Book Pick: Knowledge as Tokens

Tokens of Mind
Excerpt from Enterprise Architecture Fundamentals:


A ten-second overview of the ten biggest market capitalizations tells the whole story: there is no business like the business of knowledge. No matter which product or service, what counts is knowledge — sold directly (e.g., higher education), or as software embedded in products (e.g., cars), services (e.g., maintenance), or licensed designs (e.g., silicon chips).

As illustrated by the history of intellectual property, there is nothing new in knowledge as an economic factor; what is new is the impetus it has received from the digital transformation and the upsurge in AI and ML technologies. Knowledge can no longer be seen only as an asset, but must also be accounted for as an input to be bought (cf. chapter 15), transformed, and marketed. More importantly, the spreading of knowledge in value chains (cf. chapter 4) is not limited to a subset of knowledge- driven activities but potentially affects a wide range of industries. That possibility is materialized by patent trolls, shell companies whose only purpose is to bag as many apparently pointless patents as possible in the hope that one of them will turn into a lucrative industrial stranglehold.

Summarily, patents can be defined by two basic characteristics:

  1. As formal descriptions, patents belong to the realm of symbolic representations.
  2. Patents do not secure the rights to use what is described, only the rights to exclude others from using the patented descriptions.

The first characteristic puts patents at the heart of the knowledge economy; the second one makes them a barrier to entry and, consequently, positions them against knowledge as a business. That paradox was mostly irrelevant as long as knowledge wasn’t bought and sold by and for itself; but knowledge is now a key resource that should be traded as freely as any other one.

The purpose of patents has never been to promote competitive markets, only to protect new designs of artifacts and modus operandi. For two centuries, the targets of patents have been mainly physical (until the addition of software) — yet as a special kind of device, not as a symbolic artifact. Nonetheless, the patenting of software has paved the way to patent any kind of symbolic construct; most notably, representations of biological structures (e.g., stretches of DNA), financial products, and business processes.

Besides the implementation hurdles, exemplified by the swelling delays, costs, and litigations generated by the filing of patents, extending the scope of patents to symbolic representations themselves has introduced an intrinsic flaw in the way intellectual property is regulated …

Significantly, advances on the symbolic and physical sides of digital hybrids can be combined through Blockchains and pave the way to an overhaul of patent regulations.


(From Chapter 16)
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