Copyrights and patents grant exclusive rights to those who create new products, works of art, or other things deemed to be especially beneficial to society. So what could be wrong with that? People who bring new creation to society should benefit.
But here’s the problem. As the new book The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation hints at, the data do not show that industries with strong copyright and patent protection are any more innovative than those without such barriers, which suggests that the concept of patents and copyrights may not be the engine of creativity and innovation that its advocates (esp. such groups as the MPAA and RIAA) promise.
The book, excerpted in yesterday’s Wall St. Journal, gives examples showing that industries such as fashion and pro sports, which do not enjoy the protections granted the publishing and recording industries, are beehives of innovation. If you stop to think about it, they have to be. When any innovation can be quickly and legally copied, only those who get really good at coming up with and successfully employing new ideas will thrive. As Boyd said, the key to surviving on your own terms is to be the best at building and employing snowmobiles.
You can easily see this under our current system, where Apple is in great danger of morphing from an innovative powerhouse to a company whose business is suing people. As I mentioned in Certain to Win, this is the Maginot Line principle applied to commercial competition. Like the famous Line, the better it works (and it worked great), the deader you are. Companies would be better served to follow Tom Peters’ advice to spin off their innovations into separate companies that would license them to all competitors. For one thing, this would be a wonderful device to stunt your competition’s ability to innovate. If your invention is really clever, you might consider making it open source.