Let’s blame the internet. Now that everything is available at the press of a key, it becomes easier and easier to exploit any gap in the protective shield around any intellectual property. [I did first write loophole, but started wondering what is it that this cliché really means. It was originally one of those slits in a castle wall which were designed to protect a bowman while he could take pot shots at attackers. Is it odd that it’s gone from being a protective device, to being a loophole in a protective device?]

At Medium, Hank Green tells us about the trouble with trademarks, which basically boils down to “the price of a trademark is eternal vigilance”. Once you have it, you have to protect it, even in trivial situations, because if you don’t go after the gnats, this will be used as evidence that you don’t care when a digi-behemoth comes after you.

And here’s David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen doing a similar job with over-patenting — reporting on an instance of academic genetic research being snapped up by a corporation and patented right out of any market. The Supreme Court ultimately invalidated the patents in this instance. The researcher, Mary-Clare King, who speaks movingly in the videos Mr Crotty provides, eventually found her story fictionalized in the movie Decoding Annie Parker.

David Goodger's Graphics

David Goodger’s Graphics

According to the U.S. Patent Office intellectual property is “imagination made real” and the imagination of those recently-minted persons, U. S. corporations, appears to know no bounds. We have gotten used to thinking of our current copyright law as the Mickey Mouse copyright law, on the grounds that it gives copyright protection to all copyrightable works for a term equal to the life of Mickey Mouse plus 70 years. Well it does say the life of the author, but Mr Mouse is who they had in mind, and that’s why we can look forward to further “reform” in the next couple of years. Because Mickey’s getting on, we will no doubt find many reasons to protect writers’ work for even longer after their death. Is it odd that trademarks last 10 years, patents 20 years, and copyrights lifetime + 70?

For anyone who needs a concise definition and clarification of the differences between copyright, trademark and patent, this piece from The Houston Chronicle does a good job.

We really need our legislators to focus on this (heck, on anything!). We haven’t digested the legal implications of the internet. The last revision of the © law took place too recently after Al Gore’s “invention of the internet” for us to have a real appreciation for what it might mean for media. The fact that in Europe books are defined as books while e-books are defined as software is a good example of the problem. Of course we probably don’t yet have enough of the answers to do it right, but we certainly know a lot more than we did in 1998. I still think we need to restrict copyright to books and other written stuff, and invent new categories for things like movies, software, paintings.

What I really want is obviously more symbols that I can put into a blog-post title. I’m frustrated we don’t have a P in a circle for patent!