Grappling with the idea of intellectual property was difficult. After reading the required readings, I realized intellectual property was much more complex than I thought it could be. I turned to CrashCourse for guidance. I watched all the videos in their Intellectual Property series in order to gain a deeper understanding of what intellectual property is.
After I started to understand intellectual property, I was able to form opinions on it and was able to see some pros and cons to various intellectual property laws such as trademarks, copyrights, and patents.
An obvious pro to intellectual property laws is that the inventors get revenue for their work, and monetary incentives are in place for innovation. Relationships between economics and intellectual property laws can be seen in the infographic below. Some also argue that works of the mind should be protected. If you are in agreement with this thought, then intellectual property laws protect the mind’s work. Another, not so obvious pro to intellectual property laws is that, in the case of trademarks, the consumer is protected. By using trademarks, consumers know what product they are buying and who they are buying it from—although, trademarks are usually less controversial than copyrights and patents. Lastly, patents clearly depict how an object is constructed, which can help individuals in the future.
One of the biggest concerns of intellectual property is that it creates a monopoly. These government enforced monopolies can last many decades, even surpassing the life of the inventor. Many argue that this can hamper development and innovation. In addition, many inventors do not keep up with their copyrights and patents, leading to orphan works. These orphan works can lead to patent thickets that stifle innovation. Additionally, copyrights and patents can be awarded to works that are not revolutionary—instead being rewarded to works that are, at times, only slightly different than other works. This leads to a plethora of legal issues, and intellectual property laws have led to many lawsuits—with an average of 2,700 patent-infringement lawsuits per year.
Weighing the pros and cons, I believe intellectual property laws have an important role. I would agree that intellectual property laws give extrinsic motivation that could speed up innovation; of course, this is an opinion because finding numbers to back up or refute this claim are virtually impossible to accurately obtain. Personally, I believe the inventors/creators of the work should have monetary compensation for their work because they thought of the idea and made the effort to produce the work, instead of keeping it in their head. In this sense, I would agree that works of the mind (as long as they are tangibly produced) do deserve some legal protection. A portion of the current intellectual property laws that I disagree with is the length of copyrights. Having a copyright last 70 years past the death of the inventor seems excessive to me. At that point, I believe the monetary gain that the inventor (or their decedents) would be gaining may not justify the hamper that the copyright/patent may impose on future inventors. I believe it would be better if the inventors would have to reapply for renewal every X number of years in order to reduce the amount of orphan works, occurrences of patent thickets, and amount of time and money spent on lawsuits. I understand that in a way, I contradicted myself because I stated that I believe works of the mind could be property, and we wouldn’t take away someone’s physical property (such as a house) just because they’ve had it for X number of years. My point of view is difficult to explain because I do contradict myself. However, in cases like this (ones that effect a very large population), I believe a middle ground should exist, which often creates some contradictions.
I also think providing legal protection to works that vary only slightly from other works could create hampering conditions for future inventors. However, judging a work for its uniqueness and contribution to the world is difficult to do and would be up to the biased opinions of a few individuals—which is not ideal. Overall, intellectual property laws are a complex subject, and I do not believe there will ever be a perfect solution. However, I think reducing the length of current copyrights and patents, and requiring renewals, could help ease some of the common issues that individuals have with the current system.
References and Resources