Many people have questions surrounding patents, open source, sharing knowledge, … In my education as an engineer we never really got to learn anything about IP. Most my fellow students and the researchers I know think that IP is (more or less) synonym for patents. Or patents are the only thing they know about anyway.
This is problematic: the people who are at the foundation of the knowledge generated in our society, know close to nothing about the different ways it can be shared or protected. Moreover, as a DIY scientist, hobbyist or person generally interested in sharing knowledge rather than mining it for ultimate profit, it’s important to know how to navigate the IP landscape.
So I’m going to write some posts on the nuts and bolts of Intellectual Property (IP). Mind you, it’s a work in progress ;-).
First off a definition. What exactly is Intellectual Property? Wikipedia says:
Intellectual property (or “IP”) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect, and primarily encompasses copyrights, patents, and trademarks. It also includes other types of rights, such as trade secrets, publicity rights, moral rights, and rights against unfair competition. Artistic works like music and literature, as well as some discoveries, inventions, words, phrases, symbols, and designs can all be protected as intellectual property.
Now, as someone who is into more open forms of sharing knowledge, the term “property” makes knowledge sound similar like a house, a car, a delicious pie that you own and can consume or use. But in essence, knowledge is different. When you live in a house, others can’t live in it (to an extent). When you drive your car, no one else can drive it. If I eat your pie, you can’t eat it. But: if you know what I know, I still know it. Knowledge is not zero sum.
Back in the day, when people would run kilometer after kilometer to deliver a message, knowledge was kind of valuable. It was costly to copy information. Now we live in a time when we’re being bombarded with information everywhere we go. With one click of a mouse, we can download or copy any encyclopedia we want. Sharing information has become nearly free.
Especially in a field like biomaterials that aims to solve the massive problem of waste, you’d ideally want as many people as possible working on a solution. By closing off knowledge behind patents, we’re severely limiting our possibilities at finding things. By design, it excludes many creative people to contribute. That’s why I wrote an open manual together with my colleagues, pretty quickly after we started building expertise. It has helped countless researchers, entrepreneurs, hobbyists and teachers all over the world to spread and expand the knowledge. That’s impact you can’t buy, not even with a bag of money from patent licensing fees.
Maybe you think all of the above is a utopia, but even the most skeptical would agree that it gives credit at a minimum for not taking at face value the commonly accepted truth that knowledge should be closed off.
###IP or IPR
That being said, it’s valuable to make the distinction between Intellectual Property (IP) and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). IP would be the car, whereas IPR would be the kind of lock you have on your car. If it took one click of a mouse to copy your car.
Anyway. Anything that exists in the mind is, in fact, IP. And patents, trademarks, creative commons licenses are IPR. They are the conditions under which information can be shared. The rules of the game. Note that you can also write “they are the conditions under which information can be protected.” Same thing, but language tends to drive behavior, so I’d advocate for talking about sharing.
After patents, Open source is another term that is often misunderstood. Open source is not IPR. It’s am umbrella term for many different licences (IPR) or even a way of collaborating. Then there’s also the more broader definition of open. I’ll dedicate a separate post to a practical guide to open (source) for biomaterial enthusiasts at some point.
That’s it for an introduction post. I’ll write more about different subtopics at some point in the future
PS This post is a wiki. It is open source: you can adapt it as you wish if you read something that you think is not correct.