The ideas economy sounds like something nebulous and ‘sound-bitey’ that people like to say because they’ve read it or heard it somewhere. But concept of the saleability of ideas, inventions, designs of any kind, is not a new one.
We’ve had a patenting system since 1624 and indeed the British Statute of Monopolies is credited alongside a similar Venetian Statue as being the earliest such system in the world, and the precursor to today’s concept of intellectual property law. That’s why it seems almost absurd that only with an new Intellectual Property Act instituted this month is it finally a criminal offence to infringe intellectual property.
Of course that does not mean there were not previously any consequences – it was a civil offence that would be tried in the courts and result in compensation payouts or some such – but it strikes me as having been a pretty light comeuppance. Equally disturbing is the old ‘access to justice’ question that applied here: if you have your ideas stolen it is up to you to pursue the claim in the courts, presumably often at considerable personal cost, and with no guarantees that you would actually win.
Large bluechip companies spend a lot of money protecting their IP – Dyson is a particularly notable example for the fiercely protective behaviour of its in house legal team. But for artisanal endeavours, or indeed if you are a James Dyson of his early days, a lone inventor, a ‘civil matter’ simply is not enough of a deterrent and is therefore does not give independent creators a fair crack of the whip.
So it’s fixed (to some extent – do read Tom Davis’ excellent article on the IP Act in the upcoming November issue of Jewellery Focus), but given how long we have had a notion of the sanctity and value of ideas, it should have been about three centuries sooner.