Start-Up Launchpad Blog

Open Internet - October 1, 2012

Emily E. Harris, Patent Attorney

The internet has changed the way we socialize, work, innovate and create, and it allows for unprecedented collaboration.  It impacts all of us, from the largest global corporation to the tiniest of startups. An open internet, allowing for the free flow of information to spark innovation, is a key element in economic expansion.

Intellectual property (IP) similarly helps to foster creativity by incentivizing innovation and rewarding creators, yet it can be at odds with the open internet concept.  IP allows an owner to restrict other's use of protected works, which in turn prevents the free flow of information.  On the internet, it can be even harder to make use of IP rights because it is so easy to transfer and copy information. 

Given the potential of the internet to help our recovering economy, it's not surprising that both political parties included planks in their platforms addressing internet freedom.  More remarkable is the fact that the parties actually agree on the need to improve our cyber defenses to resist efforts by foreign countries to restrict the internet, and to protect IP.  

The platforms differ on how to accomplish these needs, especially on the concept of "net neutrality"-the idea that telecommunications companies shouldn't be able to play favorites with content they distribute over their networks (e.g., a movie studio can't pay an internet provider more in order for its movies to download faster than its competitor's).  

The Democrats are "strongly committed to protecting an open internet that fosters investment innovation, creativity, consumer choice, and free speech, unfettered by censorship or undue violations of privacy."  The GOP would "remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition".  These "regulatory barriers" are thought to include the net neutrality laws currently in force, while the language in the Democrat's platform abstractly endorses net neutrality.  

From this IP attorney's viewpoint, it's essential that we are aware of the delicate balance between the free flow of information and the need to develop a framework that both protects and stimulates innovation through IP.  A scalpel may be more effective than a sledgehammer.