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Friday, 14 April 2017

School Funding, Equipment and Intellectual Property

Two [rival] teachers' unions are holding their conferences in different cities over the Easter holiday, as is usual. This year, they are united in their insistence that there is a crisis in school funding throughout England; to which the government responds with the pathetic mantra that more money is allocated for spending on schools than ever before. If there are more children in schools, and prices are rising - however slightly - then more money is going to be needed every year for each child to have the same assets available to her/him. Books are still important, and up-to-date books are copyright material so the author and the publisher can each take their premium within the price that must be paid for each copy of the book. As more IT and computing equipment is used, so the intellectual property aspect within the prices of such aids and of the relevant software has to be paid; together with the access charges to sites and the fees payable to broadband providers [not to mention the rising cost of electricity to power everything]. Schools can take steps for the sharing of all types of learning device: but every child must have adequate access to the full range of assets, and the schools must pay the price. The daft insistence of the government on repeating their mantra merely makes them look sillier.

The development of high-value intellectual property is the best possible investment in any country. Britain has been a world leader in this arena for at least four centuries, and continues to be highly generative of world-class intellectual assets. The appropriate level of school and university and apprenticeship education and formation is indispensable for the future generation of such assets. However, as has been well documented [including in this blog] the lack of support for second-stage and subsequent investment by both financial and governmental institutions in Britain has created a long catalogue of developing world-leading patents being sold to alien investors. The British-based inventors usually receive an acceptable premium for selling out; but the nation is a net long-term user as the retail price of the resultant products - including a high premium for access to the embedded intellectual property - has to be carried on the country's balance of payments. What should be a generator of profit for the economy as a whole becomes a drain of wealth; yet the technology still has to be accessed if the country is to be enabled to achieve any next-stage economic development.

The extreme importance of the ownership of intellectual property is most clearly seen in the health care sector, where scavenger firms buy small pharmaceutical companies that hold the patent on life-saving and life-extending drugs and then increase the surcharge for the implicit intellectual property many times over. Today's News includes reference to a firm in Spain that has tried to charge FOUR THOUSAND PER CENT more than the previous asking price for such a drug. The principal potential buyer of such a drug is a state health service, and the patients of such a service can expect 'essential' drugs to be made available. Thus such companies try to screw the taxpayer by creating a public demand for the drug that will extent granny's life by some weeks. This raises the question: should the state set limits to the 'monopoly profits' than can be made by owners of intellectual property? Probably the most free-wheeling economy in modern history, the USA after the Civil War, deliberately smashed attempts to stitch up control of the railways and of the distribution of oil in a phase of 'trust-busting' legislation. Now all countries have the equivalent of the UK Competition and Markets Authority; and even though they are pretty ineffective [as seen in electric power supply in the UK] they sometimes achieve benefits to the consumer. It is surely time for a similar [but stronger] approach to be taken to exploitative deployment of intellectual property, especially patents in areas such as health care.

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