Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Thu, 04 May 2006 16:13:34 +0900

>>>>> "Ben" == Ben Tilly <> writes:

    Ben> When nontechnical people hear a technical term, they often
    Ben> misunderstand.  Even if the term technically fits, if it
    Ben> causes general misunderstanding (which this does) then a
    Ben> different term would be better.

Crystalline pure arrogance.  I expect better of you, Ben.

In my experience, non-technical people are happy to be educated about
the meaning of a technical term, under three conditions:

(1) You don't put them down because they didn't know the technical
    meaning, or failed to use it correctly.

(2) You provide a way for them to express the commonly used meaning.

(3) If to implement (2) you have no good alternative term for their
    meaning, you allow them to use the term ambiguously, and *you*
    take the responsibility to ask for clarification when needed.

    Ben> When people hear the word "property" they don't think
    Ben> "transferable bundle", they think "land" and bring along a
    Ben> mental model about what owning property should apply.

Sure.  "Property" unqualified means "real property".  "Intellectual
property" clearly means something else, and (under the conditions
above) people are usually happy to be educated about it.  Give them
better analogies.

Haven't you ever heard of an actress referred to as a "hot property"?
Actresses are not slaves; what could that possibly mean?  Evidently it
refers to the studio's exclusive contract with that actress.  Such
contracts are always term-limited, and furthermore subject to certain
hedges to preserve human rights in the face of unfair contractual
terms.  Sounds a lot like IP, doesn't it?

    Ben> (For instance that ownership should last forever.)

Even in land that's not true.  There's "eminent domain", for one
example.  The government giveth and the government taketh away.

The actress analogy blows that right out of the water.  You might also
ask a Hawai'ian (or a Stanford professor) who owns a home about
property in land.

In my experience, people who disagree with my opinion about the source
of the rights that compose IP are generally happy to amend "the
government should not take IP away from its creators" to "because
people have a right to their creations, the term of IP should be
infinite", at least in my presence.

Those who aren't happy are not interested in discussion; they simply
want their way, and are sufficiently dishonest as to try to destroy
the basis for discussion.  I don't make further efforts to convince
them, I simply take away their audience by educating the educable.

    >> It is precisely this ability to refer to a bundle of
    >> partitionable, transferable, and licensable rights in one
    >> simple phrase that makes "intellectual property" a useful idea.

    Ben> Then why are trade secrets lumped in there?

Who cares?  If I'm wrong about lumping trade secrets in, correct me.
Better yet, explain why that's wrong.  That doesn't change the utility
of the term "intellectual property".

Graduate School of Systems and Information Engineering   University of Tsukuba        Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
        Economics of Information Communication and Computation Systems
          Experimental Economics, Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory