Intellectual property is not just for the benefit of American entrepreneurs

Fred Wilson, feisty and intelligent VC principal at Union Square Ventures sums up what most people think about the idea of Yahoo! suing Facebook.

“I don’t think there’s a unique idea out there in the web space and hasn’t been for well over a decade. Pretty much everything useful is based on prior art going back before the commercial web existed.”

“I am writing this in outrage at Yahoo! I used to care about that company for some reason. No more. They are dead to me. Dead and gone. I hate them now.” Yahoo! Crosses The Line

A recent TED talk by Rob Reid, rubbishes the idea of intellectual property using the notion of ©opyright Math™ to analyse the MPAA’s claim that $58billion is lost to the UK economy as a result of piracy. Did you know you might have $8,000,000,000 of stolen stuff in your pocket? Starts making Goldman Sachs look like small-time criminals.

Maybe this is only half-right though (not the Goldman Sachs bit).

This isn’t just an argument between large antediluvian corporates who use the law and their lobbying powers to strengthen unfair laws and plucky entrepreneurs. There is another side to the argument and not one used by large corporates to justify the strengthening of IP law. It comes from another type of entrepreneur.

I was lucky enough to hear William Kamkwamba speak at TED Global a couple of years ago. He is a hugely inspiring individual. When he was 14 years old, he invented a windmill from scrap parts that provided electrical power to his family home.

Ndubuisi Ekekwe, founder of non-profit African Institution of Technology wrote in the Harvard Business Review about the other side of the argument around intellectual property and notes that his idea is un-investable because of where he is from.

“Had he been born in Texas, he might be a young CEO running an energy company by now, because the funds would inevitably flow. But, in Malawi, most investors would be concerned about the fact that there’s no legal system in place to protect William’s ideas from his friends, who might begin to copy them.

“There are so many stories like this in Ghana, Nigeria, and Angola. People like William are heralded as the future, but no one takes a financial risk on their ideas. Who would do that when there are no intellectual property right (IPR) protections? (Anyone can buy pirated copies of Microsoft Windows for $2 in most African cities.) Investing in innovators simply can’t happen in markets with weak property rights.” Would You Invest in This Kid?

It is a great piece that charts the history of IP and the growth of the world’s GDP.  I think it is a big stretch to suggest that the evolution of strong intellectual property law was the sole cause of the economic development of the US.

It is interesting that the most entrepreneurial individuals in the developed economies of the world are arguing strongly for a reduction in the powers of intellectual property laws, particularly in the Internet sector today. Meanwhile, some of the most entrepreneurial individuals in the developing economies of the world are arguing for more protection.