These are some preliminary thoughts I have on the legal legitimacy of intellectual property, which may be liable to change once I’ve researched this subject more scrupulously.
I don’t believe that design models should be protected. Let’s use the products of three major corporations as examples – McDonalds, Nike trainers and the iPhone. If an individual or company wants to replicate the design model of the iPhone, or mimic the recipe of the Big Mac, or tries to replicate the sole and interior design of a Nike or any other major retailer’s trainer, I don’t think this should be legally protected. I have heard the arguments from people that believe this would hamper entrepreneurship, as well as arguments that think this would encourage entrepreneurship, and I feel like the latter are more overwhelming. I think that, pros and cons considered, the latter option would not only benefit small-scale producers and compromise monopoly, it would also be far better for the consumer and for economic progress in general.
It’s better for innovation; Chris Shaw of The Libertarian Ideal gives the example of an iPhone replica (during the Q&A following his talk on the libertarian moment presented to the Libertarian Alliance) produced in the black markets of South East Asia that have a replaceable battery: ordinary iPhones can be infuriating when their battery breaks and the entire iPhone has to be replaced, rather than just the battery itself, so a replaceable battery in an iPhone replica is a great advancement for a design model that is notorious for containing built-in obsolescences.
However, I do believe that branding should be protected by law. While I feel like copyright laws can be overzealous (take for example the metal band Rhapsody, who after having a very successful career, worldwide tours and slew of albums, were taken to court out of the blue by some obscure band with the same name, and from then on could only rerelease their old albums under the new name Rhapsody of Fire) but all things considered, I think this approach benefits producers and consumers. A Nike tick, a yellow McDonalds M or the Apple logo are all indicators of quality. As a consumer, if I happen to be a big fan of McDonalds food (which I’m not) I would not like to live in a world where that symbol can be used for any old restaurant and I have no good sense of quality control. Likewise, the Nike tick is an indication of high standards, and I’d hate to invest in some cheap, knock-off replica of the Nike trainer that ends up being uncomfortable and falls apart after a couple of months of use.
I think branding is good for producers too of course, because it means that the company can build up a good reputation not because they were the first to develop this particular design model, but because they’re widely known for producing high quality, long-lasting products made of solid and durable material. If anybody could sell their trainers as ‘Nike’ with a tick, then Nike would find it impossible to develop a reputation and the consumer would be completely lost, taking a blind chance when buying products that they hope will be of high quality.
This then sits me in the middle of those libertarians that think intellectual property rights should remain as they are now, and those that think they should be completely abolished. I think this would make the most reasonable compromise. I’m not an economist, and these are only preliminary thoughts, but this is how I currently feel about it.
Any thoughts? Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments section below.