Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Intellectual Property

Intellectual Property

The concept of intellectual property goes back to at least 1888 with the founding of the Swiss Federal Office for Intellectual Property. Intellectual property rights are state-enforced monopolies regarding use and expression of ideas and information. To own something as subtle as the expression of an idea is a strange concept for some. There has always been criticism of the theory, none more to the point than that of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States:

“Stable ownership is the gift of social law, and is given late in the progress of society. It would be curious then, if an idea, the fugitive fermentation of an individual brain, could, of natural right, be claimed in exclusive and stable property. If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.”

Spoken like a true yogi.

David K. Levine, Professor of Economics at Washington University in St. Louis has studied the effects of intellectual property rights, and disputes the assertion that these rights encourage innovation. He cites some examples:

􏰀 Boulton and Watt’s steam engine patent most likely delayed
the Industrial Revolution by a couple of decades.

􏰀 Selten’s automobile patent set back automobile innovation in
the United States by roughly the same amount of time.

􏰀 The Wright Brothers’ airplane patent forced innovative work on
airplane technology out of the United States to France.

􏰀 The patent system of England and France forced the chemical
industry to move to Germany and Switzerland where chemical
patents did not exist or were much weaker.

􏰀 When Verdi gained copyright over his works he stopped
producing new works. More generally, there is no evidence
that the adoption of copyrights stimulated the creation of
classical music.

Anyone who has been in the process of creating ideas – a song, a joke, a poem or a sequence of yoga postures – will attest to the fact that there are two things at work to create something out of nothing. The first is the technical skill required to play the notes, get the timing right for the punch-line, type the words or perform the postures. This, the yogis call Smrti, meaning “that which is remembered”. But the second component is by far the more important – the idea itself. And this part is given more than created. It is as if the idea was already there in some form of collective storehouse, waiting to be received and manifested. Ideas can be manipulated by the mind and grasped by the ego, but they exist as potential in the Source of our being and like shruti, are divinely revealed.

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