Hein (fub) wrote,

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Intellectual Property Socialism

A senior SAP official dismisses open source software, because it leads to 'IP socialism', which "is the worst that can happen to any IP-based society". This is on the same day that Amazon was awarded a patent on consumer reviews.

Frankly, IP socialism is the best thing that could happen right now. 'Intellectual Property' is merely a way for Big Buck companies to stifle competition: patent offices are quick to award stupid and trivial patents, which companies use to force their competition out of their markets. Only when you can afford a costly legal process can you defend yourself against charges of patent infringement, and even have a chance to have the patent declared invalid. Large corporations have the resources to pay for the initial patent (trivial as it may be) and for legal battles against parties who supposedly infringe on their patent.

We also know that innovation is often done by small companies. Companies with a single, bright idea. But with today's far-reaching and generalised patents, there is a large chance that a new idea will 'infringe' on at least one patent. Small start-ups don't have the resources to defend themselves against the legal threats of large corporations -- and thus innovation is stifled.
Patents are chilling science and innovation. Instead of being a defense mechanism for creators and inventors, patents have become a weapon, a tool for the 900-pound gorilla in any particular market to keep competition out.

A good example is in pharmaceutical research. Did you know that one fifth of all human genes is patented? Which means that, even if you have been born with those genes, no-one is allowed to create technology working on those genes. This will stifle advances in bio-engineering, because researchers have to be careful to side-step any genetic patents -- I think it's likely that some types of medicine may never be created because of patents. If you have a rare genetic disease that the patent holder doesn't want medication for, you're pretty much fucked.
Or what about vital medicine? If you patent an anti-viral medicine, which could be used to combat avian flu, you can prevent anyone from making that medicine. Meanwhile, you can ask ridiculous prices for your version, because the medicine is needed and you have no competitors.

IP socialism is the key to solve these questions. If a piece of IP is important enough, the government may choose to suspend the patents surrounding the IP, like Taiwan did with the anti-viral medicine. Instead, the party who holds the patent will receive a fee that the government set -- so you will make money because you're smart, but you won't be the only one and you will not be able to dictate the price of crucial technology or goods.

I'm sure some of you will cringe at the thought of a government-regulated market for IP, but patent offices always work for a government too -- so it would be nothing new, really. If a government can award a patent, it can suspend it as well.
With IP out in the open, innovation will not be stifled and smaller companies may grow to challenge established market leaders. With more innovation come more options, with more options come lower prices for the consumer. Instead of an artificially maintained monopoly, companies and individuals with the best ideas will win. In a sense, IP socialism would enhance the working of the free market.
Tags: society, technology

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