Now at last the story can be told! The IPKat has taken over the European Patent Office. IPKat team member and famed multi-blogger Jo Gibson has stormed the EPO's Munich fortress by posing as Eva Peron. Once installed, she issued the following communique (you'll find it on page 9 of the EPO's Annual Report, which you can obtain here):
“TO EXPECT THE IP SYSTEM TO CARRY THE ENTIRE BURDEN CREATES A PERCEPTION THAT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ITSELF IS MUCH BIGGER THAN ITS CAPACITY TO PROVIDE INCENTIVE AND REWARD FOR COMMERCIAL TRANSACTIONS IN KNOWLEDGE, BUT IT IS NOW BECOMING THE ETHICAL JUDGE, THE ARBITER OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT”(IPKat colleague Jeremy explains why this statement is reproduced here in capitals. This is because typing in upper case is like shouting, and it is well known that non-English speakers often gain an excellent comprehension of the language when you shout at them, as generations of pro-European English tourists abroad can attest. Perhaps the European Court of Justice will get the hint and publish ECJ and CFI decisions in English, printed in capitals, to save having to pay so many translators ...).
Being a cultured citoyen d'Europe, Jo is then quoted as saying the whole thing in French:
"Attendre de la propriété intellectuelle qu’elle endosse toute la charge crée l’illusion que la propriété intellectuelle dépasse de loin sa capacité à motiver et à récompenser le commerce du savoir, mais elle est en train de devenir l’instance morale, l’arbitre du développement en matière d’éthique".Then comes the coup de grace - the same message, this time in German - which is only right and proper, since Germany has hosted the EPO for nearly 30 years:
"Wenn man dem System des geistigen Eigentums diese ganze Last aufbürdet, entsteht der Eindruck, dass geistiges Eigentum als solches viel mehr kann als durch Anreize und Lohn den geschäftlichen Umgang mit Wissen zu fördern; de facto wird es nun zum ethischen Richter, zum Schiedsrichter in Fragen der moralischen Entwicklung".On a more serious note, Jo's point should be carefully pondered. The patent system may have been born of economic considerations but that does not make patent protection the exclusive property of the economist: moral and ethical dilemmas, many of them more finely poised than we may care to admit, do not disappear just because you can't find them in the annual accounts. Likewise, the patent system addresses technical advances but that does not make it the private domain of the technologist, for much the same reasons. If the patent system delivers what we ask of it, but we don't like what has been delivered, the fault lies not within the patent system but within ourselves - in our capacity to design a system that protects and incentivises innovations with ambivalent moral quality, and in our tolerance of such anomalies as the acceptance that an innovation is too immoral to enjoy patent protection but not so immoral as to be banned from use.