Thursday, 29 June 2017

"The Great Intellectual Property Trade-Off"

Tim Harford ("The Undercover Economist") is, I find, always worth reading, and here is his take on the intellectual property system via the BBC (the website article is based on a programme on the World Serve). Nothing new in saying that there is a trade-off involved in the intellectual property system, of course, we have known that for a long time, but it's good to see it aired in this way. The chilling effect of James Watt's steam engine patents is interesting, and I hadn't fully appreciated that before (nor that Watt also suffered because of other patents). Remember though that the patent system was in its infancy in those days, and modern patent legislation is unlikely to allow this to be repeated.

Mr Harford cites "the economists Michele Boldrin and David Levine". ("The economists"? Surely there are more than two?) Their book Against Intellectual Monopoly can be downloaded from here. They are from Washington University of St. Louis, Economics Department, and have done a lot of work on the economics of intellectual property (though what bears a date seems to be ten or more years old). The idea of the book is intriguing, but I am somewhat concerned about the lack of information about publishers - of course self-publication is perfectly respectable, but I'd like to see something objective to enable me to judge whether to spend time reading it (or to suggest my students read it). At first glance, it looks like a popular rather than a scholarly work. It lacks footnotes, though there are extensive notes at the end of each chapter. I would also like to know when it was written - I haven't found a reference to a source later than 2005 yet. Mr Harford should give his readers a bit more information, although I don't expect high levels of academic rigour in his work (that's one of its attractions). When I read more of the book I will write more about it.

And while I am writing about the BBC - "The Bottom Line" on Radio 4, presented by Evan Davis, had a recent episode entitled "Corporate Espionage". It's currently available to download as a podcast here. It features serial inventor and entrepreneur Mandy Haberman, patent attorney Vicki Salmon and investigator-cum-author Chris Morgan Jones. Different intellectual property rights get a little confused but it's definitely worth listening to.

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