict others as to what they paint, or why they paint, or what a painting means. A patent cannot keep others from joining an art movement, or prevent an art movement from forming, or otherwise prevent others from exchanging, responding to, or even parroting a new art genre or set of art ideas. What a patent *can* do is allow an inventor to make a profit from discovering a new way to make paint.

Progress in art is much more about all of those aspects mentioned that patents cannot touch. The vast vast majority of artists do not engage in activity that leads to patentable discoveries. And most discoveries that are patentable and of use to artists (1) are not discovered by artists and (2) have more lucrative applications *outside* of art.

The reason patents encourage progress then, in the above context where most progress in art cannot be impeded by patents anyway, is that it provides an incentive to work on such discoveries by those who, for the most part, are not artists and perhaps not terribly interested in art per se in the first place. E.g. few research chemists are going to apply years of learning and years of research to discover a new way to make paint that will then be given away for free and leave them with no return on their investment in the form of hard work.



In the US patents come more or less directly from article 1 of the constitution as one of the enumerated powers of Congress.

"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;"

I tend to assume that when people argue against patents they are implying that the laws should be changed. I suppose another stand might be to advocate keeping the patent laws as they are, but making such a strong moral case that few will want to apply for them.

The founders thought patents and copyrights to be so important that they wrote them into the constitution. That's also a system that has worked wonders.

Art doesn't trump all other concerns, and I've heard no reason to think that innovation in art is helped or hurt by patents any more or less than in any other field. The burden of proof should fall upon those who present special pleading, and hand waving about special "free exchange of methods and ideas" in art is just a restatement of the question, not evidence. And again, art ideas cannot be patented so that's a non-issue.

Methods historically *have* been kept secret by some artists, and some of those methods have died with those artists. By contrast, patents put such methods in the public record, and after 17 years (a relatively short time in terms of art history) those methods are essentially in the public domain for free use by all. So patents do not endanger public dialog, nor do they impede progress. They, in fact, encourage both in the arts as well as other fields.



Anything I do feeds off of the ideas previously worked on and, if relevant or any good, feeds what is yet to come. "


This kind of argument could be said about virtually any form of human invention in any field. It is an argument against all forms of patent. But not a successful one I think.

A patent is not meant to say "here is an invention that owes nothing to the past." It merely designates an invention that offers a novel incremental improvement over then current technology. And it rewards the inventor for finite period of time in exchange for first making the invention public knowledge.

You seem to assume that sharing should be mandatory and an axiom of public policy. Others would point out that economic systems that don't reward individual achievement tend to be less productive. Besides, if sharing is made mandatory in law against the will of those who innovate, it's not really what we normally think of as sharing. Being forced to give, or allowed to take without permission, is more like theft. A patent, by contrast, paves the way for a fair exchange of value. I.e. both sides of the transaction are allowed choice in participation, and both sides have something to give and something to gain.



Some observations about some things that have been said...

** Regarding the idea that an artist applies for a patent because they are worried about people stealing their work.

There is an ambiguity in using the term "work" here. If by "work" one means the art pieces themselves...the look, the meaning, the style, specific graphic elements...patents can't be used in the first place. Some are, at best, objects for copyright protection, and pure art ideas enjoy no form of protection by patent, copyright, or any other legal status.

But "work" here can also mean the hours and hours of *labor* it takes to develop and perfect a process, without any reference to the specific works the artist happens to produce. This is not at all the same as, say, being inspired by impressionist or cubist paintings and responding to those styles or ideas in one's own paintings. It is more like inventing a new way to make paint, or a new technology in photography lenses, and so on.

In other words *art ideas*, the content of the artists work, are not the issue here. That's still a free for all. They simply aren't patentable. What is being protected is a new technology that might be used to paint art or might be used to paint machine parts or road signs. Or a technology that might be used in fine art photography or commercial catalog work.

Put another way, this is a case of an inventor with a patentable invention. And it just so happens that the inventor in question is an artist. And it just so happens that the invention is useful to artists as well as (perhaps) others.

This leads to the next observation...

** It would be useful if those who object to this proposed use of a patent would be more specific as to whether there is something special they object to when artists apply for patents, or whether they are simply against patents in general and by all inventors.

If the objection is very specific to artists applying for patents, and is not an objection to patents in general, then I've yet to see that objection well defended here. Again, keep in mind that what is going to be patented is *not* an art idea, but rather a technology that just happens to be useful to artists or was invented by someone who just happens to be an artist. It is arguable as to whether the evolution of art ideas emerge from a unique (cross) culture in a way that is different from other ideas. But that's not the question here. I see nothing unique about the process of innovation required to invent new *technologies* that are useful to artists as opposed to engineers or businessmen that would argue for treating it as a special case. And I've seen no case for that being made here.

If the objection is actually merely an instance of a wider objection to patents in general, that launches a much different kind of discussion. It invokes, for example, a general discussion of property rights, capitalism versus the alternatives, game theory and the economic psychology of incentive structures, and on and on. I frankly doubt whether a good case could be made in this problem space by any "side" using this medium. It's just too big and too complex.

But for the purposes of this particular discussion I would simply ask why a single artist, likely with modest resources and competing with large companies with much stronger legal, technical, and funding resources, is the best place to fight a battle against all patents? For the duration of this battle, can't we allow the marginal protections patents afford the "little guy" while the general war against patents is waged against the "big guys?"

** Finally, regarding the idea that other artists and the art-world will shun artwork that is associated with patented technical processes...

Ummm, see that computer sitting in front of you? The one you use to make pieces? It's full of patented technology. Are you going to stop using it? Do you expect the art-world to shun your pieces if you don't? Or is this again a special (negative) case? That it's OK to use patented technology to make art, so long as the patent isn't held by an artist?


A Year in the Life

Just a couple quick comments.

First, Max's notion of networkism may or may not be similar to the notion of "complexism" which I introduced as one of the writers in the collection "The Art of Artificial Evolution".

click here for book at

click here for free download of draft chapter

It's difficult to tell because, so far as I know, the Max's ideas are contained in a novel of some length, and require some time and effort to extract. Not that that is a bad thing in and of itself, but I wish there was something more like an essay presentation like my chapter above. (Not in terms of quality or ideas, just in terms of efficiency of communication).

So while the ideas seem vaguely related I can't really go beyond that in any detailed way. I suspect there are, in fact, some very significant differences beyond form.

For example, the tone of this discussion would lead me to believe Max's ideas are situated in a fairly politicized context. If so, and again I can't be sure, I think that is a mistake. One of the problems the contemporary postmodern/poststructural/deconstructive humanities culture is burdened with is an overarching tendency towards political reductionism. (This is well covered by Steven Hicks in Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault"

In my view what is likely to replace the dominant postmodern/poststructural/deconstructive school is a world-view anchored in projecting notions from complexity science into the problem space of the arts and humanities. Notions such as distribution, emergence, co-evolution, feedback, chaos, as well as uncertainty and incompleteness, may have political implications at the periphery, but are fundamentally orthogonal to any particular politics.

So from where I sit drawing complexity related ideas into a primarily politically driven discussion is a mistake. It plays into the same kind of political reductionism that postmodern/poststructural/deconstructive humanities culture does, and having made that wrong turn is sure to be off the path to the next paradigm.