*****Hot Property: The Stealing of Ideas in an Age of Globalization. By Pat Choate; published by Alfred A. Knopf, www.randomhouse.com/knopf/ (Web); 368 pages; $26.95.
If there’s one thing that can generally be said about books on intellectual property protection, it’s that they’re unbeatable cures for insomnia. Thankfully, this book is different.
Part history lesson, part scary bedtime story, Pat Choate’s Hot Property is chockablock with intellectual-property anecdotes spanning the past 200 years. Choate describes how the emerging United States was “by national policy and legislative act, the world’s premier sanctuary for industrial pirates.”
Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, nearly went bankrupt protecting his work from being pirated, for example. Choate inserts these tidbits of history to artfully illustrate his points about the theft of intellectual property (IP) and the consequences of that problem.
An idea, by definition, exists solely in the mind, where it remains happily and comfortably secure, but not very useful. To have any value, an idea must be expressed, and therein lies the problem. Fundamentally, the protection of ownership rights to “products of the mind” represents a social contract between society and the person who expresses the idea. Choate’s book is filled with small stories that collectively paint a larger picture of the breakdown of that social contract.
As the book notes, most people do not recognize the scope of the problem or its consequences. To a lesser extent, they are complicit in the problem.>
Many factors contribute to product piracy and counterfeiting, including the increase in both tools and opportunities and the relative anonymity of the act. For the counterfeiter, there are few impediments to entry. Startup costs are low, no R&D is necessary, deterrents are weak, and the potential for quick and large profits is high.
Clearly, every innovator is at risk, and Choate advocates that all owners and originators of IP worldwide take responsibility for addressing the matter. The author fears, though, that the United States lacks the will to confront these issues, which will continue to get worse.
Hot Property is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to acquire a basic understanding of global issues surrounding intellectual property. Even better, the book makes for an entertaining read.
Reviewers: Michael D. Moberly is the founder of Knowledge Protection Strategies of Memphis and St. Louis. He is a member of ASIS’s Information Asset Protection Council. William R. Halliday is director of global security for Marsh & McClennan Companies, in New York City. He also sits on the ASIS council.