James Boyle’s Important Ideas on IP & Innovation

Intellectual Property rights encourage innovation, right? Right? Well, not necessarily. Actually, people that study this empirically consistently find that the evidence suggests that they don’t. Here’s a fantastic talk by James Boyle discussing his book The Public Domain, which addresses this exact issue:

(Thanks to Gerd Leonhard for the tip on this talk)

Boyle’s book is outstanding (there’s a link to a free download of the book here). His central thesis is that we tend to underestimate the benefits of openness while overestimating the potential downsides. Consequently, we have too much legislation supporting IP rights. However, he effectively documents all of the research on this topic, which consistently shows that IP rights in general do not encourage innovation, they suppress it.

The original intent of patents was to encourage the use of technology so that new ideas could be built on these technologies as soon as possible. At the national level, this has several implications:

Class, repeat after me:

(1). Green jobs are NOT a zero sum game where nations are competing for a fixed number of them.

(2). If China or Germany or anyone develops “innovative energy technology”, that is NOT bad for us. It is in fact *awesome* for us, as we can then adopt it and use it.

People, ideas are public goods. That is the whole basis of new growth theory. If China is now doing cutting edge R&D, that is an unmitigated blessing for everyone on the planet.

Will Wilkinson picks up on that post:

Worrying that other countries are pulling ahead is like worrying that the other oarsman in your boat will beat you to the destination if you’re lazy. You’re in the same boat! The smart thing is to goad everyone else into going as fast and hard as they can.

So if we don’t have IP rights to protect our ideas, how do we make money off of them? We win by building the best business model.

The value of an innovation is not in the idea that it is built on, but on the execution of that idea.

(thanks to Venessa Miemis for the link to the Wilkinson post)

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.