Mainstream opinion seems to be changing on IP. In the post linked below Glyn Moody at ComputerWorld calls Microsoft on its mainstream assumption that IP in general benefits innovation.
Microsoft’s Subtle Knife Through the Heart of EU Software Industry
One of the striking changes at Microsoft over the last twenty years is how savvy it has become in terms of lobbying and influencing political opinion. There was a time when, like most serious tech companies, it regarded this kind of sneaky activity as beneath it – something that only tobacco companies would stoop to. No more; today, it bombards everyone and anyone with a constant stream of carefully-crafted policy papers and posts designed to achieve its goals.
Here’s the latest one. It comes form the “Positions” page of Microsoft’s Digital Policy site in Europe. It’s called simply “Intellectual Property”, and is written in a deceptively simple style, as if it were some non-contentious statement of truths universally acknowledged.
For example, it begins by stating baldly:
IP benefits innovation, companies and society.
Well, no actually. As the lawyer Stephan Kinsella puts it in a post that links to dozens of academic papers supporting his view:
it is striking that there seems to be no empirical studies or analyses providing conclusive evidence that an IP system is indeed worth the cost. Every study I have ever seen is either neutral or ambivalent, or ends up condemning part or all of IP systems.
In particular, studies have shown how intellectual monopolies actually hold back innovation, because they remove the incentive to invent once patents have been obtained that can be used to sue competitors into submission. James Watt is the classic example of the stultifying effects of intellectual monopolies on a field’s subsequent development.
Moreover, the book “Patent Failure” shows that for industries like software, patents don’t even benefit companies that own them: on balance they actually lose billions of dollars every year as a result.
Society certainly doesn’t benefit from the added costs that this inefficient system adds. That can be seen from the Microsoft tax that HTC has to pay on its Android phones – a cost that will inevitably be passed on to the customer, but for no additional benefit.
The next section of the Microsoft post is actually the key one, since it contains these apparently unremarkable sentences: