Dyson on IP

He puts one side of the case well. That IP costs money to develop, it\’s property because we\’ve said it should be so in order to generate more of it and thus we\’ve got to protect IP.

Especially from Chinese knock off merchants.

The thing is it is indeed only one side of the case.

We could make the argument that those copyists are so damn poor that it\’s immoral for us to insist on IP in certain areas. This is essentially what has been done with HIV/AIDS drugs. And the structure is in place for governments to be able to, essentially, void IP on drugs to treat large scale and immediate health threats.

But leave the morals aside for a moment, the rights, and think rather of real world effectiveness.

In order to properly protect IP we need the agreement of local governments, to a larger or lesser extent we also need the general agreement of the society at large.

This is true of any set of laws of course. The law in the UK is largely obeyed because it is largely supported. It tells us not to do things that most of us agree shouldn\’t be done and doesn\’t ban us from doing things which most of us think all should be allowed to do.

Where it does ban what many desire to do it\’s a joke: drugs for example. While we try to impose a total ban on production, distribution and consumption any one of us could find just about any drug within a few hours: a day at the very most.

Of course, drugs are not IP, but the analogy is close enough. In order to have effective law, the law needs to be  to a large extent agreed upon and thus largely self-policing. And clearly IP law is such in parts of the world and not in others.

The difference between where it is and where it isn\’t could be, if you squint at it, marked by those places which produce IP and those that do not. No one gives a flying F about IP in Equatorial Guinea whereas they do in Cambridge.

All of which leads to a possible, reasonable, stance on IP protection, upon the insistence in law that IP must be protected. There are some places where you\’ll have to impose it with near draconian powers, as with our own drugs market. There are other places where it will be generally obeyed. So, try to impose it where it will stick and don\’t even bother to make the effort where it will not.

Poor countries that don\’t produce any of their own IP don\’t have to enforce it, rich places which do will naturally be happy to protect it.

This meets several goals: we only protect where it is possible to do so at reasonable cost. We don\’t get the lefty cries of but, but, we\’re ripping off the poor and finally, the amount of money that could be made out of poor places actually obeying IP law is so pitiful that really, why bother?

Seems like a plan to me. Enforce IP law where we can, where it makes financial sense to do so and as the poor countries become rich, as they start to have people producing IP within their own economies, they\’ll naturally be more willing to protect all IP.

Wouldn\’t take all that many people nicking the Chinese IP on rare earths (of which there is quite a lot) to get the Chinese Govt a bit more serious about protecting all IP in China.

9 thoughts on “Dyson on IP”

  1. He also misses – as do most dinosaur lobbyists – the crucial point that *every act of IP infringement makes the world a better place*, because it increases utility at zero cost.

  2. Designer labels create an arbitrage opportunity for crooks, in the same way that duty on vodka does.

    A pair of jeans or a bottle of vodka are both very cheap to create, but if they have the right brands and stamps on sell for a lot of money on our markets.

    As long as people invest money creating brands, they will also create the opportunity for profit and the black market that goes with it.

    You can’t ‘stop’ IP theft without introducing a police surveillance state.

  3. There is the small issue of who wants to be first to have their IP used by other countries without renumeration to allow the poor country to become rich.

  4. Sadbutmadlad:

    1) Countries typically don’t have IP, companies or people do

    2) Countries typically don’t steal IP, companies or people do

  5. “This meets several goals: we only protect where it is possible to do so at reasonable cost.”

    Tim, I’m sorry ‘f I sound narky, but I can;t reconcile this statement with the concept of the rule of law. If I were to post a comment that bankers’ bonusses should be taxable at 150% because it’s well known that all bankers are theiving bastards, it would certainly be contrary to the rule of law, but would seem to be as logical as your own statement. Property is property is property – agreed? Fine. Better to revisit TRIPS, a beast from Hell if ever there was one, that adopt an approcah like the one suggested here.

    Tim adds: the above is the logic: the policy action would be to revisit TRIPS, as you say, that beast from Hell.

  6. I’m sorry ‘f I sound narky, but I can;t reconcile this statement with the concept of the rule of law

    It’s easy: “de minimis non curat lex”.

    Property is property is property – agreed?

    No – property is property. Crucially, I have my property, and you don’t, and if you take it, then I don’t have it any more.

    The suggestion that other people should be banned from using their own property to write and store a certain combination of letters or pixels, because it might make whoever was the first person to write and store such a combination of letters and pixels sad, has absolutely fuck all to do with any concept of property.

  7. Property rights are just that, a bunch of rights. As is IP. Both classes of rights are worth protecting, which means the owner is entitled to enforce them.

    “Crucially, I have my property, and you don’t, and if you take it, then I don’t have it any more.”

    And if I invented a laser that could vapourise your property – would it also vapourise your property rights with it? Could I shoot at will, without consequences? By vapourising your house, will I have removed your rights too?

    You’re repeating a common Guardianista fallacy: because something is non-excludable, it must be public.

  8. John,

    As you might expect, I don’t agree with your assessment of my previous comment; if only because I used to be a lawyer, and know what the expression ‘de minimis non curat lex’ actually means . The most precise translation I’ve come across is ‘the law does not bother with trifles’, and I’m sure you’ll argue the subject of this post isn’t trifling. You may have meant ‘de minimis’, an abbreviation of the complete saying which has entered the language as a means of saying ‘it doesn’t matter’; but I would respectfully suggest that in the context of this particular argument, the full statement is inappropriate, for the obvious reasons stated by Dyson.

    And I’m afraid that the final paragraph of your immediately preceding comment indicates what is, to my eyes, a certain stubborn indifference to the entire concept of intellectual property. Again, with the greatest respect (I’m off swearing on Tim’s blog for Lent), my view is that your energy would be directed towards campaigning against TRIPS, an entity upon whose precise nature both Tim and I agree, and trying to find a less one-sided system that would enable the human race to benefit from the spirit of invention while also ensuring that the world’s poorest are not locked out of its benefits on the grounds of cost. I don’t agree with Tim’s idea, because the law is the law is the law, and becomes meaingless if not upheld with equal vigour wherever it applies. Think of something better.

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