About “intellectual property”Posted: May 18, 2011
Lately I was bothered by some thoughts related to patents and “intellectual property”. If something bothers me at this point, that is because something beyond my logic and common sense happens to exist around me.
The logic beyond the concept of property is that the matter that humans take from nature and transform in something usable is naturally limited. We cannot freely dispose of this matter. There is of course a part of subjectivity in the perception of something being limited or usable but commonly, when humans think that a resource is usable and limited, they regard it rather from the private property perspective.
How can something so abstract and boundless like an idea be considered property? Well, I think that an idea belongs to an individual or a group. An idea can be MINE, YOURS or THEIRS. But since when, the fact that I have an idea of doing something implies that no one else has the right to do it? This is the most childish thing I have ever heard of. I remember, being a child, how upset I was when someone else spelled my ideas before me. I was frustrated, crying and yelling all around : << That’s not true, I was the first to have this idea! >>. I guess the society is not mature yet if something arbitrary like “intellectual property” exists.
I can understand that someone who produces an idea wants his idea being recognized as HIS. I can understand that the satisfaction increases when an idea is recognized officially. But I can’t possibly understand the fact that no one else is allowed to use this idea. When I have an idea, I put it on paper. I put the paper in my drawer. Here is what the logic tells me that could happen (and you can replace me with an enterprise, is the same thing):
i) I have the possibility to work on my idea. I begin to manufacture the product I imagined or I begin to manufacture a product using the process I imagined. It is possible that someone penetrates my property, copy the paper and use it or sell it to someone who can use it. This is against my will so I call the police and I demand an investigation. Of course, if someone starts to manufacture the same product or use the same process I imagined that someone will be the main suspect. Those who will be found guilty will pay the damages that I suffered economically and morally. Maybe they will go in prison. This is justice. Of course, there are risks. Maybe the thief and his collaborators will never be discovered. There is the same risk as for any other theft. I do believe in time people will understand that this kind of theft is very bad because it will lead to the reestablishment of the patent system, thus harming everyone (stealers included).
ii) I have the possibility to work on my idea. I begin to manufacture the product I imagined or I begin to manufacture a product using the process I imagined. After a while I learn that somewhere else, someone produces an equivalent product or use an equivalent process. Well… so much for that. This is life; there are many people around and ideas are coming from all over the places. I cannot say if that someone had the idea a minute before or after me, or if he stole it from me in a very professional quiet manner. If I have an advance, then I can be the first to finish the product so I can make some noisy publicity about being the first. If it’s a process, I can make some noise from the start about being the first one to use it. Eventually, the one who will succeed will be the one who is more efficient: the one who has the lowest costs of production and a decent marketing.
iii) I don’t have the possibility to manufacture the product I imagined or to use the process I imagined. Then, I can wait for a while in case I believe that soon I will be able to do it. If not, I can search investors or I can sell it in an auction. The protection of my idea lies in my skill of keeping secret the essential parts of it and, of course, in my negotiation skill. It is my responsibility to protect my idea and to obtain a good contract. Only a contract, once signed, can be enforced by law and no one can force me to sign. Humanity has at least the maturity to understand that aggressiveness is bad in the end for everyone, including the aggressor.
The patent system, beyond his absurdity, kills the imagination and drives prices up. By patenting my idea I just tell everyone: << Hey, guys, I have this idea. Now you can stop thinking of doing the same thing! Any way I told you how this can be done… Moreover, 20 years from now I will decide who will do it, regardless the cost of production. If some of you will have the same idea, you will have a bitter surprise when you will not be allowed to do it because it was already patented! >>. Do you know that some ideas are waiting 20-30 years to be realized just because the inventor doesn’t have the possibility to do it and the companies in the field prefer to wait and prepare 20 years instead of paying the patent? With the condition humans are enough mature to realize that being fair is good for all (and I think is almost the case for developed societies), the natural way of doing things favors imagination, creative concurrence and lower costs for everyone.
In the end, I can’t stop thinking that the patent system makes use of an army of administrative officials and is considered a reason for the State to exist. I can’t stop thinking that in the first place the patent was introduced not by some Statesman’s will to make an universal good but by big companies with strong influence in the American Congress, wanting to acquire monopoly. I’m sick of hearing that freedom brings monopoly and that the State is there to watch. The State itself is a dangerous monopoly. I’m sick of paying taxes when I know that I’m paying, against my will, for something as absurd as the patent system.