Does somebody own my ideas?

Cultural Diversity

The European Parliament rejection of the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA) in 2012 was a victory for democracy. The Parliament blocked a set of new global "Intellectual Property" rules, which aimed to create a new treaty of a few rich countries imposing the agenda of their industries on the world.

The mobilisation against ACTA showed that the concept of "intellectual property", forged by a handful of industry leaders in the eighties as a legal tool to benefit corporate interest, is questioned.

An example: pharmaceutical patents ensure neither medical innovation, nor affordable medicine. They create monopolies: only a small percentage of the price of the medicines goes back to research - but many people are unable to pay for overpriced medicine.

Cultural Diversity

What is "intellectual property" anyway? When EU law-makers want to reinforce "intellectual property", what exactly are we committing ourselves to?

"Intellectual Property" can include patents and technologies, with copyright and the internet, brand names and rules for trade goods in transit, industrial design, the protection of geographical indications, and much more.

What all these legal tools have in common is that they give exclusive marketing rights to their owner for a period of time: in Europe at least 20 years for a patent, 70 years after the death of the author for copyright, 10 years and renewable for a trademark, and so on. But their legal structures and context differ. They should not be managed in the same way.


Cultural Diversity

"More intellectual property rights" is a simplistic and unworkable solution. It is neither necessarily better for innovation and creation, nor for artists, scientists, smaller businesses, or even multinational corporations. It holds especially when artists and authors are forced to transfer their copyright to producers or publishers.

The conventional approach to intellectual property sees creation and innovation as a goal in itself. But intellectual property rights are only a piece of the puzzle for more and better employment. 

If the EU wants to promote research and innovation, it might be wise for it to rethink its system of idea-ownership, namely by making it more open to enterprises, public institutions and individuals - to create new business models.

But what could be a better system? 

Cultural Diversity

The intellectual property system of the future should provide a better balance between private rights and general interest.

After all, public funds are an investment by the public for the public's benefit - not free money for private pockets. It would be counterproductive, if abusive exercise of exclusive rights harmed individuals' rights or even essential needs. Until recently, visually impaired people had hardly any access to copyrighted material, for example.

Still, inventors and artists need appropriate remuneration, more transparency, and better protection from abuse by big corporations. This may include different forms of support. But most importantly, the money collected through copyright should really go to them.