CUTTING ROOM: You too can benefit from patent absurdities; Bloomberg, a man to watch; in the presence of His Steadiship; and wising up with Petronius ... Evan Davis at large

CUTTING ROOM: You too can benefit from patent absurdities; Bloomberg, a man to watch; in the presence of His Steadiship; and wising up with Petronius ... Evan Davis at large - Intellectual property. It may not sound like the most scintillating of topics,

by EVAN DAVIS, the economics editor of BBC's Newsnight
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Intellectual property. It may not sound like the most scintillating of topics, but I can't help but notice that it is rapidly becoming to the world economy what water rights must have been in centuries past.

It seems that many arguments are arising as to who owns which piece of what kind of intellectual property. First, there was the genome project and the patenting of life. And then the drug companies were on the front line, fighting to defend their patents against poorer countries - which (quite reasonably) thought it not in their interests to respect them.

Now, the Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation has alerted us to some equally taxing but under-reported dilemmas regarding the precise extent of patent protection. Without a sign of proper public debate, the US courts have radically broadened the notion of a patent. Bright ideas that any self-respecting company might expect to see copied are suddenly becoming protected.

The CSFI highlights two egregious examples: priceline.com's idea of getting retailers to sell magazine subscriptions in return for a commission, and Mopex's creation of a new type of security that enables open-ended mutual funds in the US to trade publicly. The CSFI is worried that almost any type of clever financial wheeze could enjoy patent protection.

One wonders how broader patent protection might have changed recent business history. Could it have helped ailing M&S sue its rivals for selling up-market prepared foods? Or would it have allowed rivals to sue M&S for copying their more modern styles of shop floor layout? Time to get our thinking hats on to add our own innovations to the scramble.

Michael Bloomberg is clearly a guy to watch this year. You will already know his name from his sprawling financial information business. If you don't have a Bloomberg terminal on your desk, you may have seen one of his numerous financial TV stations - one for every major language, with a picture in the top left of the screen and bundles of information pasted around it. Bloomberg TV was laughed at when first launched, but the more you get used to the format, the more useful you find it. And suddenly other specialist broadcasters seem to be emulating the style.

For those who have not had their fill of US elections, this is the year that the New York City mayor's job comes up and Bloomberg is tipped to run. I can't think why he would want the job, but I guess that, having made money, he finds it's glory that he's really after - like so many successful business people . Funny that, because people who have glory often seem so keen to sell it for money.

At the risk of sounding like a sad name-dropper, I found myself in a surreal conversation with Samuel Brittan and Eddie George at a recent drinks party, with the curious opportunity to listen to them comparing notes on their preferred forms of address.

Eddie George has enjoyed a fair bit of publicity for complying with his wife's request to convert himself to 'Sir Edward George' since receiving his title. Especially regrettable is the demise of the neat rhyming simplicity of the 'Steady Eddie' tag, which has long inspired national confidence in our monetary authorities.

Yet the problems of the Bank of England's governor are a mere rerun of those of the eminent Financial Times columnist, also a Sir, and also commonly referred to by a casual shortening of his first name to Sam. If you ever find yourself having to address them, I can reveal both are admirably flexible in the names to which they'll answer: both agreed that being referred to as Sam or Eddie is all right (at least informally). And, of course, both thought the more formal Sir Samuel and Sir Edward are fine.

But don't mix the two. Use of Sir Sam or Sir Eddie will very likely get you locked up in the Tower. A mistake to avoid.

I notice an interesting quote pinned on the office wall. It says: 'We trained, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams, we would be reorganised. I was to learn in later life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.'

The quote is attributed to Caius Petronius, AD66. I must remember to look him up, and see what other prescient gems are sitting there among his teachings.

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