IP as a Human Right

The ownership of intellectual property by the individual that created it is a fundamental human right. In a sophisticated knowledge economy, owning and trading in our own intellectual capital is as fundamental as trading in our labour was in a manufacturing economy. At least this is one view.

Not everyone sees IP that way. Some start from the position that since all knowledge, particularly science, should be the common possession of mankind, the rights of individual should be subordinate to the rights of the many. Others see that rights, acceptable even desirably for individuals have been exploited by large corporations at the expense of society in general. So, attacks on the systems of intellectual property rights which protect the products of individual creation, are not uncommon. An example, the Manchester Manifesto, developed by the Institute of Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester and the Brooks World Poverty Institute.

The Manchester Manifesto starts out, it seems, to answer the question: “Who owns science?” It ends with recommendations concerning the creation of alternative systems of intellectual property. It is tempting of course to start dismantling the arguments, but the authors of this work are clearly setting out their own statement of belief, their perceptions of an intellectual property system which, in their eyes, is not only failing them, but failing us all. Any system developed by humans from intellectual property to marriage that can’t be improved. Imperfections, and constant change, improvement are part and parcel of human innovation, particularly when it comes to dealing with property and each other. So, it is right and necessary to be open to improvements to the IP system, with a weather eye on protecting our human rights.

A continuing dialogue around the purpose and practice of current IP systems is vital and necessary. The arcane, sleepy world of IP is gone. Everyone involved in the creation and use of IP, has a shared responsibility to inform the world of the powerful, fundamental human rights which are embodied in the IP system.