Intellectual Property – Protection vs. Collaboration

Lately I have been wondering about the relationship of IP to the ideas of protection vs. collaboration. I know that everyone is super clear that IP rights protect the IP-holder. In other words, the system grants a right and then provides an enforcement mechanism to give the right demonstrable value. For patents (particularly software and pharma patents), the most common concern raised is all about protectionism, and blocking others from acting, etc. etc. (Keep in mind, I’m not talking about patent quality here although I do recognize what an important topic that is.) Trade secret is all about protection. Copyright concerns are raised about duration and the implication on future creativity. Trade mark – I don’t know of any real controversy on this one (but am happy to learn). Yet, the common vocabulary used in association with these rights is all about “protect,” “defend,” “block,” “counter,” etc. etc.

Is there another angle to be considered? Do IPRs (intellectual property rights) provide a framework for collaboration? Does it in fact act as a catalyst for collaboration rather than an inhibitor? I am not thinking about collaboration in the free software, or open source context necessarily. I am being broader than that. In any situation where two firms, individuals etc. come together to collaborate, it is critical that there is a trust framework in place. That trust may be built upon the rule of law as much as on the personal relationship.

In open source, the very fact that there is strong copyright protections in place acts as the foundation for why those licensing models work. In VC funding of startups, what protections are in place (e.g. patents) may play a big role in the funding, but the far more important value is in what alliances you have, or in the customers who are paying you – both things greatly supported by the ownership of property that makes your firm or solutions valuable.

I am sure that this topic is significantly larger than a single posting on a blog. I did read a recent study from the economist that got me thinking though. Check it out here. If you have other readings etc. that I should look at, please let me know. I’ll point to them from the blog.


Comments (6)

  1. Open Sources says:

    Jason Matusow – my favorite sophist – wonders whether intellectual property promises greater collaboration between organizations. I meandered around the issue over on my AC/OS blog, but it wasn’t until I got to the end that I realized how specious…

  2. jasonmatusow says:

    I commented back on Matt’s blog posting above.

    Matt – how about a nice conversation man, instead of an outright flame. zeesh.

    I’m going to blog further on this one on the top level given the extent of your rant.


  3. Sometimes you just have to write a response to a comment up here at the top level of the blog rather

  4. At the beginning of the month I was writing about the idea of IP being the foundation for collaboration

  5. RSS It All says:

    At the beginning of the month I was writing about the idea of IP being the foundation for collaboration

  6. Bryan says:


    I hate to be the rain on your parade, but as long as this society is structured along the lines of making a profit as its primary function there is really no merit in discussing intellectual property EXCEPT as to how to make a profit from it.  

    Collaboration?   Only likely if there is an oportunity for mutual profit.  The evolution of the human mind is dead in this age, so any achievements it might eek through will be entirely by accident or oversight.  

    For those who minds are not fettered by the sole profit motive, for those who actually see value in mental achievements, I salute you as a dying breed.  Form here the future looks like this:  No Money – No Information.  And from that decaying atmosphere it follows that intellect will become a function of wealth with neither meaning nor direction except that which turns a profit.

    Oh, I apologize.  Did I just dis’ all of modern civilizations’ academic and engineering institutions?  Just calling a spade a flat-bladed shovel.  I really don’t see any way out of this bleak future.  First the flow of information is shackled by mindless and heartless economics as is evident in this age.  Next will most likely be the human mind itself. We will attain the status of engineering army ants whose technological output reflects nothing other than economic gain.

    But as long as you have the freedom to think outside of pure economics, please NEVER give up.  The end of that freedom is sooner than you might suspect.  And I will no longer recognize that ugly, distorted and meaningless new world.  So I hang on the words of every intellectual innovator while they currently evade certain extinction.