May 13, 2016    4 minute read

Intellectual Property Stifles Information Security Innovation

   May 13, 2016    4 minute read

Intellectual Property Stifles Information Security Innovation

When I suggest that we should have no legal intellectual property rights, I am not saying that people should be prevented from trying to protect or preserve their ‘intellectual property’. I am merely suggesting that this must not be done through coercive, forceful (statist) means and that people can certainly try to preserve or protect their ‘intellectual property’ so long as it does not employ force or coercion on others to do so. This is the principle behind my stance against intellectual property but, in what follows, I will provide a theoretical, consequentialist argument against intellectual property due to the increasing relevance of information security and its innovation.

Put quite simply, many individuals, traders and producers who have intellectual property rights enshrined in law (patents, copyright and so on) feel (relatively) safe that those who infringe upon their legal ‘rights’ are on the wrong side of the law and will, therefore, be more likely to incur relatively heavy costs if they are proven to have acted unlawfully. Nevertheless, let us abstract from the current reality for a moment and imagine a world in which, ceteris paribus, state apparatuses did not enforce intellectual property rights and; instead, people were responsible for preserving or protecting their intellectual property (if they should so choose).

Talented Information Security professionals are already in very high demand and command relatively high salaries. However, if there was no legal protection of intellectual property, they would be in even higher demand since Information Security principles would have to be applied and further developed for various other industries so that those who want to prevent their innovations from being ‘copied’ and ‘developed’ can do so. Indeed, Information Security is far broader than Cyber Security.

Thus, the Information Security methods would have to be constantly improved to ensure that the intellectual property is safe in various domains since the legal, coercive and implicit threat of state violence against ‘unlawful’ intellectual property ‘violators’ would no longer exist. In this sense, the state’s enactment and enforcement of intellectual property rights essentially hinder innovation and developments within the Information Security industry.

Of course, there would inevitably be leakages of information (which would be followed by subsequent innovation and refinement of security methods) but there would also be many innovations that are not ‘secure’ (so to speak) so the benefits to society from increased innovation (a standard argument against intellectual property) would also simultaneously be harnessed.

Nevertheless, there is also the possibility of producers having to hide their manufacturing process and ingredients further from consumers as a shortcut to the Information Security problem in the absence of legally enforced Intellectual Property rights. However, such producers would come under increasing scrutiny and suspicion from consumers so this would not be a feasible long-run solution for them.

Ultimately, therefore, the well-resourced entities that seek to preserve their intellectual property would have to invest in privately-provided Information Security and less well-resourced entrepreneurs would have their ideas proliferate throughout society and have to continually innovate in the face of no legally enforced Intellectual Property or less available Information Security due to their budget constraints (or, alternatively, develop their own context-specific Information Security solutions). Eventually, though their innovations would be developed to some extent by ‘copycats’ and other innovators, the original idea would probably be traced back to them (providing that they continue to innovate and, thereby, provide larger social benefit) and they would attract more resources in a way that could put them in a position to invest in non-coercive, non-threatening Information Security solutions.

Conceptually, by shifting the locus of responsibility from individuals and the voluntary interactions of society to particularly threatening state apparatuses, governments that strictly enforce legal Intellectual Property rights must necessarily take a larger share of the responsibility for the many Information Security failings that we hear about (corporate espionage, cyber attacks, etc.). By shifting the locus of liability back to society and individuals, we can naturally encourage innovation in Information Security, innovation across many other industries, the free proliferation of ideas and the prevention of exploitative, rent-seeking activities while simultaneously discouraging state-led coercion, implicit threats and so on.

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