Stealing ideasA very interesting discussion took place in the Aquaponic Gardening Community last week. It was titled Credit to Other Aquapons and was started by Eric Warwick. He asked, “As aquaponics grows ever more commercialized with the additions of kits, how will we keep ourselves from stealing other people’s ideas?”

The thread began by exploring the practicality of patenting aquaponics designs. The conclusion was that patents are difficult if not impossible to execute in today’s digital society. Any online record of a conversation or an image prior to filing can invalidate your patent. Then, even if you do manage to fulfill the requirements of a patent, they can be fairly easy to get around. Finally, you should be committed to defending your patent it if it is infringed upon. This is a very costly proposition.

So if the legal system isn’t a good option for enforcing credit where credit is due, what is? The group headed towards Gentlemen’s Agreements as the best choice. Aquaponics designs are readily available on the net, and anyone interested in building systems can be up and running with some research effort (although the quality of that information is another subject). The question becomes one of ethics. If you use someone’s information for your own systems, especially if you are selling them, shouldn’t you give credit to that person?

Well, yes and no. As Kobus Jooste pointed out, “Credit will always be given to pioneers in this industry, but as there is so much logic and overlap with related industries, I suggest caution for anyone that wants to start deciding who thought of what first.”

So when you are designing your own aquaponics system, are you stealing from others’ ideas, or are you inspired by them? In my opinion the line is drawn when you claim the idea for your own. We should celebrate innovation around aquaponics. Take the ideas and the designs that are out there and improve on them, but recognize the pioneers in the industry and be humble about their role vs. your own. Freely name your guru. Ours is Murray Hallam of Practical Aquaponics in Australia and his CHOP2 designs. Who is your guru?