Thursday, May 17, 2007

Intellectual Property

If you can think it you can own it, I guess. I've always had a fascination with the phrase. Intellectual property seems to me an attempt to make tangible that which is intangible. To me, though, the problem with intellectual property is that it's very concept and value to society is being destroyed by those who seem to "own" the most of it.

I have the deepest respect for inventors. My father has a patent in his name and I've always thought of him as mechanically imaginative; with the type of imagination that should be rewarded.

The United States and many other countries, in an effort to promote inventiveness and innovation, have established patent systems designed to encourage and reward creative imagination. The key aspect of these patent systems, at least to a lay person such as myself, has been to identify and reward original and non-obvious inventions. Inventions that would not have come into existence without the hard work and dedication of the inventor should be rewarded.

I firmly believe this is a great idea. I'd love to have the innovative imagination to create something uniquely beneficial to society. People speak of having a million dollar idea by inventing a great new product. As a society, we created entire companies and industries around inventiveness, imagination and innovation.

And then, it started to come crashing down around us. It started with software patents but it won't end there. The most difficult thing with software patents is that most software developers recognize that many software patents reward obvious, trivial and incremental improvements to the existing state-of-the-art. Many of us in the software world find it incomprehensible that one-click shopping gets a patent or the way a menu animation unfolds gets "intellectual property" protection.

Combine these issues in the software world with the insanity of digital rights management (DRM), RIAA lawsuits, the obstruction of HDTV innovation through forced DRM in the interconnects and we get that which no legal system can survive - disrespect.

Laws in a civilized society only work when society respects the laws. The abuse the alleged owners of intellectual property foist upon us as consumers of their products will result in the inevitable, ultimate "dissing" of the owners and their supposed property.

Microsoft's latest salvo in this battle is likely the first shot in the latest battle over intellectual property. Microsoft claims 235 violated patents but is unwilling, unable or simply afraid to articulate the specific claims. Microsoft's strategy appears to be another incarnation of the "vig" that needs to be paid to the house. They would rather threaten with massive numbers of patents than to actually enforce any particular patent.

Will industry, or society or we as individuals allow this shake-down to occur? I can't imagine any of us on the consumer side willing to pay any vig because we might be using their intellectual property. I want to know if I'm misappropriating someone else's property and, if I am, then I'm willing to pay or to stop using it once I have enough information to make a decision.

My biggest fear, though, isn't that we will be stuck paying Microsoft's vig, as unpleasant as that would be. My biggest fear is that the disrespect that the Microsofts of the world engender will ultimately eliminate a perfectly valid method of rewarding innovation.

1 comment:

lord_alan said...

Hi, love your blog. Don't know if you have seen this yet but according to the people on groklaw there isn't much the Microsoft has going fot it... http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070519090322431