Actually an idea is worthless until it is shared with others. The idea can manifest itself into a physical object (e.g. inventions, sheet music; books, etc.) or passed on in the moment (e.g. verbal, performance, etc.). Once shared in the public domain, the idea is subject to being duplicated, manipulated, and enhanced. The U.S. Constitution Article One addresses exclusive right to respective writings and discoveries and the 1790 U.S. Patent Act help formalize what has become the World's standard in addressing Intellectual Property Rights. The intent was to economically protect the "owners" of an idea from copy cats.
"Everything that can be invented, has been invented" Charles H. Duell - U.S. Commissioner of Patents 1899
At LCP Tech Holdings LLC, we received our patent 7,125,449 on 10/24/2006 (originally filed 08/13/2001). I joined LCP Tech back in 2002 because I thought it was interesting to join with some inventors that have a patent pending on a "new composition of matter". Yet this idea (and the patent) is "a solution in need of a problem" - tabled until a need overrides the cost of producing versus alternate competitive technologies. In fact since our patent was issued two other patents (one by our development partner Delta Faucet/Masco) have referenced our patent. Are they copy cats?
My opinion of patent law (based on my experience at LCP Tech) is conflicted. While I see the need to reward the inventor, the reality is that it becomes a false sense of security and "full employment act" for attorneys. I also believe it slows the growth of innovation.
There is a great advantage to copy cats - it accelerates the idea, stimulates rapid improvements, and frankly demonstrates ultimate freedom in exchange of ideas. Once you share your idea (and that is your personal freedom of choice) - everyone owns it and is free to use it.