Patents and Knowledge Societies

While reading Chapters 1 and 2 of our textbook (ICT4D by Tim Unwin), I was most interested in the role patents played in innovation.  I especially liked reading about the argument on the difference between ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ in chapter 2.  I don’t know if I agree with the end argument Unwin comes to on page 23, “[We] need to lay to rest arguments that claim that knowledge is some kind of universal public good, and instead recognize that it is commoditised and serves particular interests”.  As a ‘knowledge user’ myself, and Unwin as an ‘information producer’, I can see his side, that in order to make money, he must sell his book, and that the knowledge contained is commoditised. It is hypocritical to his agenda, however, to take the commercial side.  He wants ICTs to be used to support poor and marginalized communities, yet claims that knowledge is not a universal public good.  Perhaps Unwin has aspirations for the ‘Enlightenment’ knowledge societies he writes about, but Unwin must live in the society of today.  It is hard to break the mold we are born into and are socialized into.  I often think about this in terms of everyday life, but in applying it to Information Communication Technology, I feel like some knowledge societies in the world today (mainly more developed countries) are making progress on this front.

Back to the creation of patents, I looked in the References of Chapter 2 and found a book called Patents, Citations, and Innovations: A Window on the Knowledge Economy by Jaffe & Trajtenberg.  Here is the google book preview.  I love the idea of the patent; that you will get a copyright on something you created and be known for it for a certain number of years before it becomes the public’s.  From what parts of the book was not copyrighted, my favorite quote is this: “Our conception of the role of patent citations is predicated on a cumulative view of the process of technological development, by which each inventor benefits from the work of those before, and in turn contributes to the base of knowledge upon which future inventors build”(Jaffe & Trajtenberg, 2002).  The authors go on to make the point that the relationship between technology and economics, the difference between the cost of producing an invention and the value it creates, is key.  In our capitalistic society, making money off innovations is how many make a living, but it goes against the vision of an enlightened society in the future.  Do we really want an enlightened society where all knowledge is free? It sounds like the dystopian futures I’ve read about in 1984, Brave New World, and it would probably morph into Fahrenheit 451.  What do you think?

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