My latest Guardian column, "'Intellectual property' is a silly euphemism" is online -- in it, I argue that although knowledge is important and valuable, it's not property, and when we treat it as such, it makes us do dumb things. Hervé Le Crosnier liked it and translated it into French and put it online under a CC license.
It's this disconnect that makes the "property" in intellectual property so troublesome. If everyone who came over to my flat physically took a piece of it away with them, it'd drive me bonkers. I'd spend all my time worrying about who crossed the threshold, I'd make them sign all kinds of invasive agreements before they got to use the loo, and so on. And as anyone who has bought a DVD and been forced to sit through an insulting, cack-handed "You wouldn't steal a car" short film knows, this is exactly the kind of behaviour that property talk inspires when it comes to knowledge.
But there's plenty of stuff out there that's valuable even though it's not property. For example, my daughter was born on February 3, 2008. She's not my property. But she's worth quite a lot to me. If you took her from me, the crime wouldn't be "theft". If you injured her, it wouldn't be "trespass to chattels". We have an entire vocabulary and set of legal concepts to deal with the value that a human life embodies.
What's more, even though she's not my property, I still have a legally recognised interest in my daughter. She's "mine" in some meaningful sense, but she also falls under the purview of many other entities - the governments of the UK and Canada, the NHS, child protection services, even her extended family - they can all lay a claim to some interest in the disposition, treatment and future of my daughter.
Link to French version
Researcher Yarden Katz scraped the database of Intellectual Ventures, a giant business that buys up patents, but produces nothing but lawsuits (previously), and discovered that IV claims ownership of nearly 500 patents that were created at public expense by researchers employed by public universities, and another 100 or so patents filed by the US Navy.
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