Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Intellectual Property..and Theft

The NYT has a very interesting series on the impact of intellectual property disputes. The cost of litigation is becoming astronomical:

In the smartphone industry alone, according to a Stanford University analysis, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years — an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings.

IP law is a mess, and it is holding back innovation - especially by small companies who cannot afford battalions of lawyers and lobbyists. I was talking about patent trolls here.

Copyright ls is just as much of a mess - for example, Google and publishers continue to fight over orphan copyright works, although they have apparently just settled terms for other uses.

There's a common theme here. Our basic intutions about property and property rights don't work very well for many kinds of intangible property. And much of the value in the economy is now intangible. Instead of owning defined parcels of land, this is more like an evolving ecosystem, like a coral reef, where interactions and recycling and reuse can be highly complex and interdependent.

At very least, patent and copyright terms ought to be getting shorter as change accelerated, not longer.

It isn't clear we do need such an elaborate patent system to incentivize innovation. MIT and public universities and NASA and the national labs and DARPA and the National Institutes of Health are churning out new innovations all the time, and that is just in the US. The fundamental long-teamwork is much more likely to be done this way.

In fact, the worst way through most of history to generate innovation has been to let huge corporations and organizations get monopolies, often at the expense of startups, disrupters and the less connected.

Much of the value in the Economy is increasingly nonrival and largely nonexcludable. An economy based on ideas and innovation has to work differently to one based on manufacturing trucks or toasters or life insurance. That's a fact. We have to get used to it.



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