Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I give up!

I started this blog about a year ago because I thought it was necessary to my self-promotion. In addition to going to work every day, and doing a good job, and attending conferences, and reading books about CS generally, whatever language I'm using (XSLT, F#, whatever), whatever platform I'm on (.NET for most of the last 4 years), etc., I need to blog about the cool thing I'm doing, and get some C# MVP finally to add me to his blogroll. Real life got in the way, though, as it will, esp. in the form of a new baby. I've had just enough time to do what needed to be done, and none left over to describe to the recruiters at Google who, one imagines, are reading all these blogs, to explain how well I did it. So I'm going to start using this blog the way most people do, i.e. to quote big chunks of stuff I read elsewhere, give shout-outs to my friends, post cute toddler photos, etc.

Anyway, the big chunk that I want to regurgitate undigested is from The New Yorker, May 14, 2007. James Surowiecki, whose The Wisdom of Crowds might have appealed to the same folks I see reading Radicals for Capitalism on the bus, argues that it might be better for the whole if a certain part, namely companies who own patents, makes less money. I suppose that's an instance of the radicalism of capitalism; emergent capitalist economies might require a certain amount of theft, just as ours did. I'm not an ideologue of open-source software; I actually don't care about Linux one way or another, just as I don't care about Microsoft. Anyway, "History suggests that after a certain point tougher intellectual property rules yield diminishing returns. Josh Lerner, a professor at Harvard Business School, looked at a hundred and fifty years of patenting, and found that strengthening patent laws had little effect on the number of innovations within a country. And, in the US, stronger patent protections for things like software have had little or no effect on the amount of innovation in the field. The benefits of stronger IP protection are even less convincing when it comes to copyright law: there's little evidence that writers and artists are made more productive or creative by the prospect of earning profits for seventy years after they die, and the historical record suggests only a tenuous connection between stronger IP laws and creative output."

One would expect that at some point China will have to have strong laws to prevent Chinese entrepreneurs from stealing from each other. You're certainly not going to read some ponderous clash-of-civilizations crap on my blog. Maybe China is culturally incapable of respecting the rule of law, in the way that's bred into the Anglo-Saxon bone. Maybe not. "The great irony is that the US economy in its early years was built in large part on a lax attitude toward intellectual property rights and enforcement [ditto for the Dutch and English economies in the two centuries before that]. As the historian Doron Ben-Atar shows in his book Trade Secrets, the Founders believed that a strict attitude toward patents and copyright would limit domestic innovation and make it harder for the US to expand its industrial base. American law did not protect the rights of foreign investors or writers, and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, in his famous Report on the Manufactures, of 1791, actively advocated the theft of technology and the luring of skilled workers from foreign countries. Among the beneficiaries...was the American textile industry,which flourished thanks to pirated technology."

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