Why did the French (Minitel) not conquer the on-line world ?

My son has just e-mailed me a link to the BBC article on the final death of the Minitel . He asked if it really was that good. It was. It was better than the BBC article implies because the direct debit giropay system at its heart bypassed most of the opportunities for on-line fraud that look set to cripple the growth of the Internet until they are properly addressed.

So why did the Minitel approach  not take-off globally? The main reason, alluded to in the article, is that the French were proud and possessive of their IPR and tried to sell the technology as a closed system. Meanwhile the fathers of the Internet and of the Web gave away their IPR in a world of open and uncharged standards, bypassing not only ITU but ISO, and unleashing a torrent of creativity.

There is a lesson there for those wondering why Western economic growth is stalled and  the East is leapfrogging the West into a world of multi-cultural, mobile, ubiquitous broadband. 

The 1624 Statute of Monopolies (denying protection other than to the true inventor and then limiting it to 14 years) and Statute of Anne, (similarly limiting copyright), underpinned the First Industrial Revolution – as British Nobles on the Grand Tour pillaged the IPR of continental Europe in much the same way as the East India Company looted that of China and India.   

Hence my belief that we need a shorter, tougher regime for granting intellectual property rights. Once granted, they should be easier and cheaper to police, particularly for small firms and for those who invest in bringing innovation to market. However, as in the early days of patent, those who fail to bring their innovation to market should lose protection, perhaps with some form of compulsory auction of licenses.


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