Someday you'll be able to write software by talking. Sit in front of your computer and simply describe your requirements: "I want an app that lets me organize hiking trips. There should be a sign-up page, a map of hiking places, a calendar of events ..." Just keep describing your requirements while the site takes shape right in front of your eyes. If you forget to include something, your computer will helpfully suggest features borrowed from similar websites on the Internet.

Maybe the future of software won't be quite that simple. But I do think that creating apps and websites will someday be no harder than building a PowerPoint presentation or using Excel. It's heading that way.

Creating a new business might someday be that simple too. Today, starting a business is the most annoyingly inconvenient process in the world. You need lawyers and accountants and contracts. It's complicated stuff. But I can imagine someday all of that becoming easy. Simply tell your computer you want to start a business and it will ask you a few questions then set up your corporation or partnership for you. It will outsource your logo design, set up your bank accounts, and have you ready for business in a few days. You might have to incorporate in the Cayman Islands to get that level of simplicity, but that's okay too.

In today's world, ideas are free and plentiful while implementation is the hard part. You and I can brainstorm ten new business ideas in ten minutes. The hard part would be implementing them. I think today's situation will someday be the reverse. Implementation will be easy and all of the obvious Internet business ideas will be used up.

I'm not suggesting there will be no new inventions. Technology will keep moving forward. But business ideas for the Internet will be exhausted. For example, once you have an eBay, the category of "online auction site" is pretty much filled, give or take a few variations on the theme. Once Facebook exists, the world doesn't really need a second social network.

Someday it will be a rare and amazing thing if anyone comes up with a new Internet business idea. Thanks to technology, starting a business in the future won't require hard work, deep pockets, or a good network of contacts. Implementation will be easy. But a truly unique idea will be worth a billion dollars.

We're already seeing the start of an idea bubble with patents. My understanding is that a new patent with no immediate application can be sold to investors (speculators?) for up to $20,000. Some of these patents are used by big companies to defend against patent claims. Some patents are bought with the intention of resale. Whatever the reason, the market for "ideas" has never been this active.

I'm in the process of filing a patent now. I've been through the patent process several times with other ideas. I'm motivated in part by the thought that the gold of the future will be ideas. I might be better off owning the rights to an idea than owning stock in an actual company.

My question of the day is this: Do you think the value of ideas (patented or otherwise) will increase, decrease, or stay the same in the future?

Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +20
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
Sep 4, 2012
Today the USA is the richest and most powerful country in the world. It is also the "idea leader" as mentioned in a comment earlier.

Because the most powerful country in the world has a surfeit of ideas, it has an incentive to make laws that ensure that its ideas remain valuable.

The day the USA ceases to be the most inventive nation and realises that it will profit more by using ideas from other countries than protecting its own, the laws will be changed to ensure that ideas lose value.

So long as the most powerful (militarily and economically) country is also the most inventive country, ideas (or rather the patents of the ideas) will have an disproportionately high value.

Incidentally, commonly known concepts which people have known since time immemorial will have immense value if you manage to grab the patent for them. Like the "rounded corners" patented by Apple. It is not merely an idea that has value. The ability to patent tried, tested and proved ideas whose origin is lost in time is more profitable.
Sep 4, 2012
I think there are 2 mistakes here Scott.

1. You are assuming away the difficulty of execution. Even though we've seen tremendous improvements in the sophistication of home DIY kits, I don't imagine that a tinkerer in a garage will revolutionize the auto industry. It sounds to me like you're suggesting that can happen with software, though its not clear why.

2. As an extension of the first point, the complexity of successful ideas increases as well. Google needs electricity, the integrated circuit, cathode ray tubes and a million other things to be possible. It seems like you are assuming that idea complexity is stable over time. If ideas can become more complex, building on what we have, we shouldn't hit that bump.

Hence I think the value of ideas will remain stable.
Did I miss anything?
Sep 4, 2012
Ideas can only inspire so much. Implementation is everything. People always respond to incentives.
So, ideas that help in completion of implementation - will always be GOLD.
Sep 4, 2012
The value of ideas will decrease because the threat of a biological nightmare is too great. Soon the population of the world will be reduced to pockets of pinheads, sporadically located, that are operating on the most basic of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs... Food. Shelter. Sex. Safety. Higher level ideas won't mean jack within 50 years, maybe 100 tops.

Instead, of asking yourself these questions that presuppose a continuing of the world as we know it... ask yourself where is the best place to bury some arrow heads, flint, water, and Cheeze-Its in your yard.

You with me?

Mike Fook

Sep 3, 2012

Funny thing with ideas is that they worth more when they are free.

Lawyers love patent system. Engineers hate it. Get the idea?
Sep 3, 2012
Everyone has heard the old saw about Charles H. Duell, head of the patent office under President McKinley, petitioning the president in 1899 to close the patent office because "everything that could be invented already has been invented." Yup. Everyone has heard that one. However, it's not true. It never happened. Just thought I'd get that one out of the way before someone mentioned it and embarassed themselves.

Your question is stated very well. Will the VALUE of ideas increase or decrease over time? That is a tough question to answer, unless we all agree what the definition of "is" is. Oh, wait, that was that other president. We would first need to agree on the definition of value.

If value is defined as "worth more money," then inflation-adjusted value of ideas will probably increase. As the world economy grows, the value of ideas will probably grow with it.

If value is defined as some touchy-feely idea, such as making the world a better place (in whose opinion, one might ask?), then it depends. The idea that led to the creation of Solyndra could be considered to have value; after all, the present administration poured $500 million of taxpayer's dollars into it, and then upturned bankruptcy laws so that the investors got their money ahead of the taxpayers. So in that case, it depends on whether or not the government thinks an idea is really cool from a political perspective, and gives your money and mine to the idea-mongers.

The United States has always been an idea leader. Compare that with, say, the Japanese, who are not big on ideas but are exceptional in execution and efficiency. Everyone talks about how great the Japanese were at developing manufacturing systems and quality control that put our manufacturers to shame.

But what you may not know is that it was an American named Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who came up with the original ideas post-WWII. American manufacturers ignored him, so he went to Japan, and Bob's your uncle.

I think ideas are the new coin of the realm. Our society is uniquely structured (or has been in the past) to nurture and reward people with new ideas. It is one of our greatest strengths. Supporting those who give rise to new ideas, rather than putting ever-increasing governmental roadblocks in their way, will keep our country and our ecnomy strong.

One area I'll take issue with, Scott: the idea that things will get easier over time in starting a business, et. al. Are you kidding? Government lives to grow in size. It grows in size by creating new regulations and then hiring people to enforce them. You really think government is going to go away and just let ideas and businesses grow??? HA! Government is the snowball rolling down a hill paved with dollars. Its mass is unstoppable, unless we all pull together to stop it.

The real question you should be asking is, "how big will government grow before we reign it in?"
Sep 3, 2012
The catch is, the developer of the software you use to develop your brilliant idea, will claim ownership of the $billion ideas. ie. MyGoogleFacebookSquareSpace will happily host your service, and let you develop and customize it as much as you want. And if it becomes a runaway hit, they will claim ownership, and if you're really, really lucky, they'll let you have 5% of the revenue.
Sep 3, 2012
"We're already seeing the start of an idea bubble with patents."

I think it is 100% accurate to call it a bubble.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 3, 2012
I think already ideas are gold. It's just that the people calling the shots are the most uncreative people in the world, who think non-ideas count as ideas. Bill Gates didn't have any ideas, and neither did Steve Jobs. Their contributions were, respectively, "make software for cheap computers" and "make high quality stuff". These aren't ideas; they're non-ideas masquerading as ideas. An example of an idea would be a GUI. Who invented the GUI? Nobody knows. Our society prefers to remember only the likes of Gates and Jobs because they made a few phone calls.

I guarantee that if you called Gates or Jobs out on their lack of creativity, you'd see the inferiority complexity of a serial !$%*!$%*!$% manifest itself right before your eyes. They know that they're nothing other than jumped-up car salesmen who won the laissez-faire lottery, and perhaps their compulsive hoarding disorder has evolved as a defense mechanism to shield them from the painful truth.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog