The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.
Gustave Flaubert

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Intellectual property

The definition of intellectual property in my Dictionary is one of those of which I am most pleased. It would have been improved by reference to this piece published on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's website, or to this posting by Eric Goldman on his Technology and Marketing Law blog. Mr Goldman argues that the expression "soft IP" is so imprecise, and its concomitant expression "hard IP" likewise, that it would be best if we just stopped talking about IP altogether. Hear, hear.

My impression, for what it is worth, is that "hard IP" is that IP that results in solid physical objects, made of metal and covered in oil - so, patents and designs but not copyright and trade marks: but of course patents can cover soft stuff, like computer programs (but not, of course, as such, not here anyway) and copyright used to protect hard stuff like exhaust pipes. Mr Goldman doesn't seem to have set up his blog for comments, so this will have to suffice.

Having started on an interesting digression (much more interesting than the agreement for a lease that is lying on my desk, metaphorically thumbing its nose at me, ridiculing my scant knowledge of commercial property law) I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, which gave as the earliest use of the expression "intellectual property" a quote from volume 41 of The Monthly Review, as long ago as 1769:

What a niggard this Doctor is of his own, and how profuse he is of other people's intellectual property.
Although that exercise in mass trespass (because it so manifestly fails to respect copyright where it subsists), Google Books, offers several complete scanned volumes of The Monthly Review, it does not have volume 41, on page 290 of which the extract appears. More research will be needed if I am to work out that that Doctor did, and indeed who he was, and why he should be described as a "niggard", a word which presumably has fallen into disuse because of its similarity to another word that no civilised person would now utter.

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