Last evening The Huffington Post Dallas published a column by the Dallas Mavericks owner and software investor, Mark Cuban. In it, Cuban writes that he hopes Yahoo! will “tear apart Facebook with as large an award as it possibly can get.” The issue is over patent violations, and Cuban does a make a good case in favor of Yahoo!, despite his (mostly consistent) objection to patent law.
While Cuban does not reject the idea of Intellectual Property (IP) entirely, he nevertheless brings to light very two important issues: the effect of patents on innovation and ways in which to bring social change. Cuban writes that he “[hates] patent laws,” although his hatred runs only “99 percent” deep, as he admits that “There are plenty of examples … where the patent was put to legitimate use….”
Sadly, this is an all-too-common line of thought. Some good comes from a certain institution, so we shouldn’t reject it entirely. We just need the right regulations, the right regulators, and then we’ll be alright. The thought that it’s a systemic ailment, or that it can never work as it is laid out on paper, evades most people. This inconsistency is what keeps many from going all the way philosophically, and ensures the status quo never fully changes.
He does however nail down the essential role IP has in the economy, which is “To protect companies with original IP from smarter, faster, aggressive companies who catch the imagination of consumers and advertisers.” The real challenge is in making this a well-known fact among the public. That’s where the lawsuit comes in.
The reason Cuban hopes that Yahoo! wins is for the exposure. Most know little of the impact IP laws have on our liberty or the damage they do to economic growth; few reject the idea outright. Since there is no chance of formal legislative change for the good, given the direction we’re moving (SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, etc.), something else will have to serve as the catalyst. His opinion is that “it’s going to take a consumer uprising to cause change.” And, “what better way to create a consumer uprising than to financially cripple and possibly put out of business the largest social network on the planet?, Cuban asks.
Similar to the Stop SOPA campaign, which only had as much affect because of the huge exposure, the thought of having your favorite website shut down motivated people to barrage the congress with complaints. Perhaps having one of the most popular websites in history dismantled over some obscure and draconian laws would be an effective tool in that fight.
In the end though, I’m not sure that two tech giants duking it out in federal court is the best solution, even if it’s effective. Certainly a more desirable method would for people to be slowly educated on the reality of IP. Using an arm of the state to undo one of its creations seems to be the wrong approach.
Any reform would no doubt be coopted by the IP lobbies, anyway. We’d probably be left with something worse in the end, and we’d have the same situation, where no one knows the true cost of IP. Better to help educate and treat the disease, rather than just the symptoms.