Way of Work:
Dr. Charles Delmotte on innovation policy
The term ‘innovation’ is being used left and right, and mostly in the realm of tech developments. But innovation can take many forms and happens - ideally - in every industry. As a topic of research, it’s one element of Charles Delmotte’s two-year fellowship at New York University.
As a philosopher and former lawyer for an international law firm, the Belgian academic finds himself at the intersection of economics, law and philosophy, which is why he’s perfectly positioned at the Classical Liberal Institute – a multidisciplinary group led by Prof. Richard Epstein, one of America’s greatest contemporary intellectuals.
At the end of February, Dr. Delmotte attended a conference in San Diego that revolved around regulation and innovation policy, organized by George Mason University.
Fosbury & Sons, as an open community welcome to all types of professions, counts a number of members who are somehow connected to this subject – from lawyers to creatives. Curious as we are, we asked Dr. Delmotte about what the current issues in innovation policy are, and which direction this increasingly complex field is heading towards.
FoS: Why is a legal philosopher like yourself interested in innovation?
Dr: Delmotte: Philosophers are interested in phenomena which are currently not fully understood by the social or natural sciences. Innovation is – just like aesthetics or romance – a matter which cannot be ‘planned’. Just like no one can know what will be thought of as ‘beautiful’ in 50 years, no single individual can predict the form or content that our services and goods will have by 2050.
How do you connect this view on innovation with ‘law’ – broadly construed?
Dr. Delmotte: Freedom and serendipity are two parts of the same coin. When we do not know the answer, we enable people to find it themselves. We have no ‘true’ solution to questions of love nor religion, so we create rights that facilitate people to find out what works for them. The market can be seen as a realm for experimentation. Manufacturers will test novel goods that might be better liked than the products that have been created so far. Law comes into play as a number of rules that should foster this process of experimentation; and enable entrepreneurs and consumers to test new goods, services and even ways of living.
FoS: How do stronger or weaker intellectual property laws influence the occurrence of innovation?
Dr. Delmotte: Intellectual Property law is the instrument that gives creative entrepreneurs an incentive to actually invent things – that assure a return on investment in case consumers purchase their findings. The specific design of IP legislation will be constitutive for its proper functioning. It is not because I invent some kind of music app that I have a property right on all music apps: patent rights which are too broad will trump competition.
FoS: Which types of industries benefit the most from these laws?
Just like good musicians hear things their competitors do not, good entrepreneurs ‘see’ things that other entrepreneurs did not see. We can understand the market as a very chaotic place where a multiplicity of transactions are happening at each and every moment. In a world over over-information, good entrepreneurs are those that pick up the proper opportunity signals around them. They are the ones that grasp how a slight modification of a good can satisfy consumer preferences better, or have an insight on how cheaper research could be used to make the exact same good. To speak with Israel Kirzner (NYU): entrepreneurs are trained in alertness.