Welcome, and Happy New Year.
In 1975, tangible assets accounted for 83% of the value of the market capitalization of the S&P 500 corporations, and intangible assets only 17%.
By 2005, the ratio had flipped, and intangible assets – patents, copyrights, trademarks, research and development, sales and marketing information, commercial databases, etc. – composed 80% of the S&P 500 market cap, and tangible assets only 20%.
Intangible assets power the economies of the United States and most of the economically developed countries of the world.
Meanwhile, traditional industrial manufacturing suffered more body blows in 2009, symbolized by the bankruptcies of the once mighty General Motors and Chrysler. Basic manufacturing continues to be outsourced to low cost factories in China, basic services to low cost service centers in India.
But broadly speaking, intangible assets have no existence and little value apart from what the law says they have. You can put a fence around your house, but it is very difficult to define and protect your economically valuable ideas without reference to the laws of patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc. So to understand the economy of the 21st century, it helps to understand intellectual property law.
And the means of doing business in the information economy have become more abstract and legalistic as well. The modern vessels of trade are not the clipper ships of the mercantile era or the iron horses of the heavy industrial era, but legal documents that define, protect, and transfer legal rights to intellectual property.
Specifically, intellectual property contracts, and especially license agreements.
This blog is an attempt to follow and make sense of the fascinating interplay among licenses, intellectual property law, and the global economy in a straightforward, non-technical, and (hopefully) humorous way.
It will take excursions into related areas of interest, such as bankruptcy. Capitalism has been described as “creative destruction”—the new and efficient destroying the old and inefficient, mixing progress and wealth with failure, dislocation, and unemployment. The information economy has if anything accelerated this process. If licenses are facilitators of the creative side of information economy, then bankruptcy is a facilitator of the destructive side, recycling assets of destroyed businesses to more efficient uses.
Another area of interest is Japan. The world’s second most advanced economy after the United States, Japan has often fashioned completely different yet equally successful solutions to social and economic problems faced by both nations. My interest in Japan has fuelled a 30 year study of Japanese language and culture, and by publishing some posts in Japanese, I hope to get feedback and ideas from Japanese friends and friends-to-be.
So let’s get started.