November 7, 2004

IP in Developing Economies [5:35 pm]

China poses a challenge over intellectual property

Massachusetts merchant Francis Cabot Lowell visited England in 1810 and memorized the design of the power looms that drove world textile production. Upon his return, he enlisted master mechanic Paul Moody to build improved versions of the spinning and weaving machines in a Waltham mill on the Charles River. Over the next several decades, the textile and machinery industries and, ultimately, the center of manufacturing migrated across the Atlantic to New England.

That scenario may be repeating itself today as US and other Western companies, drawn to China by its cheap labor and rapidly expanding market, are finding their product designs and manufacturing processes imitated, appropriated, or stolen outright by Chinese entrepreneurs — sometimes by their own joint venture partners.

[...] Michael, in an interview, said top executives should get directly involved in intellectual property disputes rather than delegating them to lawyers. This way they can head off internal conflicts over corporate objectives in China, and even shape technology standards to their advantage by conditioning investments on fair and open standards.

“This is absolutely a CEO-level issue,” Michael said.

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Something To Think About [12:11 pm]

Irrespective of your political leanings, there’s an interesting historical parallel to think on in this article: Can History Save the Democrats?

Democrats, especially, are left to wonder: What will it take to break the pattern - an act of God?

History suggests several possibilities for a major reshaping event - a national calamity, a deep schism in the ruling party, the implosion of a social movement under the excesses of its own agenda or the emergence of an extraordinary political figure.

[...] Religious revivals and movements have also gusted periodically through American politics, sometimes reshaping the landscape as they go, said Susan Jacoby, author of “Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.” But she said it was not easy to find a historical blueprint for the current situation, with the religious right forming the core of Mr. Bush’s majority.

The closest parallel, Ms. Jacoby said, might be the Christian temperance movement. It eventually “defeated itself,” she said, with the absolutism of Prohibition, which spawned outlandish bootlegging and crime problems and made lawbreaking fashionable.

Of course, the fact that the Democrats have largely (although not exclusively) positioned themselves as the party of copyright protection may not offer much succor to the party out of power. Moreover, there are plenty other legal failures that have had a corrosive effect upon our notions of what constitutes acceptable social behavior. Nevertheless, there may be something to consider the next time the government throws its weight behind another copyright protection/digital technology crippling policy.

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A Power Grab? Or Something Else? [11:08 am]

At this point, it’s hard to say, but there are some worried folks: Is Microsoft Ready to Assert IP Rights over the Internet? [via Slashdot's Microsoft Offers to License the Internet, with some interesting discussion on the elements of this claim]

Microsoft Has Microsoft been trying to retroactively claim IP (intellectual property) rights over many of the Internet’s basic protocols? Larry J. Blunk, senior engineer for networking research and development at Merit Network Inc., believes that might be the case.

Blunk expressed these concerns about Microsoft’s Royalty Free Protocol License Agreement in a recent note to the IETF’s Intellectual Property Rights Working Group. Specifically, Blunk suggested that Microsoft seemed to be claiming IP rights to many vital Internet protocols. And by so doing, “Microsoft is injecting a significant amount of unwarranted uncertainty and doubt regarding non-Microsoft implementations of these protocols,” Blunk said.

[...] “Many of the listed protocols are [IETF] RFC [request for comment] documents, including but not limited to the core TCP/IP v4 and TCP/IP v6 protocol specifications,” he said in his note.

Some of the RFC protocols that Microsoft asserts that it may have IP rights over, such as the TCP/IP protocols and the DNS (Domain Name System), form the very bedrock of the Internet’s network infrastructure.

“Microsoft does not specify how this list of protocols was derived and to what extent they have investigated their possible rights holdings over these protocols,” Blunk said. “The list appears to be a near but not completely exhaustive list of public protocols implemented in Microsoft products.

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