Is it the method or technique? Is it a formula? If it is information, is it the bits and bytes of it? Or it is it the awareness of it? For information itself is useless, unless possessed by an intelligent human being. How do you measure possession of information? How do you even know somebody knows something?

These are some basic questions to which we don’t have answers and we might find the answers in a foreseeable future. Yet, people have done numerous things to tame this animal and leash it, mostly for self-preservation.

Copyright, it seems, was the first significant and successful attempt to protect the creator of the copyrighted knowledge. Protect from what? Protect from another human being calling it his. However, anyone who reads it immediately — effectively anyways — becomes, in a sense, owner of that information. Right?

India — and I use the word India to not refer to the political confines of what is today India, but to the civilization that encompasses several cultures including that of today’s India — does not understand copyright or intellectual property right. Whether it was by design or by limitation we may never know, but India is open-source. The greatest epics, greatest poems, the greatest compositions, the greatest mathematical and scientific concepts, some of the earliest (and greatest) inventions in medicine, some of the most profound philosophical concepts from India are all open-source. Meaning there was no violence over who possessed this information. Either the information was so profound that the creators did not have to do anything to make it theirs or they simply didn’t care.

So, let’s get back to the previous discussion. If copyright is such a defectious concept, what then do you say of IP? Intellectual property rights, specifically the concept of patents, at least as it has been perfected so far, at best, are a subject for amusement. For a pittance, you could claim as yours anything (assuming it has not already been claimed and meets USPTO guidelines) for a period of time. Created in 1790, this organization has now granted over 8 million patents. No doubt USPTO has helped the American enterprise and capitalism, but the amount of absurd patents, patent related law-making, lobbying, litigation costs and conflicts make us go back to the fundamental question — how do you define knowledge?

My answer — to be sure, limited in many ways than one — to that question is — why do we have to define knowledge? The theoretical alternative to this approach is focus on ethics, as opposed to patents. But ethics and motivation are two other untamable concepts in themselves, affecting us at micro and macro levels. Because (positive) ethics conflicts directly with self-interest (and thereby with capitalism) and motivation is always towards self-interest.

Which approach is better — legislation or ethics?