In my more radical moments, such as when I read about Gillette and Schick arguing over whether the latter can sell a four-blade razor because Gillette has patented the creation of any razor involving three blades, I think about the bloody overthrow of the intellectual property system.
Damn all these global treaties and drastically shorten the periods for the two most powerful protection measures for intellectual property, copyright and patents. Think about accepting patents on business processes and software – though no one has yet persuaded me why copyright over the code is insufficient – but cut their applicability to just a few years.
Make them cheap enough for individuals to pursue, and not just corporations with time and deep pockets, but make true innovation the absolute measure of their approval. Make compulsory licensing compulsory, so that developers can get on with what they do best rather than fighting legal battles, which they mostly do badly and reluctantly.
At the risk of repeating myself, I predict that – barring a global shutdown -- intellectual property will become the most important issue for business for the next five or six years.
The signs are already clear.
Reviewing the last year in IP (which is what this column is supposed to represent), we are reminded that Deep Thought has recently been put into the area. Our copyright and patent acts have moved off the back burner and on to the double coil set to high. Our trademark legislation has been tweaked.
Why? Partly because the tyranny of distance is being truncated by technology and law. While global treaties have long been in existence, we can no longer pay lip service to the world beyond our shores, because it wants to impose its law and business rules on us. In this vein ITANZ bravely stepped forward to battle e-commerce patents, like DE Technologies, Amazon.com’s’ One Click and E-mmediate Delivery Co’s, which could impose penalties on local companies, but warned it can’t fight alone.
Meanwhile, the US Patent and Trademark Office is, for the first time in ages, revisiting the website plug-in patent that forced Microsoft to pay Eolas hundreds of millions of dollars. People as exalted as Tim Berners-Lee have argued the patent challenges the very integrity of the internet. The Federal Trade Commission, worried about barriers to innovation, has asked the PTO to revisit its standards, to make it harder to get and easier to challenge a patent.
A vote on liberalising European patent laws keeps being delayed in the face of absolutely furious lobbying, while debate has been similarly heated over the issue of criminalising – for individuals as well as commercial bodies – the breach of IP rights.
As our letters pages have suggested, the alternatives to copyright agreements have vociferous support. We can expect alongside the open source ethos – share the goal, share the work, share the result, as Wired magazine puts it – to spread to areas outside of software, such as science, research and publishing. It’s just the start.