A few weeks ago I came across an article in The New York Times that struck me. It was about Football, Software, and Patents and Copyrights, which might seem like subjects that shouldn’t be able to be discussed all together.
To the disinterested, American football might look like a bunch of large men running around haphazardly, but it’s really a highly-choreographed exercise, at which success is determined not merely through physical prowess but by adaptability and excellence in change management.
Just like business.
The Times Article asks why the new formations that occasionally get created and temporarily upend the way things work in football don’t get patented. It’s a great question; software gets patented, and as I’ve pointed out before, some important software patents like Facebook’s 7,669,123 simply don’t make any sense.
And the answer, as I’ve pointed out before, is that you can’t patent an idea. You can patent the embodiment of an idea, but the idea itself is just . . . well, just that. So for example, when someone I used to know told me the story about her husband having described what ultimately came to be real in the form of E-Z Pass toll collection about ten years before it became a reality there was no conversation about anyone having “stolen his idea”.
Or, if you’ve seen The Social Network (you know, “the Facebook movie”), you might understand that it wasn’t stealing his schoolmates’ “idea” that led Facebook’s CEO to settle the ensuing lawsuit; it was that he’d been accused of intentionally misleading them, and wanting the problem to go away sooner than later.
Business Change is most certainly about having new ideas. But just having the ideas isn’t enough; you need to actually do something with them.