This American Life Tangent: Who Holds the Patent on Church?


I’m really honored to be part an incredible group of folks to share and write about topics concerning ministry and leadership over at the new Presbyterian Outlook blog.

My mom and I were driving back up to her home with the kids with the plan to stay there for two weeks. These sorts of visits become a pseudo-break for me, and I have to maximize every second while I have the extra help. Normally on the drive up I would listen to the Indigo Girls and sing along at the top of my lungs. Instead, while the kids are mesmerized by Curious George 2 on the iPad strapped to my headrest by a bungee cord, I am listening to podcasts, one of which is This American Life.

I randomly chose “When Patents Attack,” thinking it would likely not hold my attention for long. But of course, I was wrong. I got sucked into the story of journalists who explored their current usefulness and controversial nature of patents especially in the context of the tech industry. Apparently, patents have become basically an obsolete way of licensing in the US. Its original intent was not simply to protect the creative inventor, which is what originally came to my mind, but a way to share information. For instance, the cotton gin would never have become what it is without the patent because Eli Whitney would have kept it locked up in a dark shed.

And yet, today the purpose has become so diluted by legal and technical gibberish to mask the uninspired creations of scientists and engineers that hardly understand themselves what is being licensed and for what purpose. “Patent trolls” are companies that amass huge troves of patents and make money by threatening lawsuits. The journalists who covered this story eventually discover a hallway full of empty companies with no employees.

Read the rest at The Outpost and check out the other blogposts!