Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lack of intellect, maybe?

This blog comes from a personal bias towards intellectual property (IP). I personally believe in and respect intellectual property. My Asian friends call me weird because I'm one of those people, that you've heard of but rarely met before, who actually buys original stuff. So, that's why I find this article a little interesting.

Intellectual property law generally revolves around trademark, copyright, and patent law. The spirit behind these laws is to protect someone's creative work from being misused by other people. The logic is that when people are able to exploit their creative work, it will encourage more people to invent useful stuff and make money out of their own inventions. I shan't go into a discourse about how intellectual property isn't actually property per-se but we'll just accept that when you talk about IP, these laws are involved.

However, just like any other law, there's also an uglier side to it. Today, we have a situation whereby these laws are working to stifle creativity instead of stimulating it (lawyers have to make a buck). Put simply, creative juices flow when there is freedom to exchange ideas and do things. It is true that creativity should be properly managed. However, laws are designed to be restrictive as it defines boundaries and tells people what they cannot do (this is particularly true for patent law, but also applies equally to trademark and copyright law). This is counter to the nature of creativity.

So, when I see that our government is spending RM 5billion to set up a national IP policy, establish an academy and institute a special court to deal with disputes, it just doesn't quite gel with me. With that much money, we should be building a richer environment with more freedoms, and not building artificial boundaries around creativity. As a developer of real world IP, I am discouraged by the fact that so much money is being spent on lawyers rather than artists or engineers (the actual people who do the creative work). This is just so typical.

The money could be better spent trying to stimulate creativity by:

  1. Revising our education policy
    We really need to encourage our young people to do more and think more. The current system of rote memory work doesn't quite cut it. As a result, most of the kids these days aren't capable of independent thought. Expand our 3M to be more than menulis, membaca, mengira. We also need memikir and mentafsir in the skillset [Let's call it 5M - Me]. If you dull a child's creativity when he/she is young, the damage will be there for life. The creative gears must be constantly oiled and allowed to turn.
  2. Establishing a creative council
    We need to encourage our local institutions to churn out more creative work. A university isn't built by it's undergraduate teaching but by it's graduate research output. A research council can provide a junior research fellowship to encourage budding researchers to explore strange new things. An arts council can provide smaller arts groups with avenues to display their creations to the public. A council is more than just a giver of grants. It also helps disseminate information and educate the public.
  3. Institute an open knowledge institute
    I'm not talking about a standards institute like SIRIM. I'm talking about open knowledge that belong, not to a specific entity, but to everyone. It is impossible to stop the spread of knowledge. Knowledge wants to be free from artificial shackles like restrictive IP laws. If the bulk of inventions and innovations are open, it would allow more people to create new stuff as everyone is free to do whatever they want with it. An open knowledge institute could become a central repository and custodian. It should become the first port of call for anyone who wishes to learn more about anything.
PS: Incidentally, if restrictive IP laws were present 2000 years ago, we wouldn't have Christianity nor Islam today. Everyone would be a buddhist. In case it isn't clear, I am not a lawyer.

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