THE NITTY GRITTY
Weak (could) become heroes
It’s time to define what an IP colony really is. It is unlike an 18th or 19th century state-private venture, something ala East India Company, that goes after a raw material, a luxury spice, or human labor while relying on its home country (the empire) to provide physical and political control that makes all that possible.
A 21st century IP colonist is still a Western company going after resources in what is now referred to as the developing world and selling products in Western retail. These resources today, in what is the crux of the story you are reading, are intangibles. Obtained through dispossession or crass exploitation or both, it is the intangibles of Global South that underwrite the specialty status and retail value of a great range of corporate, Western products.
Fiji in the story of Fiji Water plays the role of an IP colony.
IP colonists search for and build into their business models distinctiveness in various forms – uniqueness, identity, traditional knowledge, heritage, invention – in order to earn comparative advantage in Western markets where, as elaborated earlier, intangible value makes up most of the price consumers pay for most of the products they buy these days. In practically all instances of IP colonialism, the true and rightful owners of these intangible assets earn sometimes as low as 2%, rarely as high as 10% of income their IP earns in retail. They more often than not live in extreme poverty, on less than $2/day and struggle for physical survival.
In some cases IP colonists manage to outright own this intangible value in retail markets in the of form intellectual property such as trademarks, patents, and trade secrets, in others they use strategies such as distribution monopoly and marketing muscle, to exercise de facto ownership.
But, as I labor to emphasize throughout the story, Fiji water’s is as much a saga of potential and breakthrough as it is of exploitation. The business proposition that makes Fiji Water possible is indeed the hallmark of a world remade by three or so decades of what has come to be known as neoliberalism. The key transformation of this time, our recent past, is appropriately captured in the retail price breakdown for a product such as a bottle of Fiji Water.
Continue reading An IP Colony: A Short Story…