Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Is intellectual property really property?

David Warsh says, maybe not. Here's a key section:

"In the case of land, rights and responsibilities are ordinarily quite clear. Before buying a parcel of land, a purchaser typically researches the history of the title, conducts a survey of the land itself, and takes out insurance on the deed. Before erecting a structure on his property, the owner hires a lawyer, checks the boundaries and the zoning laws, contacts abutters and proceeds with caution. Hardly ever does one person unintentionally build something on another’s land.

"Yet with intellectual property, the authors note, it happens all the time. Boundaries are fuzzy and unpredictable. Would-be title-holders aren’t required to give clear notice; claims of ownership often are withheld for many years. The actual possession of an invention may not be required; often having patented the idea is enough. Search costs are high and climbing. “If you can’t tell the boundaries, then it ain’t property,” they write. And indeed most “intellectual property” really isn’t property. Instead it is an income stream, sometimes legally vouchsafed by a patent, trademark or copyright; or, far more often, secured by secrecy, skill and adaptability."

Interesting and important.


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