It is often said that much of today’s economy runs on ideas. Bestselling novels, advanced technologies, and new businesses: all of these things, and more, began with an idea. As a result, intellectual property law has taken on a significant role in today’s world. To put it in crude terms, intellectual property prevents one person or organization from stealing another person or organization’s ideas. Intellectual property covers a large area of law, including patents, trademarks, copyright, and trade secrets. Since for many businesses and entrepreneurs an idea is their key to economic success, being able to protect intellectual property is crucial in today’s information economy. However, while intellectual property law has played an important role in shaping today’s world, it also faces quite a few challenges and controversies going forward. Here are just a few of those challenges.
Does intellectual property hurt innovation?
Intellectual property laws are supposed to foster innovation by helping entrepreneurs make a profit off of their ideas. Allowing patents and copyrights to be used by anyone would result in the originators of ideas losing out on the opportunity to make money off those ideas, which in turn would hinder innovation. However, some economists have argued that current intellectual properties have gone too far and are actually hurting innovation. They point out that by copyrighting and patenting too many ideas, it becomes difficult for small or medium-sized businesses to afford the patent rights necessary to build on the innovations of previous inventors.
Is intellectual property a health hazard?
One controversial aspect of intellectual property is that medications can also be patented as intellectual property. Again, such patents help encourage pharmaceutical companies to seek out advances in medications that could, in turn, help save countless lives. However, patenting medication can also lead to people who most need the medication being unable to afford it. For example, many countries that were worst afflicted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic often complained that the antiretroviral drugs their affected citizens desperately needed were patented by wealthy Western companies and, therefore, beyond the reach of their own people.
Are intellectual property rights too broad?
Another critique of modern intellectual property rights is that they may have become too broad in nature and not very well defined. Intellectual property, since it has to do with ideas, is by nature rather vague, yet it does have very real effects on the rights and opportunities of people and businesses. Some critics argue that because intellectual property has become so broad, it no longer functions to protect the intellectual property rights of innovators, but rather the economic interests of a privileged few. Patent thickets, for example, are when innovators have to navigate through a dense network of existing patents in order to pursue their own ideas. Such patent thickets can discourage innovators from pursuing those ideas in the first place, especially if they do not have the resources to pay the relevant patent fees.
There is little doubt that intellectual property laws have helped protect innovators, artists, writers, inventors, scientists, and countless other individuals and organizations from having their ideas stolen. However, as the world has progressed and become more interconnected, the challenges that intellectual property rights face are significant.