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The inventor of microfleece refused to patent it. (wikipedia.org)
81 points by calanya on Oct 16, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 21 comments

Another fascinating story about Feuerstein from his Wikipedia page:

When the Malden Mills factory burnt down on December 11, 1995, Feuerstein decided not only to use his insurance money to rebuild it, but to also pay the salaries of all the now-unemployed workers while it was being rebuilt. Feuerstein spent millions keeping all 3,000 employees on the payroll with full benefits for 6 months. By going against common CEO business practices, especially at a time when most companies were downsizing and moving overseas, he achieved a small degree of fame....it appears that applied ethics in business has positive consequences as Malden Mills continues to garner lucrative Department of Defense (DOD) contracts for 'smart' products that interweave fiber optic cabling, electronic biosensors, and USB ports into polar fleece fabric.


While I commend any sort of philanthropy, I have always had a certain amount of repulsion for the type that ruthlessness exploits the people that help him stay at the top. While jet setting around the world to save the the next village that is in vogue. While it is noble to help people it has always stunk of hypocrisy and giving in public for popularity. I always like when a story highlights a man that takes care of his own as those are people he is directly responsible for. Thanks for digging that up.

When you go two clicks further into WikiPedia the story takes an interesting turn :

"In November 2001, Malden Mills declared bankruptcy after the recession. . . [and] Feuerstein was relieved of actual control of the company by its creditors. . .

In February 2007, the assets of Malden Mills were purchased by a newly formed company . . .

June 28, 2007, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation said it would take over the underfunded (by 49%) Malden Mills pension plan, which covers about 1500 employees. . . "


A guy who spends $25M for what he perceives as good ethics and doesn't try to self-promote the good deed has my kudos indeed! regardless of where his ideology comes from. Something that many fame and money crazed entrepreneurs should learn from these days...

While it would cost Aaron Feuerstein $25,000,000 to 'do the right thing' as well as the turmoil of a November 2001 filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it appears that applied ethics in business has positive consequences as Malden Mills continues to garner lucrative Department of Defense (DOD) contracts for 'smart' products that interweave fiber optic cabling, electronic biosensors, and USB ports into polar fleece fabric. Malden Mills was awarded a $16 million dollar DOD contract in 2006[2]. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Feuerstein

My dad has worked at malden mills for over 30. Aaron has always wanted malden mills to compete on new innovation. He believed that no one could keep up with him and imitators would always be a few steps behind. Couple that with the extreme high quality of the production process and patents seem opposed to the companies secret sauce.

Unfortunately, in he is no longer there. Was it a successful experiment? It's hard to say. He really took a beating on the 95 fire. He kept all employees on the payroll through the entire episode, even after getting totally screwed by insurance. He saved Lawrence from an even worse fate then its had. That was probably more import to him then his own success.

Another example is the way Volvo made their 3 way seatbelt patent available to other manufacturers, and motorists, to benefit from it.


Or indeed, given the context, how the inventors of the Web allowed everyone to use their ideas without patents.

Just out of interest. What's to stop some other guy coming along and patenting it, then unleashing lawsuit city on all the other vendors? Is there some kind of protection for that, to assure it remains free to all?

Abundant prior art.

Cool thanks, looked that up. Seem to be a stateside only thing though.

Prior art is definitely not just a US concept.

Definitely not, it's the whole core of the idea of a patent that you can't go round patenting things which already exist.

The term "prior art" might be US-specific though, other countries' patent law systems have different words for the same thing (wikipedia suggests "background art" and "state of the art").

>you can't go round patenting things which already exist

Not strictly right but close enough, better (but still not the whole story due to US differences) would be "things which have already been made public".

Prior art is the globally recognised term. It means any [relevant] disclosure prior to the priority date of the application in hand.

As an ex-patent examiner (not US) I'd use "background art" to represent the general status of the field (often presented in the preamble of the specification) and "state of the art" is strictly the whole gamut of prior art disclosures.


most jurisdictions have first to file whilst US has a "first to invent" system

Tangentially, they also work with a variety of garment vendors to continue innovating on the basic concept of "fleece" fabric. For example, various Patagonia R-series jackets are Malden/Polartec fabrics. Higher lofts (more warmth) with lower weight, increased breathability, flexibility, etc.

Although you could patent a step in the manufacturing process or an improvement in the formula. That was the classic Edison stratergy for movie film, there were too many people with a claim to having invented film - so he patented the sprocket holes.

Although in the US you could patent the concept of a particular type of clothing being made from polartec, or even a method of selling it.

Just curious, is there some sort of GNU for patents? If I were going to not patent my invention I'd want some way to make sure nobody else came along, filed for some trivially new derivation, and then managed to extract most of the value of the original invention.

Maybe some central licensing organization that would license patents for free as long as the licensees agreed to some GNU-like terms... or is this not an issue in patent law?

As vidar mentioned in a different thread of this story[1], prior art plays a large part in this process.

1. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1797836

But prior art doesn't have the viral effects of the GNU licence. This would be an actual patent, but with licensing terms that required anyone creating derivatives to either release them or to patent them under comparably-free terms.

Decycle the bottles into Old Navy fleeces.

If he had patented it, would there be the same 'push' for residential plastic recycling? Would we just bury or burn it?

Can't imagine surving the oncoming winter without my fleece clothings. Thanks for digging it up.

He is an idiot which is why he has gone bankrupt. As much as people here do not like patents because they have some negative side effects, on balance it is only fair that the inventor benefits from his invention. If the inventor is a scientist, he can license his invention to the men of business. Giving it free for all does no one good. That is not how we have advanced to this day and age. Laws have reason. They are made by people of reason. Not congress mind you, but the very rational and experienced judges who are imminently familiar with the intricacies of every day circumstances.

If a man who invents something beneficial ends bankrupt is to be applauded is anything but fair.

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