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.