What Is An Idea?

What is an idea?

Seriously – what is an idea?

And when does an idea cross the road and become more – something real, tangible, useful, valuable – you get the picture.

I ask – out of all seriousness – having just read a piece in Tech Dirt that looks at ideas vs. intellectual property (IP):

The impetus for the question and their look at it is a web site called http://ideasmatter.com that has been created by Philips, Microsoft and DSM in an effort to better define the need for protecting IP.

Their manifesto states:

“Ideas Matter is a consortium of cross-sector enterprises, small and medium-sized businesses and trade associations that aims to expand awareness and promote the benefits of intellectual property (IP). We firmly believe that IP—and the ideas that lie underneath them—are important to the economy, important to society, important to companies both large and small. In other words, Ideas Matter.”

Listen to the language carefully: “…IP and the ideas that lie underneath them…”

The manifesto goes on to say:

“Despite its importance, intellectual property (which includes patents, design rights, trademarks, domain names and copyrights) remains a complex and often misunderstood topic.”

Again – listen carefully: IP “remains a complex and often misunderstood topic.”

Notice it doesn’t suggest that ideas are a misunderstood topic…HMMMMM.

Thought we might begin by looking at definitions – and there are no lack of them.

IDEA — noun

1. Any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity.

2. A thought, conception, or notion: That is an excellent idea.

3. An impression: He gave me a general idea of how he plans to run the department.

4. An opinion, view, or belief: His ideas on raising children are certainly strange.

5. A plan of action; an intention: the idea of becoming an engineer.

6. A groundless supposition; fantasy.

Bottom line – its all in the mind; all in the realm of imagination; all speculative – and despite its being a noun, not real.

Now let’s look at the definition of Intellectual Property also a noun:

Property from original thought protected by law: original creative work manifested in a tangible form that can be legally protected, e.g. by a patent, trademark, or copyright”

See the big difference?

IP is tangible – it’s real – its 3D – it can be touched and felt; it’s material and physical – you get the point.

And, as such, it can be and should be protected. In fact, it is – IP is not open source – it is not “free fishing” – and I personally am a huge believer in fully applying the law to real IP.   

For example I won’t use bootleg downloads of music; books; movies – whatever – not only because I believe it’s a moral and ethical issue – but because I believe that if we don’t pay for great stuff, great stuff won’t happen – and frankly – I don’t know about you – but the thought of having to watch hours of stupid video vs. one Lord of The Rings – is frankly depressing.

And – to be really clear the notion that the Digital world is built on giving it away for free is no different than it was when Print was invented, or recordings – the debates raged – but lucky for us and global culture and knowledge – the safeguards were put in place.

We all know the famous verse from Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun.”  And the notion that there are only really seven basic plots in all literature — a contested number to be sure, but all agree that there is a limit.

So imagine if Steven Spielberg got sued by the original Anglo-Saxon author of Beowulf – for “idea” infringement on the similarities between Jaws and Grendel. I guess lucky for Steven the author isn’t known and lived in the 700s.

So there you have it. Did the Winklevoss have a case against Zuckerberg? Do we think that ideas and IP are separate and distinct? Should everything be free?

Found this great thought – listen

“A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

And maybe therein lies the answer.

IP is an idea which has found its bayonets…..

How do you feel?

Do you download bootleg?

Do you think there is a difference between an idea and IP?

These are critical issues that I do believe affect the development of the future of great ideas and powerful IP.

Final thought – the Internet was created to share scientific knowledge…….

Share your thoughts – ideas…..

PS – I was going to write about the nexus of privacy; bad taste; public trust and pure sheer piggishnessthe story of Anthony Weiner will have to wait….

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