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As mentioned in my last post, this summer I am visiting the WZB to work on a paper about the digital public domain. Rifling through a huge pile of papers on the issue, I recently stumbled across Robert P. Merges’ 2004 essay “A New Dynamism in the Public Domain” (PDF) – and I really regret not having read this piece much earlier. He summarizes the main point of his paper as follows:
The simple point of this Essay is that these investments are invigorating the public domain with a new dynamism stemming from private action. These investments demonstrate that private action, and not just government policy, can augment the public domain. (p. 184)
Such private investments into the public domain, Merges argues, are inspired by the very expansions of intellectual property rights they seek to counteract: Read the rest of this entry »
Steven Johnson, 2010: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation. New York: Riverhead Books.
Steven Johnson is all about crossing borders. His books deal with a great variety of topics, ranging from London’s most terrifying cholera epidemic (“The Ghost Map“) to a praise of popular culture (“Everything Bad is Good for You“). And also in his most recent book, Steven Johnson crosses disciplinary and historical borders, when he, in his own words, “analyzed 300 of the most influential innovations in science, commerce and technology — from the discovery of vacuums to the vacuum tube to the vacuum cleaner”.
The list of reviews and summaries of the book availble online is endless, including a TED talk given by the author himself and a great video summary featured above. So I am not going to reproduce any of these but very selectively refer to one of the examples presented in the book that relates most to the issues discussed in this blog. This example is the web-based patent marketplace GreenXChange, where Nike publicly released more than 400 of its patents that involve environmentally friendly materials or technologies. Johnson discribes rationale and realization of the project as follows (p. 125):
“By keeping its eco-friendly ideas behind a veil of secrecy, Nike was holding back – without any real commercial justification – ideas that might, in another context, contribute to a sustainable future. In collaboration with Creative Commons, Nike released its patents under a modified license permitting use in ‘non-competitive’ fields. (They also created a standardized, pre-negotiated contract for patents, thereby reducing the transaction costs of haggling over each patent license individually.)”
This is the first example, at least to my knowledge, where Creative Commons was active in standardizing licenses outside of the field of copyright regulation (see the respective announcement on its blog). Moreover, it demonstrates how similar problems and solutions in both so-called “hemispheres” of intellectual proporty – patents and copyright – might be after all. Hopefully, I will soon find the time to do some comparative studies on private regulation in both these fields.
In his recent article “Decoding Divergence in Software Regulation”* Thomas Eimer very convincingly demonstrates and explains differences in software patent regulation between the United States and the European Union. He basically distinguishes three “structural causes for the persisting divergence” (p. 276) – namely the US practice of patenting software versus the European reluctance of doing so: (1) incompatible underlying paradigms, (2) differentiated patterns of power structure, and (3) unsynchronized institutional arrangements.
Especially in dealing with the first cause, “paradigmatic cleavage”, Eimer argues rather broadly, embracing both patent and copyright law. And I completely agree, when he contrasts the strong “utilitarian” rationale of intellectual property rights in the US with European scepticism for such utilitarian reasoning. I am not so sure, however, that the partial rejection of utilitarian welfare assumptions automatically leads to a better balance between “public and private interests” in the field of intellectual property regulation in general, as implied by Eimer when he writes: “Opponents of strong intellectual property rights in Europe can refer to a long tradition of suspicion”. Read the rest of this entry »