Startup general interest

Our intellectual property regime is absurd – a reminder

By January 13, 2010 8 Comments

Michael Masnick’s Techdirt blog is one of the few blogs I subscribe to via email, so I’m a fan, and when I looked at this morning I got a series of articles about the absurd nature of our intellectual property regime.  If you read this blog regularly you will know that generally speaking I’m an intellectual property sceptic.  I am neither a lawyer nor an expert on this subject but I have seen enough startups undermined by spurious patent claims and innovative young media companies stymied by copyright difficulties to convince me that the current system is wrong, wrong, wrong.  The answer I think is to shift the balance in favour of the little guy.  How far, I’m not quite sure, but in my opinion we should definitely start weakening current protections, as they rarely work to promote innovation and creativity and are often twisted to serve the interests of big business and add a lot of waste and friction into the system.

The point of this post is to give some examples of this waste and friction, all culled from a single days writing on Techdirt.

1. Japanese electronics firms turn to patent fights as Korean companies take the lead in this market – in the 1970s and 1980s US electronics firms lost their edge to Japan and frequently accused them of stealing their technology.  Now the cycle is repeating with Japanese firms turning to patent law to try and slow down their Korean usurpers, in a move that will slow innovation, waste money and will only help yesterdays electronics giants (and maybe not even them).

2. French copyright enforcement agency accidentally steals someone else’s font – Hadopi, the organisation in France that has been designated to deal with the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ (i.e. kicked off the internet) rule re accusations of illegal downloading unveiled its new logo only to discover it had unknowingly used a France Telecom font which hadn’t been licensed for use by anyone else.  They changed the font and apologised, but this shows how easy it is to fall foul of copyright law.

3. Union Square Ventures posted about the need for an independent invention defence against patent infringement lawsuits – as the law currently stands (in the US at least, but I think beyond) if two people independently come up with the same invention then the first one to file a patent can force the other to pay a royalty.  The absurdity of this should be evident, even if it weren’t possible to draft broadly worded patents so the reach captures not just identical inventions but anything similar.  Apparently one third of Union Squares Ventures portfolio is under attack from patent trolls who make it their sole business to abuse the patent regime by cheaply buying broad patents and going after companies who are working hard to make genuine innovations.  (If this point sounds familiar that’s because I tweeted it yesterday.)

4. Getting legal clearance for films is now painful as samples of third party copyrighted work need clearance – this whole post is worth a read for the absurdity of how complex this process has got.  One small example; Kembrew McLeod producer of the film Copyright Criminals noted that if you use a hip hop song in a film that itself samples 20 other tracks you have to get approval from the copyright holders of all the underlying samples.  Worse, if you get agreement from the first 19 to pay $10,000 each and the 20th holds out for $20,000 you then have to go back and offer that higher amount to all the others.

5. There is a serious debate as to whether software patents should be allowed at all – as this article points out many VCs believe that the existence of software patents is a brake on innovation and bad for society. 

6. A company called DigiProtect is sending collection agencies after people it accuses of copyright infringement before they have been found guilty – i.e. the copyright system allows individual companies to get away with appointing themselves judge and jury in cases where they are claiming for damages to themselves.  Apparently they are making money at it too.

Six examples in one day.  That’s a lot.

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