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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;
3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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3 occurrences of jefferson cyclopedia
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4045. INVENTORS, Rights of.—

It has
been pretended by some (and in England
especially) that inventors have a natural and
exclusive right to their inventions, and not
merely for their own lives, but inheritable to
their heirs. But while it is a moot question
whether the origin of any kind of property is
derived from nature at all, it would be singular
to admit a natural and even an hereditary
right to inventors. It is agreed by those who
have seriously considered the subject, that
no individual has, of natural right, a separate
property in an acre of land, for instance. By
an universal law, indeed, whatever, whether
fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and
in common, is the property for the moment of
him who occupies it; but when the relinquishes
the occupation, the property goes with it. Stable
ownership is the gift of social law, and is
give late in the progress of society. It would
be curious, then, if an idea, the fugitive
fermentation of an individual brain, could, of
natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable
property. If nature has made any one thing
less susceptible than all others of exclusive
property, it is the action of the thinking power
called an idea, which an individual may exclusively
possess as long as he keeps it to himself;
but the moment it is divulged, it forces
itself into the possession of every one, and the
receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its
peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses
the less, because every other possesses the whole
of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives
instruction himself without lessening
mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives
light without darkening mine. That
ideas should freely spread from one to another
over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction
of man, and improvement of his condition,
seems to have been peculiarly and
benevolently designed by nature. When she
made them like fire, expansible over all space,
without lessening their density in any point,
and like the air in which we breathe, move,
and have our physical being, incapable of confinement
or exclusive appropriation. Inventions
then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Society may give an exclusive right to the
profits arising from them, as an encouragement
to men to pursue ideas which may produce
utility, but this may or may not be done according
to the will and convenience of the
society, without claim or complaint from anybody.
Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am
informed, that England was, until we copied
her the only country on earth which ever, by a
general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive
use of an idea. In some countries it is sometimes
done, in a great case, and by a special
and personal act, but generally speaking, other
nations have thought that these monopolies produce
more embarrassment than advantage to
society; and it may be observed that the nations
which refuse monopolies of invention, are as
fruitful as England in new and useful devices.—
To Isaac McPherson. Washington ed. vi, 180.
(M. 1813)