30th aug, 2010

Lack of protection the source of German success?

A German researcher, Eckhard Höffner, has written a book on early copyright history and the effects of protection in Germany. 

In his book Höffner claim that a climate of non-copyright protection in Germany stimulated the distribution of knowledge and book market. He compares the situation to the British book market, where there was a more strict copyright protection. The result was that in the UK 1000 new books was published a year and in Germany that number was around 14.000. 

Höffner theorizes that it was this golden age of knowledge that stimulated Germanys industrial revolution. 

There may be some truth in that argument. It is well known that in the beginning of the 18th century Germany had a pretty weak patent protection as well. This stimulated the pick-up of new technologies. However the attitude towards IP protection in Germany changed over time as they became the technology and knowledge leaders instead of followers. 

In my opinion Höffners research supports the idea that at one stage of development a nation or companies will thrive under a regime where nothing is protected. At a more developed stage however it is necessary to turn to copyright or patent protection to ensure continuous development. 

Actually there are current examples of just this strategy. Countries like India and Brazil were historically in favor of a lenient patent law. This has changed over time since the two countries have developed a number of great medicine companies. These companies started as copycats but now do basic research and develop new medicines themselves, and therefore turn towards stronger protection.

Read the Spiegels article og Höffners new book.


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