November 29, 2011
According to John Palfrey, businesspeople are often insufficiently attentive to the ways that intellectual property rights can be acquired and exercised. His new book, “Intellectual Property Strategy” (MIT Press), is thus written with businesspeople in mind. Palfrey, Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources and Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, argues for leaders of businesses and non-profit organizations to adopt IP policies that go beyond the traditional, highly restrictive “sword and shield” approach, and that instead focus on flexibility and creativity.
On Nov. 21, the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Harvard Law School Library sponsored an event celebrating the release of the book. In introducing Palfrey, Faculty Director of the Berkman Center William Fisher said that “Intellectual Property Strategy” is highly innovative in that it bridges theory and practice in a way that is unusual in legal scholarship, making IP theory accessible for lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
“The book gives measured, thoughtful advice about the optimal IP techniques to use under different circumstances,” Fisher said. “In some ways, it’s what you expect to hear from a senior academic faculty member. This combination of extreme innovation and traditional values and virtues is characteristic of John.”
Palfrey discussed some of the arguments he made in his book, and the case studies he used to illustrate them. For example, he maintains that IP is an asset class, and having a strategy for it is crucial for both an individual firm and, more broadly, for innovation. He demonstrated this point by explaining the development of smart phone platforms, a process which can require purchasing millions of dollars’ worth of patents. The cost of obtaining IP is in some instances so prohibitive that, while Apple could afford the $20 million it spent to license the patents it needed to develop the iPhone, such costs could push smaller innovators out of the market.
“The smart phone example is important because it speaks to our attitude toward innovation. Do we want startups to compete in the market, without these barriers to entry?” he said. “From a social policy standpoint, even if consumers of these products don’t care which company has to pay more to develop them, we ought to care what the effects of IP policies are.”
Palfrey said that he wants those who read his book to understand that having an IP policy that leans towards openness is a good thing not only for their own companies, but for society as well.
Palfrey and Fisher were joined by special guests including Faculty Co-Director of the Berkman Center Jonathan Zittrain, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University Lawrence Lessig, and Assistant Professor of Law Mark Wu. They applied Palfrey’s argument for increased flexibility to academia, libraries, medical research, the dynamics of globalization, and other settings.
“Intellectual Property Strategy” is part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, which presents short, accessible books on need-to-know subjects in a variety of fields.