The World Wide Web was buzzing this week about how Google slammed Apple. In a WWF-like maneuver, counsel for search engine giant Google reversed hang manned Apple the Big Bad Technology Company along with crony Microsoft, by blogging about how the two companies were hoarding patents like naughty chipmunks, causing economic distress and stifling innovation.
Wikipedia says "A patent (/ˈpætənt/ or /ˈpeɪtənt/) is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state (national government) to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention". It means that by publishing and registering the details of your invention, you can charge others for its use, thereby getting paid for the labour and effort you have put into it. Apple was supposedly to have bought Novell and Nortel’s old patents, which they can then charge for use. Google maintains that this will create a levy on potential or current software designs. Apple has since countered with a blog post from their corporate communications saying that they invited Google to bid for the patents but the search engine mogul declined. As of print date, Google has not commented, the bickering continues and the mind boggles.
Patents are not the only registrable right for creations of the mind. You can register a trademark, an industrial design. The law of copyright protects all kinds of original writing, music, film and even software. Acknowledging and more importantly, compensating, the inventor, the writer, poet or builder is not a new concept. Google "patents" and you can find references that as early as 500 BC, the Greek city of Sybaris decreed, "encouragement was held out to all who should discover any new refinement in luxury, the profits arising from which were secured to the inventor by patent for the space of a year."
In 2011 Brunei we have a raft of laws to protect ideas like the Trademarks Act, Inventions Act, Copyright Order, Industrial Designs Order and Layout Designs Order. But to be honest, nationwide we have a lackadaisical approach to intellectual property (IP) rights. Many download songs, albums, movies and television series for free. Many more indulge in pirated DVDs, and other goods easily accessible in our malls and shophouses.
Thankfully our connections to IP are not only with those obtained illegally. There are a number of local IT technopreneurs engaging in the business of developing start-ups for Internet applications. Local business Expansys has recently come out with a savvy marketing move for MeSixty, inviting beta testers prior to release of the beta version of a location based networking app. In the courts we've seen the case of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf logo being used by a local company, which ended up in favour of the original owners of the brand. More recently, pirated DVDs are being deliberated in our courts.
So it's not to say we don't have the laws for it, but we still face challenges that may hinder IP development like a lack of awareness on the importance of IP protection, and the lack of enforcement, because what good is the law without it. The argument that we are a small developing country that needs to concentrate on the basics before worrying about the details just doesn’t ring true. We do have all the basics and more. Why shouldn't we participate and compete in the worldwide marketplace of ideas and innovation?
The counter argument to this is akin to the colour depletion theory, where if one owns a colour, sooner or later all the colours will be owned, and we will run out of it and then where will we be? Will we end up with a faceless corporation owning “…the sky the sea the land, the waves and the caves and the golden sands…”? (© Julia Donaldson)
In the case of patents, one can use another's industrial invention if one pays a fee for it. Application developers may be yearning for this particular patent to come up with the next big thing for your smart device. Their poor creativity is stifled when they can't afford to pay the rights. It should be pointed out that patent rights protect an inventive step that represents the cutting edge of knowledge. If the limits of knowledge are being pushed back every 3 months, ideas and innovation quickly become outdated and old. This therefore would appear to be Google’s argument, how can you exploit something that is no longer a novel idea to the detriment of the creation of new ones?
For us perhaps it is not a good idea to sit on the sidelines of this debate, but to get involved in it, to produce, compete and innovate within the context of the widely accepted norms, to benefit our current and future generations.
Illustration by Cuboi Art.
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