Access to Knowledge (A2K) in the Age of Intellectual Property Part 1

Amy Kapczymski opens this extensive work about IP and it’s evolution with “Access to Knowledge: A Conceptual Genealogy”. Much of the focus I hear about the impact of the “information revolution” and the transition from an “industrial economy” to the “knowledge economy” centers around access to information and the exponential transition away from manufacturing infrastructure and employment schemes to service-based workforces and “knowledge-based capital”. Change is scary and difficult when it upsets established structures. Humans seems to be innately resistent to change and corporations, the larger they grow, seem less capable of facing change. A common reaction to change (or an upset of a “status quo”) is to rely on “defaults” or established practice regardless of their relevancy in terms of the changes faced. Much of the history of IP (intellectual property rights) seems to point in a direction that portrays a fight over human vs. corporate interests when, in the end, everyone would benefit from understanding what changes need to be made and the progression of where everything seems to be going in response to our soci0-political-technical evolution.

In the economic perspective, knowledge matters in its technological capacity for its effect on productivity and growth. Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter early on posited that capitalism relies on technological dynamism.

[Robert] Solow posited a connection between knowledge and economic growth, arguing that the vast proportion of gains in productivity in early twentieth-century America could be attributed not to factors related to the use of labor or capital, but to a “residual” that he described as technical change… that made processes of production more efficient.

Manuel Castells, refers to this as a transition to the “informational” mode of development… it derives from the fact that “the action of knowledge upon itself [is] the main source of productivity.” New information and communications technologies permit accelerating feedback loops of innovation and information processing, making the human mind “the direct productive force, not just a decisive element of the production system.” Manufacturing and agriculture of course do not disappear, but information processing… decisively determines their productivity.

For this Amy defines knowledge vs/and/or information in this context of economic production. She continues to cite Castells:

knowledge is defined as “a set of organized statements of facts or ideas, presenting a reasoned judgement or an experimental result, which is transmitted to others through some communication medium in some systematic form.” The focus here is thus on those forms of knowledge that are central to economic productivity and efficiency—namely, technical and scientific knowledge… that advances in the ability of humans to codify, organize, exchange, and test certain kinds of scientific and technical knowledge have created revolutionary changes in the modes of economic productivity.

This increased capacity to codify, store, process and exchange information has been a precondition for the development of information-intensive sectors from biotechnology to financial engineering. It is also a precondition of the shift toward more flexible, networked, information-intensive business systems such as just-in-time production.

In this sociological conception, changes in our ability to codify, communicate, and process knowledge have inaugurated a new relationship between knowledge and society.

In an industrial economy, the ability to control and own the means of production were crucial to maintaining profit margins and market share. Part of doing so was much easier when the ability to replicate, say, a manufacturing line, the tools, the raw materials needed to build stuff was cost-challenging. I’m no expert here but I assume and suspect that many who owned the means of production used this ownership to “sublease” some of the tools and capabilities, an exercise of their “IP” ownership that extended their capital returns. The definition of the three kinds of IP are defined clearly (Copyright, Patent, Trademark) are covered in the second half of Amy’s chapter. It is here that she exposes where the fight for control and ownership begins to fail, when the “stuff” in question becomes very easy to replicate and even harder to enforce control over when it becomes a “global” commodity.

The book “Access to Knowledge (A2K) in the Age of Intellectual Property” can be found here.

 

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