The Fountain Pen

by  Sam C. Chan

August 1, 2006

When I was a young child, there was this story in one of our text books...

The dark night has fallen, and the owner of the house, a published writer, has gone to bed. All is well, all is calm...

That was the signal for the objects in the house to come out to play. At the desk, there's a whole community of stationery and writing instruments alike coming alive. The story quickly focuses on the fountain pen. In true cartoon fashion, all the components spring apart, into animated characters. They brag about the roles they play, and their importance. Shortly after, the ensuing argument erupts.

The reed claims to be obviously the most important part. After all, it is the business end where writing actually takes place. The rubber bulb, points out that the reed is useless without any ink. The shaft counters that it makes the pen ergonomical, and adds elegance. To which the cap of the pen rebuts: "Talk about being under-appreciated! Without me, the pen will be clogged, and the owner's shirt pocket would be smudged. It's the little things that count."

Each one of those arguments has merits. Undeniably, all members of a team are inter-dependent on one another, and contribute collectively. And yet, it is customary for the populace to give most (if not all) of the credit to the entity in the spot light, and neglect all of those behind-the-scene. Cases in point: Actors in a film, and the racecar drivers.

This reminded me of the concept of "inventions" and technical development. Most people just don't understand how it works. They hold the simplistic view that someone can somehow "invent" a whole product or solution on their own, and deserve absolute, clear-cut credit and exclusive rights. In reality, since shortly after the the stone age, there had been no such occurrences.

The "revolutionary inventions" are really mundane (but significant) development and enhancement, once the hype is striped away. The "exclusive" idea is merely the same general desire/needs/goals that exist on the minds of all contemporaries in the field.

Technology (like anything of complexity) is a series of processes with no beginning and no end, with advances building upon incremental improvements of one another's ideas. Such artificial distinctions as who's first, who's better, are largely arbitrary & transient, grossly unfair, and ultimately meaningless. Anyone with the slightest technical competency would understand that it's all part of the nature of endless cycles of leapfrogging in specific aspects.

In the tech community, we all know that patent system is strictly existing within the parallel universe, and purely a legal game of technicality. The only "minor" incidental connection to the real world is its absolute jurisdiction. The subject has been discussed to death. That is not to say that companies should not apply for patents. Reality dictates that they must. It's just that the system is grossly arbitrary and unfair and often award the undeserving, and wrongly (brutally) penalizes the innocent.

Not everything that can be counted counts,
and not everything that counts can be counted.
-Albert Einstein

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