February 27, 2006
The Islamist Attack on Intellectual PropertyBy Thomas Lifson
It becomes clearer with every day that the Islamist faction within the Muslim world has an idealized vision of society entirely at odds with foundations of American society, and with the values of modern civilization. Free speech (including cartoon speech), religious pluralism, or female equality are only starters, important though each of these principles may be to us.
The Islamist vision of the society to which all infidels will have to submit eventually is also profoundly hostile to improvements in technology.
To a degree that few of us consciously understand, modern American culture is built on the foundation of technological change. We all expect cell phones to get better, TV screens to get clearer, thinner, and brighter. We expect air travel to be cheap, and we expect medicines to be developed to alleviate illnesses that once would have claimed us at a young age. We plan our lives, careers, and families on these premises.
Those of us who work on the internet expect that broadband access will spread, get cheaper and better, and that we will be able to answer emails wherever we roam, via a convenient and functional pocket device that also can send pictures and maybe soon streaming video.
And that's just in the next couple of years.
Recently, I was reading an Islamist website and discovered the following logo in an advertising—like box:
It turns out that the very internet which is powering so much innovation and efficiency is being used to build a political movement to destroy all technological dynamism. These guys may be crazy, but they are smart. Intellectual property is the bedrock foundation of modern life.
Without the ability to protect (and profit from) intellectual property, there will be no innovation. Nobody will have an incentive to do things differently from the way they have always been done. The phrase for such a world is The Dark Ages.
There are many allies for the Islamists in the war against intellectual property. Poor countries want to be able to produce new drugs without paying royalties to defray the cost of the research necessary to discover and prove safe a new drug. Typically, that runs a billion dollars or more these days for a completely new compound. The manufacturing cost may be pennies, but the retail price may be $50, if the research costs are to be paid off.
Countries on the way up the value chain in manufacturing often do not accord great deference to the principles of intellectual property, either. A generation or two ago, Japan was notorious for borrowing technologies, trademarks, and even Mickey Mouse, on occasion, without benefit of royalty payments to the owners. But as Japan has matured, gained technological parity in most fields and leadership in some, the understanding of the importance of intellectual property has deepened considerably. Japan now trails only America in terms of the number of patents granted.
Today it is China that is struggling with intellectual property issues. Although counterfeiters of DVDs and knock—offs of other products are still numerous, China's longer term vector is clear. It will enforce intellectual property laws more and more. That is, quite simply, the only way to get richer in a technologically changing world.
At its heart, the Islamist vision is opposed to all technological change. Rather than a society characterized by continuing discoveries in medicine, telecommunications advances and new applications of micro—electronics to further delight the mind and body, these Islamists prefer (or think they prefer) a steady state society, roughly fixed at the seventh century, when Muhammad received divine revelations and laid down the optimal way to govern human existence for all time.
Technological innovation destabilizes this ideal society. Ever since technological innovation became the dominant force empowering Europe (and then America — and now Japan, South Korea, China, India and other 'tiger' economies), Islam has been in decline as a geo—strategic military force. Ever since the stopping of the Ottoman Muslim forces at the Gates of Vienna in September 1683, the West has become increasingly powerful relative to Islamic countries. Technology change has not been benign if your goal is impose Sharia law on the entire world and establish a global caliphate.
Jack Risko, of Dinocrat.com, made a startling comparison of patent activity in the Islamic world versus the west. Saudi Arabia, which only established a patent office in 1990, has not granted a patent in six years. Iran in 2001 granted only one patent. Egypt, home to a quarter of the world's Arabs, is only now getting around to mandating the task of undertaking a substantive investigation of patent claims before granting patents.
The basic machinery of technological innovation is absent. Indonesia, with almost a quarter billion people, has totaled 30 patents in the last five years.
The US granted 157,000 patents last year, and has a cumulative total of seven million. Jack Risko comments:
Jihadists have proven adept at using cell phones, air travel, the internet, and satellite television. We now fear their developing prowess in biotechnology and nuclear technology. Clearly their hostility to technology has not prevented them from using it.
I have to ask myself if they truly would give up all these fruits of science and civilization, originated in the west but now embraced throughout the non—Muslim world. No more al Jazeera? No more cell phones?
How about no more air—conditioning?
If they get their way, do they envision getting rid of all post—800 AD innovations? Or will they try to hold onto what exists, while allowing no further innovation? The mind boggles. Who will train the air conditioner repair men? How will they keep up with what already exists if nobody is interested extending in such knowledge? Everyone might as well just study the Koran in madrassas.
And that is the point.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.