Report: CREATe Public Lecture by Prof. Peter Drahos – The Great Transformation or Going to Hell in a Handbasket?: Innovation and Intellectual Property in the 21st Century

Report by Andrea Göhring (LLM Candidate in the Intellectual Property & Digital Economy Programme at the University of Glasgow)

For the third and final public lecture of this term, CREATe welcomed Prof. Peter Drahos (European University Institute), who gave a lecture on: ‘The Great Transformation or Going to Hell in a Handbasket?: Innovation and Intellectual Property in the 21st Century.’ to the interested audience. The event took place on the 6th of March in the University of Glasgow’s Arts and Humanities Theatre.

Director of CREATe, Prof. Martin Kretschmer, announced the lecture with the words ‘a lecture that will not be what you expect’. The lecture that followed sure lived up to this introduction. Prof. Drahos presented a project that does not directly address intellectual property, but capitalism and the transformation it will have to undergo in order to achieve climate change goals. In his lecture he discussed how we can create circular, green, low carbon, sustainable and, above all, more innovative economies. To this end, he asked the question: is intellectual property law’s exclusivity paradigm taking us into the right direction?

Prof. Drahos began by stressing the desirability of openness in intellectual property law, with all the advantages of open source, open science, and open innovation. Nonetheless, he pointed out that this important concept can be associated with risks, like large enterprises taking advantage of it, however he believes the market is balancing these risks.

Instead, Prof. Drahos questioned whether the exclusivity paradigm of intellectual property can bring us closer to the economic transformations we want to see. According to him, this depends on theories of change. Globalization does not know any direct causality, so our vision of the future is based only on guessing and making assumptions. In order to make assumptions about future developments himself, and to give pathways for the transformation of capitalism, Prof. Drahos referred to contemporary philosophers as well as to the philosophies of the early theorists of innovation, Marx and Schumpeter.

While Schumpeter believes that market forces will lead to the needed transformation of capitalism, Marx stated that capitalism is blind to the direction of innovation. Therefore, following Marx’s view, a transformation of capitalism must be controlled from outside.  The different theories pose the question: does the market regulate itself in such a way that it leads to environmentally friendly innovations?

Why blindness as to the direction of innovation is a problem – Prof. Drahos illustrates the potential for a system failure in a market with finite resources.

Schumpeter assumes that intellectual property rights are vital for firms and that the constant competitive pressure to which they are subject is essential for innovation and thus also favours the transformation of capitalism. He believes that entrepreneurs’ innovations will lead capitalism in the right direction. Drahos does not agree with Schumpeter’s opinion that the transformation can take place on its own due to market forces. He argued instead that Schumpeter underestimates the big players’ shields against these changes.

Therefore, Prof. Drahos supports Marx’s assumption that the system is blind to the direction of innovation. This argument is supported by the fact that the oil industry is one of the most innovative industries in the world, yet with environmentally harmful results such as fracking. The blindness of capitalism makes it struggle to regulate systems where resources decline.

Prof. Drahos concluded his lecture with the opinion that the exclusivity paradigm does not serve us well in solving many public goods problems. It makes it difficult for governments to manage certain industries and to lead capitalism into the right direction. He therefore suggested, that capitalism must change in such a way that it is no longer blind to the direction of innovation. This is the only way to ensure innovation and sufficient resources in the long term.

The lecture was followed by discussion questions from the audience. Prof. Drahos’s position showed that intellectual property law and the exclusivity paradigm have an essential impact on climate protection and should therefore be considered when making policy choices.


A related blog on the same lecture has been published by Glasgow University’s Intellectual Property Society:

Report: The Exclusivity Paradigm and the Blindness of Capitalism – CREATe Lecture by Dr. Peter Drahos

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