More musings about IPR

If you haven’t seen it already, do take a look at this letter to the Times last week, from Joseph Stiglitz and John Sulston.

Here are a few excerpts:

The question of “Who owns science?” is therefore a crucial one, the answer to which will have broad-reaching implications for scientific progress and for the way in which the benefits of science are distributed, fairly or otherwise. Two of the most pressing issues concern equity of access to scientific knowledge and the useful products that arise from that knowledge.

The current system of managing research and innovation incorporates a complex body of law governing the ownership of “intellectual property” — copyright and patents being the most familiar. Intellectual property rights are intended to provide incentives that encourage the advancement of science, enhance the pace of innovation, increase the derived economic benefits and provide a fair way of regulating access to these benefits. But does it really achieve these purposes? There is increasing concern that, to the contrary, it may, under some circumstances, impede innovation, lead to monopolisation, and unduly restrict access to the benefits of knowledge.

We believe it is time to reassess the effect of the present regime of intellectual property rights, especially with respect to the area of patent law, on science, innovation and access to technologies and determine whether it is liberating — or crushing; whether it operates to promote scientific progress and human welfare – or to frustrate it.

Every time the discussion is about patents, trademarks or copyright, people go all polarised. As if the debate is about pinko lefty tree-huggers on the one side and honest sweat-of-brow geniuses on the other.

This is not what the debate is about.

The debate is about old laws no longer being fit for purpose and needing changing. Changing radically. Changing in ways that do not treat everyone (yes, everyone!) as a criminal; in ways that pollute paths of communication unnecessarily; in ways that throw away the value represented by the web when coupled with ubiquitous communications.

The debate is about health, education and welfare.

Not cinema, as some people would have it.

The debate is about innovation.

Not stifling it, as some companies would have it.

So let us continue to have the debate.

6 thoughts on “More musings about IPR”

  1. Well said. And I agree wholeheartedly. IPR is not about black and white – ownership and theft. Its about public policy that goes way beyond the concept of “property”.

    Sometimes I think we should call it “Intellectual Rights” and drop the “Property” in the middle altogether. The word “property” is way too loaded (in both common language, and in the legal world) to be helpful. Its more “prejudicial” than descriptive, at least these days.

  2. Is speaking about “property rights” polarizing language when talking about government-provided incentives to invent and write? After all, we don’t call a government-mandated maternity leave “Maternal Property” even if the government has the same interest in incentives to bear children as it has in incentives to make inventions.

  3. Maybe you’re right, Gabe, Don. The word “property” may not be helpful in this regard. Especially since “intellectual property” is the only “property” that needs state intervention to exist!

  4. re “Changing in ways that do not treat everyone (yes, everyone!) as a criminal”

    You may not be able to stop many of the legal battles, but stopping them being a battle of “biggest wallets” is a must, to protect smaller companies and indiviuals.

  5. Not wanting to end your debate, would’nt it be appropriate that a solution be prosposed and then debate it.

    Calling for a change is always appropriate(the easier part), but keeping the complexity in view, the respected professors should atleast have proposed an alternative.

    But for the alternative it would be a debate for a Utopian World.

  6. Harsha, there has been a lot written about alternatives. Even in this blog. Separate alternatives for patent and for copyright. Most of the time we don’t get to debate the alternatives because people go all polarised early on.

    But you make a good point, there are bound to be readers who are not aware of the alternatives. So I will summarise them and list them and provide detailed references where needed.

    Soon. But not immediately. I am on vacation.

Let me know what you think

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