Sunday, August 25, 2013

Intellectual property - where should one draw the line between individual property, community property and humanity's property?

Just because a given person thinks a particular thought before others, should that give him or her legal rights over the thought and its implications, even if they are significant for the community or humanity? Private parties, that are able to fund thinkers/researchers to think particular thoughts expect to be compensated for their "investment" by returns generated from the knowledge generated due to the research funded by them.  Most of the time, legal regimes grant such rights for pre-specified time, after which the knowledge becomes available to others for their similar usage. This is commonly accepted as ok. But where does one draw the line?

The open ended search for knowledge and open ended building of tools using the knowledge needs to be monitored and controlled better than it has been till now. Else humanity will shoot itself in its foot. It is our responsibility to do so, else some parties will acquire control over the rest of us. Liberty is at risk from the empire-builders and their agents. There is an urgent need to regulate regarding
1. Who can research what and how?
2. What rules should be applied for controlling what research can be carried out privately?
3.  Who can fund what research and how?
4. Do such rules violate human rights of the researchers and/or funders?
5. Can such rules be implemented in practice i.e. are they practical?
6. If a particular technology can generate great benefits/risks (in a very generic sense) to the community and/or humanity, what rules should apply to researchers and/or funders?

Essentially the fundamental question of our generation is "as the relative value of intellectual property with respect to physical property continues to rise, how does one ensure that at a humanity level, we grow in knowledge and leverage its positive benefits, but we do it in a sustainable manner i.e. without putting the community and environment at risk?"

Many of us will know that this is difficult and dangerous territory. The IPR battles between multiple large players are proof enough of the capability of IPR law to drive as well as stifle innovation. It is almost as if IPR is the organising mechanism of the modern world. High IPR means high financial and social status and low IPR means low financial and social status. Not that this is surprising because this has largely been so for most of humanity's time on earth. But the scale and scope of IPR's influence is very large and growing in determining financial and social status and/or destinies of individuals and firms.While we increasingly share more and more knowledge over the Internet, the quality of knowledge available on the internet is not uniform and given the ever increasing quantity of knowledge shared on it, the elusiveness of the knowledge increment which will provide competitive advantage continues to grow as advised by Claude Shannon. But inexorably, the financial and social status correlates well with the quality of knowledge and/or its perception.

Essentially if the above mentioned regulation happens, it will have significant implications for our social and political structures, ideas/beliefs and practices? As humanity we face a large transformational challenge. If we do not take up the challenge, we will destroy ourselves in a few centuries or live in a quite different world in a few centuries. If we succeed, we might live in a very different world. I am not able to see the next paradigm shift, but what the heck - let us deal with the one we need to right now.


Pratap Tambay
25 August 2013
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