tl;dr :Patents provide juridical and commercial protection and monopoly in counterparty of publications and explanations of scientific inventions to everybody.
APIs provide juridical and commercial protection and monopoly in counterparty of opening data, services and resources to third-parties.
So, APIs are the enhancer of the business driven numerical revolution as patents have been the enhancer of the business driven industrial revolution.
1) Private property, Intellectual property and patents.
In th last centuries, we had a lot of inventions everywhere, lots of new products but the global innovation and science was slowed by secret.
Each inventor of a technology or a product was not sure to keep its competitive advantage by explaining how the product worked and it was the kingdom of secret to avoid copy or retro-engineerin
It was the beautiful days of industrial spy legends.
Everybody was re-inventing the wheel and was wasting time and resources to make what others have already made, and couldn’t build on top ot existing technologies.
"For examples, scientists often kept their discoveries secret. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz argued over which of them first invented calculus because Isaac Newton did not publish his invention for decades. Robert Hooke, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo Galilei published only encoded messages proving their discoveries. Scientists gained little by sharing their research other than claiming their spot in history. As a result, they preferred to keep their discoveries secret and build off their findings, only revealing how to decode their message when the next man or woman made the same discovery. “
The intellectual property was not protected contrary to private property
Private property is simpler to define because it is easy to understand limits on concrete lands and goods. This my land , my house, my food , simple to separate from each other because physical. If I give you a part of it, I have less for me.
If human could put limits on water and air, they would have put it but it is technically harder to separate fluids than solids (They however decided to give to countries 300 km long from coast the ownership of seas, but not for individuals, for the moment)
So Humans have always tried to protect their material property, and they had to find a way to protect the immaterial one, in a economy of knowledge.
Then some countries, leaded by Italyand England decided to organize better intellectual property
How protect something which is immaterial was the main question? Where would be the limit of ideas? Because If I share with you a knowledge, I still have the knowledge, so why would we define an intellectual property on something that is not splitable?
They decided to not protect ideas, but market exploitations of these ideas, concepts or inventions.
They have put rules on trademarks and industrials inventions by protecting “human actions or processes that modify matter”.
So theories could not be patented but only specific actions enabling new phenomenon or scientific results on matter or material for a concrete use.
Specifically, the right of patent, that interests us here, tells that you can protect an invention if and only if you are :
- Inventing something new that it was not obvious for a average knowledge engineer of your activity
- increasing significatively a technology and its results by an inventive process
- potentially creating a technology or process with an industrial prospective and business opportunity (This is really why theories can not be protected by patents or even mathematics)
If you respect these 3 cases you would be able to have a juridical and commercial protection on your invention on an geographical aera of your choice during 20 years, as long as you pay annual fees.
The deal is that you have to reveal your knowledge, reveal your know-how and secret to everybody making the science move forward.
So companies decided to dive into this protection and have freed the knowledge which was locked inside their company, as long as the business monopoly is guaratneed.
2) The numerical industrial revolution: data is the asset
In the industrial revolution the asset was physical materials. Either Gold, Coal, Copper, Oil, Iron, wood, stone, then product made with them, as cars, buildings, goods, fridges… the asset of the industrial world was physical.
Then with the appearance of Internet and the digital world the asset of the 21th century is the data.
Consulting companies often call it the oil of the next century.
So the question of lots of companies now is "how to make money with our data or platforms, but not loosing control on it"
The same question as before "how to make money with my industrial invention, not to loose the secret and know-how on it"
We have seen lots of companies which didn’t want to go into the open data initiative because they were afraid of loosing control on their data, despite of possibility to make money of it.
I’ve made a scpeific article about it, where I explain that they want to keep control for secure future investments, protect their data juridically for making business and money.
Exactly the same way an industrial wants to protect its potential market and business by writing a patent on its invention, today companies are looking for securing their data openness, and are launching APIs to explore potential markets.
3) Why APIs are the new patents?
Patents provide juridical and commercial protection and market monopoly in counterparty of publications and explanations of scientific inventions
APIs, which provides juridical and commercial protection and market monopoly in counterparty of opening data and resources to third parties.
But for APIs :
- juridically is not defined by patent cooperation treaty but by custom Terms of Service
- commercial protection is enabled by API management solution, by controlling of the openness of the asset with possibility to limit or revoke access to a competitor to your data, so protecting your business.
- the asset is the data, where for patents the asset was the technique and the process
These juridical and technical restrictions and business dependance with specific licensing defined by ToS are a new kind of patent.
Contrary to open source, these open resources keep the control and the monopoly to the provider which has the only right to really make money on top of its ecosystem.
Even if today they are not adapted anymore to the fast technology changes, patents have historically made science and the industrial revolution move forward by enabing safe invention revelation in securing business in counterparty, by juridical and commercial protection during a limited time and area.
Now we are in the numerical revolution, in an economy of knowledge and the real gold or asset of companies is the data.
APIs enable to share more valuable data with juridical and commercial protection and so are the enhancer of the numerical revolution, making the web programmable in the 21th century, as patents have been the enhancer of the industrial revolution of the 19th century, making the world a globalized in the real life economy.