Intellectual Property

It has become fashionable to describe copyright, patents, and trademarks as "intellectual property". This fashion did not arise by accident--the term systematically distorts and confuses these issues, and its use was and is promoted by those who gain from this confusion. Anyone wishing to think clearly about any of these laws would do well to reject the term. Did You Say "Intellectual Property"? It's a Seductive Mirage

The four main types of Intellectual property:

IP in practice

Intellectual Property can refer to a wall of patents and copyrights held by organisations and companies as part of a portfolio of ideas and concepts that traditionally serve at least two purposes. The first is to safeguard the commercial exploitation of a marketable idea or process; the second is to create barriers to entry for new goods creators who might offer unwanted competition. Privatisation of a public good (E.g, creating a marketable medicine out of indigenous ingredients and methods) is also one of the possible end results of the IP process.

Peter Drahos has written extensively on IP rights; his 2002 book 'Information Feudalism' contains a dissection of the current state of the restrictions posed by IP on the information economy by rights holders as well as an analysis of the genesis of the current global IP system, which he characterises as creating a closed-shop environment geared towards the protection of corporate profits at the expense of knowledge as a public common good. He makes a particular example of patents and IP surrounding the biotechnology sector; as an example, knowledge which would seem to be in the public domain, such as gene sequences, is patented on the basis of a particular technique of its manufacture or make-up. Knowledge is then internalised to the patent-holder with penalties for any infringers, unless the patent-holder decides to license the technology or sequence, thus blocking future research that the patent-holder may have no intention of doing.

Drahos also makes the point that the IP cartels formed by private companies depend increasingly on sponsored public sector research, for example in universities. Under a standard model, the research team gets its name on the scientific paper; the sponsor gets the rights to the far more valuable patent relating to the research. Drahos explains: "...companies have been anxious to forge links with universities because for all their private R&D dollars they are profoundly dependent on public science in all fields of technology. In biotechnology the dependence is striking; for example more than 70% of scientific papers cited in biotechnology patents originated in solely public science institutions compared with 16.5% that originated in the private sector" (Drahos, 2002). As a result, "Patents, instead of being a reward for inventors who place private information into the public domain, have become a means of recycling public information as private monopolies" (Ibid.)

See also


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  • Bollier, D. Brand Name Bullies: The Quest to Own and Control Culture. London: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. ISBN: 978-0471679271
  • Kohn, A. & Kohn, B. Kohn on Music Licensing. London: Aspen Law & Business, 2002. ISBN: 978-0735514478
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  • Davis, J. Intellectual Property Law. London: LexisNexis, 2003. ISBN: 978-0406963796
  • Thierer, A. & Crews, W. (eds.) Copy Fights: The Future Of Intellectual Property In The Information Age. London: Cato Institute, 2002. ISBN: 978-1930865242
  • Fisher, W. Promises to Keep: Technology, Law and the Future of Entertainment. London: Stanford University Press, 2004. ISBN: 978-0804750134
  • Vaidhyanathan, S. Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. London: New York University Press, 2003. ISBN: 978-0814788073
  • Schubert, K. & McClean, D. (eds.) Dear Images: Art, Copyright and Culture. London: Ridinghouse, 2002. ISBN: 978-0954171025
  • Wark, M. A Hacker Manifesto. London: Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN: 978-0674015432
  • Gay, J. (ed.) Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. London: Free Software Foundation, 2002. ISBN: 978-1882114986
  • Atkins, R. et al (eds.) Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression. London: New Press, 2006. ISBN: 978-1595580979
  • Davies, W. & Withers, K. Public Innovation: Intellectual Property in a Digital Age. London: Institute for Public Policy Research, 2006. ISBN: 1860303013