Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Music and the Business Methods Conundrum

One of the important topics of debate in Business Methods patents circles is where these patents fit along the information technology continuum. At it's heart is the "What does it do?" vs. "What do you do with it?" nexus. This is what a semiconductor does, this is what a disk drive does, this is what memory does; this is what you do with it - use it to process on-line banking transactions, to create customer loyalty programs, to place sensors on fish and track them so anglers don't have to work so hard. "What does it do?" and "What do you do with it?" have become essential questions in the information age quest to define the boundaries of patentability.

The Gutenberg printing press with it movable metal type and Johannes Gutenberg's creation of oil-based colored and black inks brought books and the knowledge they contained to a far broader audience than before. Depending on your perspective, this may be the earliest entry in the information technology continuum. Gutenberg focused on the printed word.

Ottaviano Petrucci is believed to be one of the first to print music using the Gutenberg movable type process. He used the movable type in a multiple-impression process where one run was for the staves - the five parallel lines, another for the words or decorative elements, and the final for the notes. There is some dispute on whether Petrucci's approach was a double impression or multiple impression process. According to the Center for Intellectual Property & Information Law Petrucci received a twenty year patent for the double impression process. This was one of the earliest records of patents for inventions and improvement in music printing. You can read the translation of the patent grant here.

According to Joanna Kostylo and the University of Cambridge, three years lapsed between Petrucci's petition for a patent and publication of the first work under the patent "Harmonice Muscices Odecaton A." Start ups take note; the time to get a patent and get your product to market is never short.

Even the Renaissance had its patent issues. Petrucci's early activity in the printed music market drew competitors. Andrea Antico was granted a patent to print music using a woodcut method focused on printing keyboard music. Petrucci received a new exclusive right to print organ music. The two printers were competitors. According to Ms. Kostylo, the pope withdrew Petrucci's organ patent because he failed to produce music for keyboards under his patent. The two inventors battled it out in the market place for printed music.

This brings us back to business methods. Did Petrucci get a patent for a business method; using the Gutenburg movable type invention to create printed sheet music? Was sheet music one of the early example of the "What Does It Do" vs. "What Do You Do With It" nexus?

The links to the Petrucci patents above are great if you want to have a look at some very early patents.