Saturday 22 June 2013


Ancient Egypt and IP: old meets new

Two of your newest Leos spent last week in hot, hot Cairo, attending a conference of OpenAIR. This post is not about the conference, but rather about my impression of Egypt: old, and impressive.
Battle of Pyramids
Francois L.J. Watteau, 1798

In California, where this Leo likes to say he originates (technically not true), anything over 100 years old is REALLY old.  Houses over 50 years old garner a lot of sympathy, as most people assume the owner is too poor to raze the house and build something modern and hideous.

In Kenya, where this Leo now calls home, anything tangible (i.e., not counting TK or TCEs here) over 100 years old is ANCIENT. Modern Nairobi didn’t exist before 1900. Prehistoric footprints and skeletons abound, but there is precious little in the way of massive free-standing man-made stone structures.

So, as cliché as they are, the pyramids (clocking in at nearly 4000 years old) are really quite impressive and, well, old. What does this have to do with IP? More than you might think.

Perhaps the greatest mystery of all time (other than how many times William Shatner will be able to reinvent his career) is how the ancient Egyptians, without any modern machinery, were able to move 2.3 million blocks of solid rock, each weighing up to 80 tons, into a massive structure that has stood for over four millennia. Did they use ramps? Did they roll the stones over logs?  Alien assistance, perhaps?

Could you ask for a better example supporting the argument that Traditional Knowledge should be categorized and recorded? In view of this tragic loss of information, South Africa’s recent move (Afro IP post here) toward building a database of TK is welcomed.

From a patent perspective (this might be stretching things a bit), I suspect one could still patent the method used for making the pyramids, were it to be determined today. The very public presence of the pyramids would seem to imply inventive step issues, but perhaps not. Secondary considerations, such as “long felt need” or “failure of others”, can be used to overcome an obviousness rejection in the US. Certainly, an enabling disclosure of the method of construction is not known to exist (evidence: thousands of years of speculation, not a single theory is satisfactory or even entirely plausible, etc.).

Finally, perhaps countries should be able to obtain some sort of protection of their national landmarks. Some form of hybrid protection between trademarks and geographic indications would enable Egypt to take action against a certain hotel in Las Vegas, or against Hollywood for countless sci-fi films.



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