You think the title’s a little cheesy, eh? Well tell it to the guy whose patent just got infringed; he doesn’t agree with you. Or for that matter neither do any of those other innovators and artists, who don’t feel motivated enough to do great work, because what good is it anyway if others steal it, or pass it off as their own! Yes we’re going to talk about intellectual property rights (IPRs) in this post, and how they are driving the growth of our society. People can choose to ignore them if they please, but it's a choice we make as a society, and its implications are far and wide.
TL;DR version: IPRs are good for the society as they incentivize creativity and innovation. Protecting them by way of legal frameworks is hence critical for the growth of our civilization.
Ok, calm down…intellectual what?
Assuming that’s an honest question let me tell you what we’re dealing with here and set
some context. Ideas have shaped the human civilization over the ages. Had it not been for innovative ideas, the human society would have been much different and inchoate than we know it today. But, as with everything else, humans need incentives to ideate and innovate. This primitive need gave birth to the concept of Intellectual Property Rights (copyrights, trademarks, patents, industrial designs, trade secrets, geographical indications, etc.), which grant the authors, inventors and innovators ownership rights to the creations of their intellect whereby they can choose to share those freely or to control their use in certain ways.
What good are these IPRs for?
Let’s take it from the top, shall we? The omnipresence of Intellectual Property can’t be underrated. We see IP almost everywhere – books, records, films, computers, cars, drugs, varieties of plants, the designs that help us identify one product from another, and even places of origin of products, like Champagne in France. So, the benefits of IPRs are manifold. They provide an incentive to create, which motivates people to invest time and resources to foster innovation and enhance knowledge. This leads to various ground-breaking inventions and creative masterpieces which we see around us. They also help in encouraging a competitive marketplace by way of promoting disclosure of innovation through grant of full economic and moral rights to the innovator for a limited period of time. This disclosure is of great essence as it allows other members of the society to learn from that idea to further improve and build upon it to broaden the knowledge horizon of our civilization, while also helping to prevent repetitive work or reinventing that proverbial wheel. Hence for the effective and efficient functioning of a market, IPRs are vital. In other creative areas like literature and audio-visual arts, IPRs are incentive for creation of a rich and diverse cultural wealth for a society. This also translates into the enrichment of public knowledge and culture.
So what’s the deal with IPR infringement?
The theft of IPR protection by way of infringement and piracy of cultural works can be
potentially disastrous from the point of view of the society. The threat has only increased with technological advancements and the emergence of internet in today’s super-modern and inter-connected society. Because of this, around the world many new works of art never actually emerge because there exists simply no incentive for the artists to take any risk. Reports of movie industries worldwide suffering losses worth millions of dollars every year because of piracy are not new, nor have been reports of artists raising demands for better anti-piracy legislations from the governments. Also, the issue of counterfeiting is very serious from the health and safety point of view of the society. Most international organizations like the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and UNESCO recognize these threats and hence work sincerely for providing a legal framework for IPR protection through cooperation among various countries.
So what you’re saying is…
IPRs drive the growth of our society by incentivizing creativity and innovation. Infringement of IPRs is a serious matter and a global legal framework is critical for their protection. It’s hard to imagine that the human society today can achieve its long-term objectives of social, cultural and economic development without recognizing sufficiently the importance of IPRs.
© Jayant Rana, 2013
Images courtesy: Foter / JD Hancock / CC BY ; Jian Awe / CC BY; FreeDigitalPhotos.net / Stuart Miles; nongpimmy