Saturday, 1 August 2009

Article in SEED: It Is the IP Culture, Not the Law, That is the Problem

Here is an article about IP from the web version of SEED

It Is the IP Culture, Not the Law, That is the Problem

The question of intellectual property has become key in discussions about climate change and new technologies. In the short term, the IP discussion is about existing solutions or solutions that could be implemented quickly. It’s evident that current IP protection could help companies invest in solutions for reducing emissions. And overall, it is reasonable to assume that continued IP protection would support investments that deliver incremental improvements.

The challenge, however, is that we need more than incremental improvements. Anyone attending a symposium/conference/workshop about innovation will see that very few of the ideas developed by entrepreneurs have anything to do with the challenges we face. This fact has very little to do directly with the IP system itself and more about the culture surrounding the system.

As we move ahead, three areas need to be included in the IP discussion:

First, how we can distinguish between sustainable solutions and unsustainable solutions? Today no such system exists, and there’s no way to know which solutions deserve our attention on the IP level. The system doesn’t need to be perfect—just being able to do a rough categorization would help us understand what kind of solutions are being developed. Then we could investigate a framework to disseminate those solutions.

Second, and perhaps most important, is to create a culture where individuals and companies are inspired to find solutions to the challenges. If innovators and investors could assess how many people are helped with different solutions, we wouldn’t have to rely on short-term economic gains and pure curiosity to guide technological development. Using increased connectivity to provide real-time information about the situation around the world could encourage people to spend more time trying to solve the food and climate crisis and less time developing iFart applications.

Third, we need to improve the transparency around the financial rewards for different kinds of innovations. It would become obvious that we are spending incredible amounts of money on things like incremental improvements in coal and fossil fuel cars when much better solutions exist. This in turn would expose the fact that many companies are encouraging innovation based on their current business model, rather than the best way to provide different services for people. Protecting IP rights for solutions that destroy the planet, when parts of these solutions could be used in another context to help the planet, does not make much sense at all.

Dennis Pamlin is a senior associate at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and global policy adviser at WWF. The opinions in this text are those of the author, not the organizations for which he works.