Intellectual Property

At a recent keynote speech in Turin on GPL v3, Richard Stallman made an observation about the phrase “intellectual property”

“… Before I get into the main subject, which is the plans for version three of the GPL, I want to mention a very important fundamental issue.

There is a term that some people use, which causes terrible confusion and should never be used, and that is the term “intellectual property”. Now, I heard someone mention that term. I don’t think he was explaining why that term should not be used.

It is devastatingly harmful to use the term “intellectual property” because that term implies the existence of something which does not exist.

Copyright law exists. Patent law exists. They have almost nothing in common in terms of the requirements that they put on the public. Trademark law also exists. It has nothing in common with copyright law or patent law about what it requires of the public. So, the idea that there is some general thing which these are instances of already gets people so confused that they cannot understand these issues. There is no such thing. These are three separate unrelated issues, and any attempt to generalize about them guarantees confusion. Everyone who uses the term “intellectual property” is either confused himself or trying to confuse you. ….”

Although I don’t agree with Stallman’s ultra strict views on DRM, I too dislike the use of the phrase “intellectual property” and the fact that it is intended to confuse more than clarify. The classic example in recent times is of course the infamous SCO lawsuit against IBM. Darl McBride would always use that term in the media sobbing about how their intellectual property was usurped. But when it came to defining things in court, they are still at a loss to producing the bare minimum of evidence after three years of discovery.

It is interesting to note that the Number One purveyors of this phrase are Microsoft and SCO. And the tech media mindlessly parrot the phrase, further validating Microsoft’s intent. Microsoft has a whole web site dedicated to – what else?, SELLING you this crap.

Property has to be tangible. Legally, the property protected by any so called “Intellectual Property” laws must be tangible. So the next time you hear the phrase “intellectual property” uttered, ask yourself – Is this a Patent, Copyright, or Trademark issue ? If not, someone is more than likely trying to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.

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