Why Do Some People Really Hate IP?

Yesterday I referred to my marathon twitter conversation with Sarah Brown. After that session I got some feedback. The following remark which Dawn Zoë Raison wrote on my Facebook wall is typical:

“All fine and dandy until you get megalomaniac corporations like Microsoft, IBM, etc. in the software business that have departments devoted to copyrighting anything that may ever be remotely useful. For the SME an IP challenge from one of these megaliths can destroy your business, even if subsequently proved baseless. I can’t see that level of reform happening this epoch… hence my advocacy of open source solutions.”

There is a visceral hatred of intellectual property that manifested itself in the UK in the distributed denial of service attack on the Intellectual Property Office in mid October. The emergence of a Pirate Party in several European countries including the UK which despite its name campaigns lawfully for legislative changes is another sign.  So, too, is Graham Barker’s diatribe “Patenting Your Invention, the Ugly Truth“.   The first two key findings of the SABIP Report into “Attitudes and Behaviours of Consumers in the Digital Age” were that  “the scale of sharing is huge and growing” and that “people are indifferent and/or confused about the possibility of infringement and about possible victims.”

Now why is that? Part of the blame lies in the attitude and behaviour of some intellectual property owners and their law firms both in terms of enforcement and lobbying. Awards of massive damages against children and their parents for file sharing spring to mind.   As for lobbying I remember the hectoring of US entertainment industry lobbyists at the IPO’s consultation on the Enforcement Directive raising my hackles some years ago even though I generally supported the legislation.

Another reason is the disillusionment of the many businessmen and inventors once they realize that the patent or other registered right upon which they may have spent a fortune is either invalid or prohibitively expensive to enforce.  I touched upon this two weeks ago in my post “In Defence of Patent Agents”.

Some members of the intellectual property community is taking note and doing something about it. Barbara Cookson’s post “The End of Patent Agents” in the  Solo IP Blog of 7 Nov 2010 is encouraging.  And the reforms to the Patents County Court and the appointment of an energetic young judge should help too (see “New Patents County Court Rules” in my IP/IT Update blog of 31 Oct 2010).

But I think we have to do more. Everybody from the leading patent chambers in Lincoln’s Inn and the specialist law forms down to the independent solo practitioner have to reconsider their attitudes, practices and pricing otherwise we and our service shall become as hated as the banks.

And that would be a pity because there is a mountain of evidence that intellectual property incentivizes innovation and disseminates technical and scientific knowledge.

PS. Following a post in Josh Halliday’s blog on the Guardian website on BT and TalkTalk’s application for judicial review, I have penned a further piece “The Digital Economy Act …… is great news for the country” because this is an example of the sort of attitude that has to change.


About Jane Lambert

I am a barrister specializing in intellectual property, technology, media and entertainment and competition law. I specialize in helping SME (small and medium enterprises) protect and exploit their investment in brands, design, technology and the arts. SME require intellectual property (legal protection for their intellectual assets) at least as much as big business but their limited means restrict the way they can use it. Looking after such clients wisely requires skills and knowledge which have taken me years to learn.
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5 Responses to Why Do Some People Really Hate IP?

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  3. Tony McStea says:

    Three reasons come to mind:
    (a) An ideological dislike of any kind of monopoly. This tends to follow from a dislike of the capitalist system as a whole. Such folk are generally well-meaning (apart from the loonies of the type who attacked the UKIPO), with a rather naïve belief in the perfectibility of mankind, if only all the nasty capitalist habits were removed. Dream on.
    (b) The bad behaviour of many patent owners, especially large ones, who behave as bullies and rely on the fact that God appears to be on the side of the big batallions – if the little guy wins at first instance, they appeal and appeal again until s/he collapses with funds exhaustion.
    (c) The ridiculous price of the system as a whole. Patenting should not be giveaway thing, but on the other hand, decent patent cover has priced itself out of the hands of all but deep-pocketed companies. Costs for prosecuting a patent through the EPO and then paying the renewal fees for 20 years start to resemble the GNP of a medium-sized European state (OK, slight exaggeration, but it’s a LOT of lolly).
    (d) The ridiculous prices charged by some practitioners. Now patent work is skilled work, and having a good guy or gal can make an enormous difference. In this case, the labourer is truly worthy of his/her reward, but in some cases, the work is poor or done by a junior and charged at partner’s rates, said partner clearly with an eye on next years S-Class Merc.

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