SINGAPORE - One of the themes of last month's IP Week@SG was how Singapore is aspiring to be a hub for managing intellectual property (IP) such as copyrights, patents and design rights.
The idea behind it is that strong protection of intellectual property rights will help to foster creativity among authors, inventors and designers by giving them a financial incentive. The result, it is said, will be new inventions that benefit society.
But do IP rights really foster creativity?
Take copyrights. If they encourage people to create, why should dead authors have them? The Copyright Act confers copyright on an author in Singapore for life - and 70 years after death.
Perhaps the authorities believe that longer copyright protection periods add to the incentive. Yet decades of research show that financial rewards don't really encourage creativity.
The emergence of the open source movement supports this finding. Numerous computer programmers across the world work together to write and debug open source software without any expectation that they will hold copyright or be paid for their efforts. Instead, most appear to participate because of an innate drive to do good for society.
Perhaps some hope to win their peers' approval, enhancing their employability. But this cannot explain the emergence of online projects, such as Wikipedia, fan videos and fan fiction, that aren't likely to lead to money or jobs.
Moreover, there have always been starving poets, artists and writers. In other words, creative types don't seem to fit the economic model of humans as rational profit maximisers.