Who owns the IP?

Sales of new models of mobile phones raced ahead for as long as having the latest version was status-enhancing. About a year ago it suddenly stopped being. Maybe the new models were simply not a big enough advance on the previous ones (Samsung). Maybe the older models went on working for longer than their makers had anticipated (Apple). Maybe consumers realised that they used only about 5% of the power of their mobiles – and didn’t have time to use more.

Whatever the apparent reason, behind it was a diminution of the to prove who you are. Your mobile brand made a statement about you; the age of the model made another one. Intellectual Property rights work somewhat the same way. Widely ignored in Asia, South America, North Africa and the Middle East they nevertheless stand for something of value. Acquiring IP for your invention or creation is a bit like painting your house. It feels better for the statement.

That creating has a value is beyond question. As we learn more about the relationship between the brain / mind and our nervous system we realise that replacement of all the mechanical parts we possess does not add up to a loving feeling, a snatch of jealousy or a sense of well being. There is something beyond the definable – something as light as a feather, as weighty as a homecoming. Create to enhance what you observe and you add marmalade to your toast. That’s happiness.

Artists, writers, actors, those who nudge our imaginations out of their functional routines into fantasies, anyone who helps another to see what they might otherwise miss of life, these are the people we should nurture as much as we reward innovators, inventors and developers. Intellectual Property rights are a way of doing so. They need to be handled carefully, however. It is arguable that when your thoughts can help someone else they should be given freely. We each have different brains and talents. If we hoard them as personal possessions we are anti-social.

Where investment of time and money is involved the funder can rightly expect a return for risk-taking. Except that all of life is time and money. The perpetual learner never stops investing. The fact that they have lived a long time is a benefit they had rather little control over. So can it be counted as free? If free to me should it be free to you? Property owning democracies seem to have produced the most stable and perhaps the happiest societies. So is your IP really yours?

We still have a long way to go in thinking out a responsible relationship between personal possession and public ownership, even in simple terms. The more complex ‘gifts and giving’ reasoning is still beyond our grasp. We can, however, understand our own needs and the needs of others. When Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet he said it should be free to all as it was a major part of future human communications. When Aneurin Bevan invented the British National Health Service he got Parliament to agree that it should be free at the point of delivery.

These two things have been the biggest social advances of my lifetime. Providing them free was a noble gesture. In practice, I think it was wrong in both cases. For the Health Service, free means waste, on a massive scale, sometimes quoted as £36BN a year. Much the same can be said for the internet, although the value of the waste is difficult to assess. It far exceeds £36BN for sure.

So payment for Intellectual Property is not just reward for provider. It is proof to purchaser, too.

Value your Intellectual Property. In the end it’s the echo of your life.

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