Re: poly: Idea Futures, some questions

From: Nick Bostrom <>
Date: Thu Jun 04 1998 - 20:23:24 PDT

Robin Hanson wrote:

> I was referring to stealing the idea behind the patent, and so applying for
> the patent before the true inventor did. Looking at a product doesn't tell
> you who had the idea first.

If developing the idea and translating it into a patent aplication is
easy enough that one person can do it, then the inventor can simply
keep it to himself until he has submitted the application. In this
case, the risk of idea theft will be small.

If, on the other hand, many people are involved in developing the
idea and the application, then there will presumably be datable
records. If somebody (perhaps a friend of a person involved in the
project) went ahead and applied for the patent for his own benefit,
the lab could prove that he had stolen their ideas by pointing to
their preexisting documents. So in this case there is a good chance
that the thief can be caught.

Contract this with the idea futures situation. Suppose a research
project requires the collaboration of many people. Each of these
persons (and possibly many others too) could steal the gist
of the research findings and buy idea futures. If their personal
transactions are monitored, they could tip their friends. Their
friends' buying decisions are of course in themselves no proof that
they got their information in illegal ways. So unless you keep all
the researchers under 24 h surveillance, how do you catch the thief?

This looks like a serious problem. It is analogous to today's insider
trading, but there could be a crucial difference in degree, since the
insider information that would typically become available to the
researcher would seem to have a greater effect on the idea futures
price than the present insider's information has on the
company's stock price. Even more importantly: In the case of
companies, there need only be very few people who make the decision
where secrecy is important. But much research seems totally
infeasible without allowing a large number of researcher to have
access to the preliminary research findings.

Nicholas Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
London School of Economics
Received on Fri Jun 5 02:31:15 1998

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