Why we might want to forget about Intellectual Property


Intellectual Property, or IP, is of course a hugely important part of our economy, as it is of all of the advanced and industrialised ones. While we can qand should protect such property in our own and other advanced economies, it's much less certain that we should impose such protections and rights in the less advanced and developing economies. This report deals more with media, music, movies and so on, but similar arguments wpould cover all other IP.

Do note that IP protection is not some vision of the free market spun out of control. It's actually a correction to such a free market, an agreement that all markets all the time markets is not optimal. The much more interesting question is when are markets optimal (mostly, often, nearly always, to taste) and when are they not (public goods for example and IP falls under that rubric).

Aside from that, what we see in the IP protections being imposed in poor countries is that poor people don't get to use what is therefore expensive: and also that those who own the IP don't make any money because it's too expensive to use. It would almost certainly be better for all concerned to either have different prices on such IP (product differentiation of a kind and the pharma companies do do this a little bit) or simply to state that IP is protected in these places and not in those.

The argument for the latter is that in poor places the government isn't going to put in the grunt work to protect IP anyway. Whatever we put into treaties like TRIPS or the WTO agreements, without the local government enforcing matters, those treaty provisions just aren't going to be effective. So why bother?

The response to that is that wouldn't everyone do that? Just rip off everyone else? No, I don't think they will. Once there is a sufficient amount of IP being created domestically (which is a pretty good indicator of economic development in itself) then there will be domestic pressure on the local government to protect that local IP. Which in itself will call forth the protection mechanism needed to protect everyone's IP.

In a nutshell, strong international IP protection, strong protection imposed upon poor countries, doesn't make anyone any money but does keep poor people poor. So why not stop doing it, for when poor people start creating IP, a good marker of their becoming less poor, they'll naturally build their own system of IP protection.

Works for me.