Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Intellectual Property Rights

The discussion on IP rights is quite hot. Material property rights seem to be easy. If you own a house and can prove it, it is yours. But the intellectual property is complicated. The in-favor-of-IP camp argues that any person who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof has a moral property right to it. The same camp argues that patents and IP rights create innovation by protecting R&D or other kind of intellectual investment. The contra-IP camp argues that unlike the material domain there are no moral rights on property in the intellectual domain. Furthermore they argue the IP right protection and patents stifle innovation as they prevent follow-up inventions and faster market absorption. In addition, preventing vital information and inventions to reach the market for the good of the common is unethical, immoral and speaks against IP rights. Imagine this example: Someone invents a cure for cancer, patents it and does not license it. Later a different person through independent means invents the same cure for cancer and wants to donate his invention to mankind. He is prevented. The second inventor has been robed of his freedom to donate his invention. The cancer patients are the ones to suffer the consequences. Another example would be big multinational oil companies buying up patents regarding non-gasoline powered vehicles and hiding these patents in a drawer. Such behavior is against the good of the common. And of course there are camps in between these extremes, camps that argue that some IP protection is beneficial for some type of IP.

How far can we go? How far have we gone? The IP rights are constantly expanded. First in time (now 20 years), then in scope. Genes can be patented. Whole plants are protected (see Monsanto and its generically modified seeds) already. Now corporations are trying to claim property rights on animals (e.g. Monsanto wants to patent the pig). What's next? Human body parts? Eye color genes?

This was in the news last week: "If the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) gets its way, the file-sharing company LimeWire will get blasted out of existence with a billion dollar fine. Meanwhile, British Petroleum, with its oil spill, that's on its way to the ecology disaster level of a Chernobyl, is liable for up to $75-million under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. What's wrong with this picture?" (Source: www.itworld.com) LimeWire provided means to share files, i.e. to enable IP infringement. BP polluted and continues to pollute the world's ocean and air. Does current legislation seem just?

UC Berkeley has a site with several high quality papers on IP. Not that I agree with all the conclusions but these publications offer a good discussion of the topic. "A World Without Intellectual Property? Boldrin and Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly" by Richard Gilbert, "The Justification of Intellectual Property: Contemporary Philosophical Disputes" by Kenneth Himma, and "Monopoly, Mercantilism, and Intellectual Property" by Thomas Nachbar. Each paper has a button "Similar Items" to show related scientific publications.

No comments:

Post a Comment