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, 19 Nov 2015 @ 10:51pm

    Re: Re: quibble

    "One of the oft-mentioned benefits of patents is that it drives alternative solutions"

    That's not a benefit. If those 'alternative solutions' provide advantages over the existing ones the drive to find them is natural and not needing of any patents. What the patent ends up doing is forcing people into a less efficient and effective alternative solution merely to avoid infringement. This is socially harmful. Furthermore patents may deter people from building upon something that is covered by a patent.

    "the Wright brothers pursued patents on various airplane features for years."

    Which set back the airline industry in the United States by many years.

    "virtually all mobile communication manufacturers are trying to come up with as many improvements on their competitor's technology as they possibly can to minimize the risk of getting sued for infringement. A similar thing is happening in the appliance industry."

    These are more examples of how patents are socially harmful. The drive to come up with improvements isn't driven by patents it's driven by nature. People want to always improve things because a better solution to a problem makes their lives easier and makes businesses more efficient and allows them to offer better products than their competitors or to keep pace with their competitors. To attribute this to patents is silly. However what Techidrt and many others have highlighted over and over are examples of how patents hinder technology by allowing someone to get a general patent on something that's a natural technological progression and prevent others from using it. Now others must find inefficient ways around the obvious and they are deterred from building upon such a technology at least until the patent runs out. The idea that the first person to get a patent on something is the only person that's going to come up with said idea within the next 20 years is absurd at best and based on a dishonest premise in all likelihood. It's a pretext put forth by monopolists that simply want monopolies on the obvious so that they can use them to lock everyone out. The mobile phone and tablet arenas are good examples of how patents have hindered progress.

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