Homogenisation of Intellectual Property Rights? The various functional properties of different research disciplines and corresponding technological industries
Sociology Munich University Munich, Germany
Privatisation of scientific research and a quest for stronger Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) - mainly patent protection - can be observed since the 1980ies, as a wave of institutional change beginning in the US. But soon after, a counter movement for Open Source (OS) and Open Access emerged, starting from the US and the Scandinavian countries. Within the European Union, reactions are divided - not only about IPR versus OS, but also within IPR protection, with some actors putting more stress on trademark than on patent protection.
This heterogeneity might be explained if we take into account the differences between explicit and implicit knowledge (Polanyi), and discrete and cumulative innovations (Scotchmer). The combination of explicit knowledge and discrete innovation is a clear case for patent protection, exemplified by the pharmaceutical industry with drugs often based on one substance with clearly described chemical characteristics. The combination of explicit knowledge with cumulative innovations however, which is pervasive in the electronic and software industries, is often better based on OS, because OS allows for open standards which reduce transaction cost between cooperating firms and reduce lock-in fears on the side of their customers. Innovations based on implicit knowledge are usually cumulative, as can be seen in the machine-building industry where excellence depends on the professionalism and apt cooperation of craftsmanship. Since implicit inputs cannot be patented by definition, trademarks or similar more comprehensive and output oriented IPRs are most functional.
With this typology and inspired by the Sectoral systems of innovation (Malerba) and Varieties of capitalism approach (Hall/Soskice), we hope to explain why different industries and different countries promote (and need) different IPR policies. The first wave of our own empirical research was based on plant breeding and biotechnology, where we can observe plant breeder protection as an output oriented IPR, patent protection with the advent of biotechnological single gene introduction, and the prospect for multiple gene combination now, which probably sets the stage for OS biotechnology - the latter not so much for ethical, but for economical considerations.