A debut book analyzes the way intellectual property law influences invention and the distribution of wealth.
McCarney landed his first job as a physicist at a corporate lab in the 1980s, and when he was laid off four years later, he began writing patent applications. Although assembling an intellectual property portfolio was more a diversion than a career for the author, through a series of serendipitous accidents, he was able to sell it for a considerable sum. But, McCarney argues, his circumstance—an inventor handsomely benefiting from his creation—was a happy aberration. More often than not, inventors and scientists are the least likely to be compensated for a product’s success. Because claims to intellectual property are adjudicated by attorneys and corporations are always better equipped for legal battles than inventors, the victor in such disputes is all but ordained. According to the author, on a larger scale, technological innovation is actually driven by intellectual property law and the business strategies devised in response to it. For example, the contemporary enthusiasm for software development at the expense of hardware enhancement is largely determined by these factors. The consequence of this is that the legal regime designed to foster innovation actually chokes it, ultimately stymieing scientifically creative pursuits. In addition, the rise of information technology as a central compartment of global commerce has contributed to a historically unprecedented concentration of breathtaking wealth amassed in a very short period of time. McCarney’s breadth of discussion is impressive—he covers the nature of invention itself as well as some of the most significant technological achievements of recent years, like optical fiber, diode lasers, and the field-effect transistor. Furthermore, the position he furnishes is both exactingly argued and refreshingly original. But there’s a lot of technical content, and the author’s treatment of it can be short of accessible and sometimes unnecessary. And he’s occasionally inclined toward panting exaggeration: “As we begin this story, remember that large corporations seek first and foremost to destroy every spark of independent invention. Corporate leaders and their attorneys dismember puppies and immolate kittens. And they enjoy it.”
A painstaking account of the intersection of money, law, and creativity.