Intellectual Property (IP) fosters inequality. When only the richest companies can secure patents, smaller companies are shut out. IP is a barrier to entry for any company that doesn’t have enough money. In Econ 101, students learn that barriers to entry lead to higher prices. In a competitive market where there are no barriers to entry, consumers get the highest quality good for the lowest possible price. When companies like Myriad Genetics try to patent genes, it leads to less people getting tested for those genes and higher prices for those who are able to get tested (Stiglitz). Though many think that IP is fundamental to capitalism, I believe that IP prohibits the market from functioning freely.
Open Source Design (OSD) on the other hand empowers the individual. Regardless of location, gender, or available materials, OSD allows individuals to create for themselves—even when traditional methods are banned by the government. For example in some countries, women cannot open bank accounts. But now with Bitcoin, open source P2P money, anyone who has a phone can bank and make financial transactions. The following are two quotes from an inspiring and short video that I recommend you watch. The video is from Blockchain, a company that created one of the most popular Bitcoin wallets.
“Billions of people in the world have no access to financial tools. Borders and the system create barriers. We trusted banks but they collapse time and time again. They take hundreds of billions in fees from us. Bitcoin doesn’t care where you’re born, what color your skin is, or where you are in the world. It’s an open network. It’s maintained equally by people all over the world. Anyone can verify the transactions and it happens instantly. For just a few cents, you can send any amount of money anywhere in the world.”
“Bitcoin…is an invitation to participate in an open world.”
For more information on Bitcoin, watch this short informative video. Bitcoin, and OSD in general, allows everyone to be able to profit. In China where many websites are blocked, Tor, a free and open source anonymous network, allows individuals to circumvent “The Great Firewall.” Tor works by individuals volunteering their computers to be nodes through which internet connections are routed. When you pop out at the end of nodes, your identity and location cannot be identified. This allows users in China to access Facebook and other blocked sites.
Tor reminds me of SETI@Home, which was a giant supercomputer that NASA was able to build by having people volunteer their computers to be used when they weren’t working on them (Benkler TED Talk). Again with Tor, everyone is able to take advantage of the rewards. In fact with things like Tor and Blockchain, the more people that use them, the more secure and anonymous the networks become.
Individuals in many places around the world are oppressed, in ways both large and small, by their governments. OSD allows individuals to free themselves from the constraints of their government.
“The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” -Ayn Rand
Header photo: https://s3.amazonaws.com/blog.oxfamamerica.org/politicsofpoverty/2016/01/o-INCOME-INEQUALITY-facebook.jpg
Stiglitz- Myriad Genetics: Stiglitz, Joseph E. “How Intellectual Property Reinforces Inequality.” NY Times. N.p., July 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2017.
Tor infographic: https://safetymadesimple.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/tor-nodes.jpg