Getting intellectual about intellectual property

Originally posted 2008-02-08 10:19:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter.

Eric Schmidt:

Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, and creator of the GNU Public License (GPL) was also present. Stallman is known for his outspoken political beliefs and his attention to semantics. He … took issue with “intellectual property,” a term he considers propagandistic and misleading.Stallman’s argument is that copyright, patents, trademark, and trade secret laws are quite different from each other. Copyright and patent law both spring from the same clause in the Constitution, while unfair competition (trademark and trade secrets) derive from common law and statute. Perhaps Stallman is concerned that use of the term “intellectual property” is one of the reasons we now have sui generis protection for boat hull designs and plants. The more broadly the term is used, the more broadly the right of legal protection is interpreted, and the more likely courts are to expand the scope of property rights in the expression of ideas. In a conversation after the panel discussion, he forwarded the notion that the term also distorts public understanding of the separate concepts involved.

On that last point about public understanding, Eric, I wouldn’t sweat it.  Most people have no idea what we mean by the term, and I’ve even had attorneys ask me “what’s new these days in intellectual properties?”  But I do agree with Stallman that the phrase is misleading, and really loaded — I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say propagandistic! — with meaning it does not deserve.  Not only is this because intellectual property law contains so much that is so stupid, either, but merely because so much of what is protected is something quite undeserving of being associated with the lofty concept of intellection.

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Ron Coleman

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