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September 23, 2012
News - IP Obesity
about 7 years ago
What a difficult subject. I'm an engineer, with an MBA. An inventor and entrepreneur. I have mixed and paradoxical feelings about IP.
The basic argument in favor of IP is that capital won't be available unless risk is minimized, and the temporary monopoly implied (note, not guaranteed) by a patent is a sanctioned method of lowering risk. The insanity of this can be shown by asking protectionists "you are saying if there were no patents, that is risk were the same across the board, that capital would no longer invent in new ideas?" That's absurd. Patent or not, capital will want to grow. The capitalists argue that patents encourage competition. How? Well, by minimizing risk, capitalists will want to invest in new ideas. They will argue that without patents, there will be no competition, because no one will want to do anything new. Again, absurd, isn't it?
Let's look at truly competitive aspects of human society. The most competitive activities I can think of are war, crime, fashion, and Formula 1 racing. None of these highly competitive activities follows the "logic" of the capitalists. They are highly competitive, and rapidly evolving. Yes, F1 is a bit of stretch because there are rules laid down by the FIA; however within those rules of the game, the sport is very competitive and innovative. In each of these copying is commonplace, but being copied just pushes the originators to further innovate.
That is to say that I believe we would see more competition, more innovation if there were no intellectual property protection.
The other side of the coin? Well, I have products I'm working on, ideas to deploy to the market. Like many I'm in the position where I need capital. That capital is hard to raise without protection. It's the world we live in, and it's how the financiers want the game played.
Another "other side of the coin". Sparkfun may have unpatented products; but what about trademarks? The value of Sparkfun is the (protected) brand. It's true of many successful players. Look at lego, and all the "compatible with lego" products. Lego can survive that now because they have reached a point where the value of the protected brand exceeds the value of the protected technology. That may not have been the case early in their history. Sparkfun may be open with tech, but that would be a different story if someone was selling Sparkfun branded copies through a sparkfun2 website, shipping in nifty red boxes... Brand has value; it is difficult to build brand with a freely copied product.
So philosophically I support open hardware, and more limitations on government licensed monopolies (patents). But in the real world, I don't have a powerful brand to use as a vehicle to sell my ideas. I have a mortgage, kids to feed, that real world stuff. So, like the Makerbots guys, I have to face facts and personally use a tool that is not pure to my philosophical beliefs, but is a standard, accepted tool in industry. Sure the fan boys will call me a hypocrite, but then how many of those fanboys are putting their money where their mouth is and trying to start new businesses?
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