Techdirt Reading List: The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation

from the imitation-is-more-than-just-flattery dept

We're back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also helps support Techdirt.


This week, we've got the wonderful book The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation by law professors Kal Raustiala and Chris Sprigman. We have written about the book before and have even hosted some excerpts from the book, but it's a really great and important read. We mentioned it earlier this week in our story about the attempts to lock up pot with intellectual property protections -- because that story reflected much of what's in the Knockoff Economy.

The key point of the book is to highlight that the very premise behind many calls for intellectual property protection doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. Defenders of the system usually insist that copyrights and patents are necessary for creating the incentives to create or to innovate in a market. Yet, Raustiala and Sprigman carefully detail a bunch of different industries that don't have intellectual property protection, and over and over again, they see the same thing: more competition and more innovation, rather than less. For many years, we've highlighted the fact that it is frequently competition that drives innovation, yet so much of our public policy is based on the fallacy that it's monopoly rights that drive innovation. Thus, the Knockoff Economy is a really useful work in highlighting that perhaps the very premise that so much intellectual property protection is based on is wrong.

That's not to say, necessarily, that copyrights or patents have no place (though I know some of you do believe that) at all in modern society. But, at the very least, we should be looking at what is the actual impact of those laws, and are they really increasing innovation or doing something else entirely.
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Filed Under: imitation, innovation, knockoff economy, reading list, techdirt reading list


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2015 @ 7:09pm

    Re: Re: The inverse is not also true

    "You seem to be making things up.",

    The area of the problem is convoluted. But essentially it boils down to linguistics scope. Patents are proprietary. Protocols typically only become standards if they are non proprietary. The intrinsic value of the standard, is therefore exclusive to the patent process. if A != B then CA != CB unless C = 0.

    "Apple devices, for instance, have proprietary connectors which prevents others from making compatible ones."

    This is exactly my point. The shape of the connector is patented, the shape is relevant ONLY because it denies compatability, not because it encourages it.

    Sony does this all the time. I actually saw them but a plastic frame over a AAA battery, just so a normal battery wouldn't fit in their hardware.

    The patented plastic bracket is exclusionary, not innovative. The value to the consumer would be HIGHER without it. And even if the AAA wasn't long out of patent, there would be no means of litigating against Sony for being confounding jerks for utterly no servicable reason.

    "The USPTO already has enough problems with approving very low quality patents that should never have been approved."

    I've read enough patents thanks. They are written to maximize infringing area, not be cohesive in any way that would support interoperability. Patents don't read like technical drafts. Because of course, the only thing the patent does is define a right to litigate for the proprietor of the patent.

    But there IS an inherent value to interoperability. And that value is not something that I.P. law recognizes. The idea is essentially that a standard, is only a standard if everybody uses it, which makes it public domain. But the value owned by the public isn't protected in any real defensible way.

    Proprieterization, is "new art" after all, like that plastic bracket on the Sony battery. What Sony is doing is EEE. And it IS destructive to the public welfare, and there are thousands upon thousands abusive cases like this. There IS an involuntary conversion of value when this happens. Most people would call it "tragedy of the commons", but it is a calculable loss, and it reflects a rather large sum in terms of delayed evolution of new markets.

    What there isn't, is any kind of law that facilitates the defense of the public domain in any way that would allow that value to be pragmatically defended in court. This can be handled by patenting and then granting compatibility restrictive licensing. But this is cost prohibitive.

    There are ways to fix that. And this is what I was suggesting.

    "The source is that you had a dream."

    Pull down some related browser plugins and tcpdump the output. Watch you packets go though China, and tell me all about my "dream" again. That is an easy example. I don't proport it to reflect any skill level. Only that it is easily reproducible.

    "web server
    ISP (well, there is more in the middle but to simplify)
    Client"

    Your missing dozens of pieces of gear there poser.

    This is one architecture, there are many.

    I am presuming that you are trying to bait me. Sufficed to say that much of what I'm talking about is actually in the patent library itself, having been submitted over the years by precisely the people you are presuming yourself to know better than I do.

    "and does the USPTO really have bad security on their website that their website isn't signed (uhm ... I just visited their website and I don't see an https)"

    Security of U.S. citizens using the USPTO are in the jurisdiction of the FBI. And it doesn't have to be federal equipment that is insecure, for American intellectual property to fall prey to espionage. But hey, your a real tech guy there, you thunk of that, right?

    "Typical IP defender, too lazy to make their intent clear because" ... "Your post seems mostly too incoherent to really respond to but at least these are some points worth mentioning."

    More bait. I don't play "I'll show you mine if". What I will say is that Socratic method isn't well suited to encapsulate this problem. And while I will concede that I do ramble a bit, the high road you presume yourself to take, doesn't seem so high from where I'm standing.

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