Bonum Certa Men Certa

Improving 'Innovation', One Embargo at a Time...

The 'joys' of intellectual monopolies

T

he shrewd remarks from Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz continue to impress. He has become quite a vocal critic of the intellectual monopolies principle. The press still covers his unusual take at the moment, amid the creation of his new institute, which will be located nearby. Have a look at this:

US economist Joseph Stiglitz has warned that intellectual property rights are stifling innovation. According to the Intellectual Property Watch news service, the professor, who was awarded a 2001 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on the relationship of information and markets, said at the opening of Manchester University's Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation on Saturday that the intellectual property rights regime "closes down access to knowledge". It was clear, he said, that specific restrictions applied particularly in the patent system.

Stiglitz criticised the current approach of treating copyright and patent rights as "intellectual property". Intellectual property, he insisted, is public property and not something to be "owned". It is difficult to prevent others from enjoying its benefits, he said, because it is fundamentally different to, and should not be compared to, the ownership of physical property. This approach creates monopoly power over knowledge that is often abused. Stiglitz gave as an example the current "patent thicket" in software, which results in anyone who writes a successful software program being sued for alleged patent infringements.


This is a very timely observation because yesterday there was this report about the verge of another embargo, which surely will benefit neither science nor consumers. Lawyers? Maybe.

It's pretty unlikely this case will see Samsung handsets stopped at the US border. Most likely it will rumble on until both sides see an escape that saves face and a sum of money changes hands. So if this is a preliminary skirmish then Samsung has the most men still standing but the battle continues.


Will the world take a lesson from Professor Stiglitz?

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