I’m convinced that one of the most exciting fields of work these days is in, of all places, law – specifically intellectual property law. IP law is simultaneously growing both more significant and more irrelevant, and changes made in its system of patents, trademarks and copyrights will have a profound effect not only on creations themselves but, more importantly, on the process of creation. Innovation is increasingly being shaped by lethargic courts rather than by nimble minds.
This is the topic of a Darwin interview with Lawrence Lessig, a professor at the Stanford Law School, founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society and authour of the book, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World. Who Should Own What?
Look at the history of innovation in the context of the Internet. The World Wide Web was built not by AOL or Prodigy, but by a researcher in Switzerland. Hotmail was developed by an Indian immigrant. ICQ, which was the beginning of the really persistent instant messaging system, was developed by an Israeli—or rather stolen by an Israeli from his son—and deployed outside the United States and sold to AOL for $400 million. All of these innovations were enabled by people outside the dominant, powerful industries at the time. They didn’t need the permission of those industries to develop and deploy their innovations.
The reality now is that every new innovation has got to not only fund a development cycle and fund a marketing cycle, it’s got to fund a legal cycle during which you go into court and demonstrate that your new technology should be allowed in the innovative system. In that context, there’s an extraordinarily high burden on innovation because the legal system is extremely poor. It’s costly and it’s inefficient in that it doesn’t often produce the right results. It imposes a huge risk on the development process…