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Traceability of intellectual properties and evolution

traceability of intellectual property and evolution

This page is part of an (blog) article in progress?, written by Nadja Kutz. To discuss this article while it’s being written, please visit the Azimuth Forum.

The idea

The following are some kind of Gedankenexperiments, which may give clues on the possible reasons for some psychological mechanisms which are involved with intellectual property issues. It shall serve as a stimulus and as a conceptional outline, it is not a scientific analysis. The main driving component for this essay was to look at possible implications of taking the term “brain child” literally.

brain childs and their evolution

An intellectual creation can be understood in its literal sense as a “brain child”. A “brain child” can result in a “machine”. If one sees “machines” as new life forms then these machines are part of an evolutionary process. An evolutionary process, which involves machines is a kind of “extended evolution”, since the term evolution is usually reserved for the evolution of natural life forms. Please see also the essay Surplusses and Exchange.

It is interesting to think about the role of intellectual properties within such an “extended evolution”. Lets explain this a bit more.

leaps are rare in evolution

If one has an organism with e.g. two parents (like a child) then not only the finely tuned combination of two genetic codes but also mutations may lead to new forms of that child organism. However if a mutation is “too big” (with respect to the size of the organism) or if the parents differ too much (like animal-human), then chances are big that the new form may not only be “unfit” in some surrounding but unfit for forming a complex form in such a way that the original parts and the mutated part(s) “fit together”. I.e. this new form may be “unfit” for forming a (more or less complex) living lifeform. For that reason evolution is “evolutionary”, i.e. sudden jumps towards very different child forms are rare.

incremental changes allow for a history

The fact that changes are incremental means forms have usually a history. If a new form just suddenly exists this may be regarded as an emergence phenomen. Organisms can often be traced back to an ancestor. Moreover very small mutations can also take place in a living organism, without changing its overall form, but if the mutations are too big then the organism might die.

Consequently if one regards intellectual properties, like ideas etc. as “brain childs” then if the evolution of these “brain childs” is not traceable, but its history lost, then this is may be regarded as “not evolutionary” in the sense of an “extended evolution”. Moreover a small change (for an idea this could e.g. be a selfunderstood, simple add-on) won’t change the overall “intellectual organism” however a strong “mutation” does. One should remark at that place that it seems that the danger of replicating mutations gets bigger if two too similar organisms are replicating than if two and eventually more similar but not too similar organisms are replicating. This observation is based on the fact that incest leeds to a higher rate of impaired childs. It seems also that more complex organisms have usually more than one parent, this is (like in the case of two too similar parents) of advantage for biodiversity and thus environmental robustness, it may however also be an advantage with respect to the replication of mutations.

It is clear that also here a complex “intellectual organism” can’t survive, if the mutation “doesnt fit in”. For the case of machines this is obvious. Hence following this line of argumentation one understands that changes to intellectual organisms tend usually rather to be more incremental or “evolutionary”. Big intellectual “mutations”, even if these are only in parts of an “intellectual organism” need a lot of effort in order make the “intellectual organism functioning” (for the case of machines this means that it takes quite an effort to integrate very different parts into a machine). Or in other words - one can’t just simply take some parts and “remix” them - the tricky part of combining is about how to find and match the right parts together.

rejection of too big changes may depend on the circumstances

As a consequence of the extra effort, which is needed for the integration of very “foreign parts” into an organism it is to be expected that organisms, which “have” no or few extra means for such an effort might try to “repell” the integration of such “foreign parts” and actively seek the integration of “like-minded parts”, only. A foreign part might even be perceived as inimical in this case. For real organisms this mechanism is obvious. If a body can’t repell for example cancer cell mutations then it may die. For social organisms this dynamics is also rather wellknown. People in societies that feel for one or the other reason under pressure seek out “like-minded” people around them. So amongst others forms of social segregation (like residential segregation) in a society can be seen as a sign of how much this society is under (social) pressure. Likewise the stronger the societal differences (and hence the involved pressures) the stronger the installed police and military forces may need to be. For ideas and other intellectual property similar dynamics may hold. That is the suppression of very adverse or foreign ideas and/or the refusal to cope with them may be seen as a sign of a “body of ideas” which may be under some sort of (survival) pressure.

identification of essential parts may depend on circumstances and on traceability

A “like-minded” part can of course be falsely identified as “like-minded”, i.e. the integration of parts entails always the danger of “trojan horses”. The harmfulness of such a trojan horse depends mainly on the harmfulness of the trojan horse and the availability of extra means for fighting it off.

Moreover the more complex an organism the more parts may agglomorate, which may not actually be harmful when viewed alone, but which may for example be harmful by using up resources without contributing much to the maintenance of the organism. If there are enough means to sustain the overall functioning of the organism (here it is to be asked which functions need to be kept for “survival” this concerns especially a reproductive function and partially a renewal function) then these parts may be kept within the organism. If however means dwindle then superfluous parts like this have to be identified and eventually repelled or destroyed.

For the survival of an organism it may thus become very important to identify essential parts. For a machine this is obvious: if you throw away a little unimportant nut, which makes the overall construction for example too heavy then this may be an improvement. If you however throw away the motor of a car then the car won’t work anymore (note that throwing away a little but important nut may have the same result). Similar things can be said for a an abstract “body of ideas”. If there are too many parts which dilute and cover the essential parts of a mental construction, then an idea may appear as a kind of mental “white noise”. Hence it is a common feature, even in science, to “gloss over details” or to leave them away, i.e to simplify a mental construct. However when simplifying then it is rather important to simplify according to relevance, i.e to simplify in a way that the overall structure of a “mental construct” is still “working”. In mathematics this “glossing over details” may for example be done, by leaving out proofs. For the survival of a mathematical work it is however essential that the unproven assumptions which are put into the work are correct. It may happen that one little unproven and false but essential assumption brings a body of mathematical work to collapse like a card house. Leaving away any part in a tensegrity structure may lead to its collapse. Similar things can be said for engineering - omitting an essential calculation may here actually lead to the collapse of a real house. The identification of essential parts versus superflous or even harmful parts within an organism is therefore especially important when means get scarce.

The traceability of intellectual properties may help to undo errors within such an identification process. For that reason most constructional computer programs (like e.g. cad/cam programs) document part of a construction process, moreover they have “undo” buttons which are sometimes limited to a certain number of undo-steps.

“intellectual organisms” may have no history if there is no documentation

Now a complex “intellectual organism” is nowadays often “created” by one or several people. These count as the “creators” or “parents” of a “brain child”. Lets assume this creation is really different and quite some new invention. At a certain time instance “simple” mutants of this brain child may appear as being the same “intellectual organism”, they may appear as copies or clones. Only big differences (again this depends on the absolute “complexity sizes”) are visible at once and would be recognized as a “different organism”. In nature “copies”, like twins, have the same parents. In the case of intellectual properties copies however can be made by other people then the original inventors.

If the further evolution of a brain child is not documented, then after a while it would not be clear from where and how such a complex “brain child” evolved. Note that this includes the documentation of “early brain child deaths” and further developmental stages of a brain child. Moreover copies or variants from people, which are not the inventors may even more dilute the knowledge about the origin of an creation, if they are not marked as copies. Note in this context also, that “simple” creations (memes can eventually be seen as such) may appear as copies, also if they are not. This is because simple ideas may be “easily created”, like it is easy to “mix up” something if the creation process inolves that you only have to “throw in” some ingredients. Here one can often only judge in retrospective wether an idea was “easily created”, by looking how many similar creations emerged at a certain time instance. Here the lockability of a creation process is vital, because if something is public then it can be more or less easily copied. A child grows usually under some kind of protection. And usually it holds that the more complex the organisms to be created are, the more protection might be necessary. Note that a potentially sucessfully realizable idea that had e.g. been deposited in a patent office (see also Tracing intellectual properties), could be seen as something as a frozen egg/sperm.

It is also important in this context, what counts as “different”. It is clear that this is a debateable issue and may depend on context. It is however often possible to find conclusions on that. In particular very similar (almost identical) organisms can be usually be rather easily identified. In mathematics such an identification is often called an “isomorphism”. Note that there may be various degrees of “identification”. Even monozygotic twins can be regarded as different life forms. In mathematics it is thus often specified to some degree, how an isomorphism is to be understood.

disregard of intellectual creation as an evolutionary process may create unease

Interestingly this Gedankenexperiment here may eventually explain to a part why people may request to observe their IP rights. That is apart from the above explained fact that intellectual work has to be recognized as work and that intellectual property may have a (market) value, whose loss may hurt, it may actually be the fact that the understanding of “intellectual organisms” as part of an evolutionary process in which the histories are important is so “hardwired” in our brains that we actually feel a great unease, if this history might be lost. Note that “hardwired” does not necessarily imply that there needs to exist a pregiven consciousness about that issue. It could mean that alone the analogy of the described processes of “extended evolution” to their analogous processes in real evolution is so strong, that people subconsciously and intuitively feel like acting somehow accordingly (you may want to read also this randform post in this context. Consequently it may be important that if one would for example abandon patents as such that one keeps in mind that the documentation of the history of a “brain child” may be an important concession to human creativity within an “extended evolution”.

copies and market value

In a natural reproduction setting making copies of complex organisms is not simple. That is siblings can be somewhat very roughly seen as “copies” of their parents. In fact they carry their parents genes. And in the case of some monozygotic twins the “copy” can even look like a copy at least of each other. In terms of species all humans are “copies” of each other. Making a very precise copy of a human via reproduction was before cloning not possible. A human though is for example able to rather precisely copy a simple wooden tool, like a spoon by carving. Again this tool is not completely identical but almost. Human brain childs, especially if their construction is explicitly written down, are usually (up to now) comparatively easy to copy.

It is a wellknown fact that the market value of a product is usually related to how easy it is to copy a product. That is why the loss of an intellectual property may lead to a loss of market value as pointed out in the last subsection. It is mainly for that reason that patent offices were installed - that is they obstruct copying products by other entities than the original parents of a brain child (here seen as a product). In some patent cases the original parents are actually fake parents but that is another topic. If copying by other entities takes place then the original parents have less or sometimes no control anymore about the number of copies and finally of the market value. As a result they may not be able to even get the chance to reimburse their development costs let alone make some profit.

Depending on the prospected or already given value of a product, it may be attractive to copy even without a documentation. The “copying” of a badly or non-documented product though usually includes at least partial (re)development, i.e. here the copier are “partial” parents who might seek to at least reimburse their development costs. In some cases of such “partial parenthood” such a copy may have roughly the same functions as the original but the “copy” itself may be very different. It may even be better in pursuing the functions of the original product and thus ditch even more the market value of the original product. Moreover especially if the original product was already on the market then the new “partial parents” didn’t have the development costs of testing wether those functions are at all needed in a market and in particular how much development costs they could risk to invest. This is why there may be sometimes patent fights even for the case of complete redevelopments.

Usually if it is obvious that there is a sudden strong need for certain functions in a market then a lot of parents may get the same “idea” for a product at once, last but not least, because the product specifications were rather obvious and thus development is in parallel, i.e. the development costs taken together are rather high and due to the to be expected considerably higher number of copies less likely to be reimbursed in total and due to the fact that some “offsprings” may be more successful than others, the reimbursement balance may be even worse for some parents.

evolution and market

One should also remark at this place that similar processes take place in natural evolution, that is for example humans can be seen as parallel “products” on the “market” called earth, that is humans sofar satisfy the functions of survival for a certain time, reproduction and reshaping earthly entities. Their parents are sometimes reimbursed via old age care etc. There is however no guarantee that a human offspring may empower it’s parents or other humans. The development of a human into an adult is partially so-to-say automatic and partially done via e.g. schooling, where one teacher “develops” many offsprings at once so that the development costs are kept smaller than if each parent would “develop” it’s offspring completely separately. Sofar “market earth” had been more or less big enough for all humans. The (re)production of brain childs had though been crucial for ensuring survival for such a large quantity of humans. The functions of brain childs are less easy to describe, but one function as an “adult” was sofar usually to empower a subset of humans.

laws and trust

The inner and outer workings of an “organism” can often be “experimented upon”. That is other entities, which are possibly other organisms may use their “sensors” to collect information on an organism, like for example “observe” the organism or “make measurements” on the organism. The may use some “actuators” to provoke certain reaction in and off that organism, and observe these. Here it is often that a higher number of experiments with the same result raise the trust that a fact reflects “reality”. Let’s call this phenomen occurrence trust. Facts may be more or less constant in time that is in the case that the same experiment would repeatedly lead to the same result, i.e. the more an experiment with the same result would be reproduced the more the result would be trusted as a (more or less) time independent fact. Such (more or less) time independent facts could eventually also be regarded as “laws”, which govern the observed organism. Note that “law” would in this case be regarded as a rather general term in particular it could include here things like the (more or less constant) spatial shape of an organism. It could include “physical laws” like laws about forces or “societal laws”. Like if a foreigner observes every day that cars drive every day on a certain lane in the same direction he or she would infer that there exists a “traffic law” regarding the use of lanes. But “number of experiments with the same result” includes here also the case that many sensors of an experimenting organism observed the same thing as a unique event. That is if there would be only one person observing for example some event in space than this “fact” would be less trusted than if hundred persons observed the same event. It is a distinct feature of science that “scientific facts” (should) have a rather high degree of occurrence trust. Note that the traces which were left by an event play here also a role. That is if like in a cosmological event a sun would be shot down than this event could be somewhat traced back by the fact that the sun is gone. If there would be just a short time visibility of a UFO than this would leave eventually no traces. The traceability of an event together with the ability to deduce can be interpreted as a kind of “observation into the past”. That is if one had observed a sun before a certain time period, which was gone after that period one would infer that a more or less destructive event had taken place. So this “experiment into the past” may contribute to the occurrence trust of an event in particular one would trust other peoples observations on this event more than without the traces. In short: the traceability of an event contributes in this sense to occurence trust.

Occurence trust is for example different from certain forms of “religious trust” or believe, where alone the individual perceived intensity of an observation may raise the trust in a certain “reality”.

Likewise the traceability of older life forms, like prehistoric animals raise the trust in their former existence as a living being. If their evolution can be traced back, like via finding chains of life forms in between then this not only raises trust in their former existence but this may also allow to deduce a more or less approximate history and thus last but not least allow to traceback events like major mutations. Likewise the traceability of the evolution of fashion allows even to assign a rather precice time to a human in an image.

Thus occurence trust plays also quite some role in “brain childs.” In particular people tend to regard “ideas” etc. more as an established fact or even law if they perceive (“observe”) them more often. That is if for example men do in general wear no skirts in a country then although this may have never been stated somewhere it may appear as an established “law”, “norm”, “custom” or “general behaviour”. Likewise a “mutation” of the “societal body” with respect to a fashion may -depending on the size of the mutation- display a new “law”, “norm”, “custom” or “general behaviour”. Like for example if mankind should decide to wear only blue clothes from now on then mankind as an organism would have changed “it’s ”colour shape“ in a rather visible way.

In this context it is instructive to remark that mathematical facts, like for example an identity are rather time constant facts. That is if a person (or a computer) “performs an experiment” that is if the person “checks wether the result is obtainable by logical reasoning” then if an identity has already a high occurence trust it is more or less certain that the result will be the same. In particular due to the rather well defined description or long-term availability of the “experimental set-up” (i.e. here the respective logical resoning) the “experiments” (here: checks) can be often be repeated over the course of centuries. This displays however also that for (future) very complicated computations the conservation of the respective hard- and soft-ware and/or the detailled information about it may be crucial.

intellectual property may serve as a brand

There is another interesting aspect of a “brain child” which should be mentioned. An intellectual property may serve as part of a “brand”. In an essay on randform I (re)defined a “brand” as an “add-on” which makes something more “attractive”. That is a certain creation like eg. a trademark can be regarded as a kind of add-on, which makes the creators (in this case mostly a company) more visible (which is in some sense also a kind of “attractivity”) and possibly more attractive (in the usual understood sense). This is similar to “real childs”. Having many healthy (eventually also beautiful and intelligent) offsprings is usually regarded as raising status, i.e. it makes the creators more attractive (Note that attractivity is a debateable issue). Again here for example (“badly”) made copies dilute the functioning as a brand. If a “bad” copy is seen as the brain child of the creator of a “good” original, then this may actually even harm the reputation of the creator of the original. A “sucessful” creation has often a lot of “healthy off-offsprings” that is its further evolution leads to new “sucessful” forms. There is a reason that for example successful companies have often a rather long tradition. One reason is of course probably their dominance on a market, another is probably however that the seed of their inventions was leading to a successful further development. Observe also that attractivity is related to power (see again Surplusses and Exchange).

So a documentation about an intellectual creation is also important for this aspect.

intellectual property and the creators responsibility

In the same sense as a “successful offspring” may raise status, an “unsuccessful” offspring may be “unsuccessful” in the sense that it requires costly maintenance and care. The term “unsuccessful” is here taken into quotation marks, since individual humans are -luckily- usually not regarded solely under the aspect of costs for maintenance etc. That is emotional bonds may easily “compensate” for e.g. individual “maintenance costs”. However if one disregards these aspects then the care for e.g. handicapped humans can in principle be regarded as very “inefficient” in terms of a “(re)productive” society.

Besides being “unsuccessful” in this rather questionable sense an offspring may even be harmful or do harmful things. In real life childs are thus under the responsibility of their parents until they are “mature” (like currently in a lot of countries 18 years old). That is parents have to watch after childs and they are to a certain extend responsible if a child is doing something wrong. Moreover if a mature person is not capable of caring for itself or turns out to be harmful (like in a certain context) then it may get a legal guardian, be brought under surveillance etc.

For brain childs similar things may hold, however here it is more difficult to assess wether a brain child is “mature”, “unsucessful” or “possibly harmful” etc. Let’s look at examples, where the problems, which are involved with such an assessment can be observed. A wrongly built weapon may kill its user, i.e. it’s development was not “mature”. A car which is a “lemon-machine” could be seen as unsuccessful, since it may need contant repair. A weapon which is put into the hands of a user, who doesn’t know about it’s effects, a user who hasn’t been engaged in a discussion about the further implications if its use etc. is “harmful”. I.e. in such a case the weapon would be in a wrong context/environment. So weapons - here seen as manifestations of brain childs - are usually kept under some sort of surveillance, like they shouldn’t be given into the hands of unknowing childs. The ethical and political discussions about the uses of nuclear bombs or biological and chemical weapons also illustrate the involved problems. Moreover the more complex brain childs (and their material manifestations) are being developped the more it will become important to engage in questions of responsibility. In particular it is often not clear, what the effects and risks of a certain “brain child”, like a newly constructed virus, a new nanotechnology etc. may be. Often such effects can only be approximately assessed and the assessment may take time and be costly and may even include a ban. The more there is a commercial and/or cost pressure, the more it will be important to find societal countermeasures, which allow for a more controlled treatment of potentially harmful brain childs. The discussions about the publications of findings in mutations of the bird flu virus are probably rather the tip of an iceberg. The New York Times article Bird Flu Paper Is Published After Debate states:

“An important result of the controversy, Dr. Fauci said, is that the United States is now drafting new guidelines for dangerous research.

For the moment, most researchers are honoring a voluntary moratorium on this line of flu research.“

At this example already many questions become visible. Like what happens to the researchers if they have to abandon their research? What to do about the “prisoners dilemma of harmful research”, i.e. the question: if I do not do the research then someone else will do (which was especially apparent in the Manhattan project)? How to treat openness? The New York times article mentions:

Asked if a rogue researcher could now try to duplicate Dr. Fouchier’s work, Dr. Fauci said it was possible. But he argued that open discussion was still better than restriction to a few government-cleared flu researchers, because experts in unrelated fields, like X-ray crystallography or viral epidemiology, might take interest and eventually make important contributions, he said.

“Being in the free and open literature makes it easier to get a lot of the good guys involved than the risk of getting the rare bad guy involved,” he said.

If one compares this question with the brain child analogy then some things have to remarked here. The current situation for this kind of virus is that the number of research laboratories, who are capable of doing such research is still somewhat overseeable. Thus in particular the reproduction of the research results is currently still limited to a relatively small amount of humans. Moreover those humans are to a great extend interconnected (via their work) which allows to some extend some mutual community control towards each other. But what if the understanding and reproduction of a potentially harmful research results gets way easier for a big group of humans? Here it is really to be asked wether one wouldn’t like at least to make such results only open to individuals, who authenticate themselves and would be prepared to sign something similar as an Oath of Hippocrates. (see also Hippocratic Oath for scientists). Note that the corresponding “Oath” or “Code of conduct” which could be connected with a publication can of course be in principle be “publication dependend”, like include the demand that certain regulations are observed etc. The thoughts about what happens if such an oath or code is broken are then another thing to be discussed. In this context it is also to be discussed to what extend the “inventors”, “researchers” should be involved in the creation of such a code of conduct, finally they are the ones who know most about the possible (dangerous) implications.

There are of course also other means with which potentially dangerous information could be kept more under control, like for example that no (copying) - machines etc. should be allowed when reading the information and/or prerequisites that the reader should have certain skills, be subject to secure and well enough living conditions, be imbedded in a social net etc. These are all rather discussible items.

current intellectual property standards do meet the possible needs of a documentation of intellectual property only in a rather limited way

In this context it is important to look at the current processing of trademarks. It seems to the author that a scientifically justified process within trademark issuing institutions, a process in which the “distinguishability” of a trademark with respect to historic, cultural and use context, with repect to mathematical accessible (see e.g. computer vision) and cognitive aspects, is not overly high developped. It seems there exists for example no global database for trademarks, which could be easy browsable with image tools like retrievr, pictually etc. (?).

Issueing a trademark for the term “snow white” (see e.g this blogpost on randform) would for example be in high disregard for the history of the creation “snow white”. If a trademark is so general (i.e. “simple” in the above sense) as for example a trademark for the “combination of colors x, y ,z ” or a trademark for “foot print on a clothing” then there should exist a (legal) mechanism which ensures that the intellectual property protection of such a “simple” or “too general” trademark should be less strong as for other more intricate trademarks. It is in particular to be asked if one should accept such a trademark application at all. Or simply put: If at one point in history the whole color palette is trademarked, then mankind has a problem.

further pages on Azimuth concerned with evolution:

hierarchical organization and biological evolution: part1 part 2 part 3

category: publishing
category: people
category: biodiversity