Out of the many social issues present today, I believe one of the gravest to be the mistreatment of intellectual property —any unique product of the human intellect that has commercial value. Such property has proven its ability to shape society whereas elsewhere has been used solely for personal gain. How we choose to share this property has a great impact on public interest but also infringes upon personal rights. How do you balance the demand for private rights with the obligation to further public interest? I think there are varying perceptions of intellectual property and I’d like to contrast the viewpoints of Tesla as a manufacturer of batteries with a generic pharmaceutical company (I’ll reference Martin Shkreli based off his popularity in last weeks postings).
As a leading member in the push to develop next generation technology, Tesla faces many issues regarding the protection of its intellectual property. Due to the success of the model S, Tesla has been widely considered as a producer of electric cars. I’d like to change this perception to that of Tesla as a producer of batteries. One of the toughest challenges faced by Tesla was the the development of a portable battery capable of delivering sufficient power for an extended range. As a battery producer, Tesla has introduced other concepts such as the powerwall that expand upon its battery technology. In terms of intellectual property, Tesla has openly stated that all of its patents have been open sourced. In this way, Tesla is encouraging third party interactions by providing a platform for external developers to use and expand upon. Tesla realizes there are many applications of an efficient battery platform and has commissioned the help of other companies to develop and design influential products. I think this is a business solution that provides the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Tesla is acting in both self interest and in the best interest of society. Musk has stated that his sole intention is to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport and the fierce protection of intellectual property only acts as a barrier to the common good.
On the other hand, Martin Shkreli and the pharmaceutical industry stand in direct opposition to the views of Tesla. As opposed to the open sourcing of intellectual property the pharmaceutical industry is notorious for exploiting the protection offered by patents. In the case of Shkreli, his company offered a price inelastic good and increased margins to ridiculous levels. Although legally justified, his company discriminated against those in dire need of the drug and directly opposed the common good in search of personal gain.
Although I’ve presented the methods of two companies on opposite sides of the spectrum, do you think it’s possible for the average company to accept less stringent intellectual property protection if it means society will receive a greater benefit? When I think about this issue, I don’t think it’s far off to expect an intellectual property liberation movement, in which companies use open sourcing to market their products because it’s the “socially conscious” thing to do. Similar to the widespread acceptance of organic products as a higher quality, eco-friendly alternative to GMOs, open sourcing will represent a commitment to selflessness and the public good. Do you see any possible opportunities for companies we’ve studied (Apple, GMCR, Nike) to incorporate the sharing of intellectual property? Looking forward to continuing the discussion in the comments.