THE MAGAZINE

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

By Michael Moberly

***** The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. By Thomas L. Friedman; published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; available from online and local retailers; 496 pages; $27.50.

Forget Columbus and Magellan. In a practical, business sense, the world is flat, according to award-winning New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. That is, the world is a playing field that is continually being leveled, allowing companies and countries “to compete for global knowledge work as never before.”

Friedman’s book represents more confirmation that globalization is here, courtesy of, among other things, technologies that permit instantaneous round-the-clock data transfer. In this world, business is no longer shaped or driven solely by the flow of physical goods and services, but rather by the flow of proprietary information, intellectual property, and other intangible assets. Most of the value of a company, Friedman points out, now resides in brands, copyrights, patents, trademarks, good will, competitive advantages, and other such assets.

However, the rights and protections attached to these assets are routinely outpaced, circumvented, and disregarded in the “flat world,” he notes. Infringement, misappropriation, piracy, and counterfeiting are so prevalent that the time is drawing near when traditional enforcement mechanisms for intellectual property will be almost irrelevant. Today’s information predators are aided by data mining and other technology, rendering all innovation and business transactions vulnerable at all times, Friedman asserts.

Companies that rely solely on speed to market to stay ahead of infringers are misguided, he says. But Friedman is light on concrete recommendations for protecting intellectual property. The challenges confronting businesses today include developing better metrics for measuring actual risks to intangible assets, developing more “proprietary” business cultures (to emphasize awareness, alertness, and accountability), relying less on traditional intellectual property law, and integrating protection at the earliest stages of ideas and innovations.

As usual, Friedman’s writing is crystal clear and his arguments are persuasive. While not a must-read for security professionals to carry out the technical parts of their job, the book offers enlightening observations that will benefit all security professionals who want to keep on top of larger business and social trends in our rapidly changing world.


Reviewer: Michael Moberly is president of Knowledge Protection Strategies of Memphis, Tennessee. He is a member of the ASIS Information Assets Protection Council.

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