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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Intellectual Property

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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Are patents and copyrights still constitutional?

Challenges to the effectiveness of patents and copyrights as a reward to their creator are being raised with growing frequency. Alex Tabarrok does so today link here

β€œ.... economist, Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University, last year drew a similar curve on a virtual napkin to argue that, beyond a certain point, greater protection for intellectual property causes less innovation. He thinks that U.S. patent law is well beyond that optimal point.” That is, the returns from patents and copyrights are diminishing rather than growing and ultimately can only become a disincentive to innovation.

One piece of evidence that they are already negative is the frequency of patent disputes and the cost of prosecuting or defending them. The law journals are full of such reports, including their huge financial costs.

By their very existence, such costs become a powerful disincentive to investment in producing something new as the threat of litigation becomes an additional hard-to-estimate source of uncertainty.

That this is not a trivial matter in law is the fact that the constitution states that patents and copyrights are justified β€œto promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” If they are not doing that, they are unconstitutional.

Dilbert strikes again

link here

Another great Dilbert cartoon on IP

But he only allows me to link, not to copy and reproduce on our blog.

link here

White House invites comment on IP enforcement

Mike Masnick passes on the invitation from the White House to let it know what we think of IP enforcement link here.

That is a great invitation and if we as critics don't respond in large numbers and with well-argued statements of our views, we will miss a significant opportunity.

Masnick goes on to note, "Victoria Espinel, the White House's Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, has announced the opening of a public comment period for people to give their thoughts to the administration on what it should be doing about "intellectual property enforcement." As always happens with "public comment" periods, expect large filings from big special interests. Also, I wouldn't expect any major change to come from this. However, I would still recommend submitting carefully argued, well-thought-out filings on your thoughts concerning the White House's approach to "enforcing" intellectual property. While I do not always agree with Espinel or the administration in how it handles these things, I have found them to be very open to actually listening to concerns from people -- much more so than other parts of the government that have taken a specific view on these issues and have no interest in budging. Espinel, at the very least, is actually interested in opposing viewpoints and the more detailed, thoughtful arguments she hears, the better. The key part of her request is as follows: I believe that essential to the development of an effective enforcement strategy, is ensuring that any approaches that are considered to be particularly effective as well as any concerns with the present approach to intellectual property enforcement are understood by policymakers."

Does copyright protect something useful?

Nick Bilton poses an interesting question in the New York Times on whether you can copy physical objects without violating copyright link here. His answer is yes and he found intellectual property lawyers who supported that view. He gives several examples, based on 3-D printers actually producing copies of a cup and other useful physical objects, either from the object or from photographs of the object. He asserts that copyright does not cover things that are useful.

This conclusion raises several questions in my mind. What if the object is patented rather than copyrighted? What if its usefulness depends on a patented process that is essential to the usefulness of the object or its copy?

Finally, how long before the proponents of intellectual property manage to get the law changed, either through legislation or judicial interpretation? Even now, you can imagine the outbursts of outrage once something significant is "stolen".

Maybe we'll be lucky but don't count on it.

Proudhon: if IP is property, is it theft?

Here is a thought provoking article on how the distribution of income gives the top one percent such a disproportionate share of output link here. It finds the source in French anarchist Proudhon's cry that "Property is theft," and asserts "The biggest "theft" by the [richest] 1 percent has been of the primary source of wealth - knowledge - for its own benefit."

It goes on to make the point that knowledge is the possession of all and not to be kept locked up. The article doesn't say how much copyright and patents have to do with this, but it should have.

IP (PATENTS) COMES TO THE COMICS

IP (TRADEMARK) COMES TO THE COMICS

Mises Academy Webinar: Obama's Patent Reform: Improvement or Continuing Calamity?

Mises Academy Webinar: Stephan Kinsella addresses Obama's Patent Reform: Improvement or Continuing Calamity?This Friday, Sept. 23, at 6pm Easter time, I'll be teaching a Mises Academy Webinar discussing the America Invents Act, signed into law last Friday by President Obama. I discuss this webinar in a Mises Daily article today: Obama's Patent Reform: Improvement or Continuing Calamity?.

In the webinar, I will:

  1. summarize the basic problem with patent law from a free-market perspective;
  2. present a series of real patent reforms that could make significant improvement in patent law (short of abolition);
  3. explain and critique the relevant changes made by the America Invents Act;
  4. briefly summarize other imminent IP legislation and treaties on the horizon; and
  5. respond to questions from attendees.
As both proponents and opponents of patent law recognize, these issues are of crucial importance for innovation and our economy. If you are interested in learning about the current direction of patent policy, you may find this class of interest.

Does IP slow down growth by throttling innovation?

Matt Yglesias fantasizes about a world without resource limits link here.

The fantasy depends on unlimited energy and the Star Trek replicator which produces an unlimited supply of whatever goods are desired. The dream becomes a nightmare when intellectual property is introduced, followed by lawyers, and bureaucrats to enforce these rights.

The fantasy originated in Peter Frase's blog, where he writes, "In the process of trying to pull together some thoughts on intellectual property, zero marginal-cost goods, immaterial labor, and the incipient transition to a rentier form of capitalism, I've been working out a thought experiment: a possible future society I call anti-Star Trek. Consider this a stab at a theory of posterity." link here.

Both are entertaining to read, but they also have a moral. As the cost of goods is reduced, we can contemplate a world in which for all practical purposes, necessities are free so that people only work to spend their lives in entertaining or educating themselves.

There is a discontinuity, however, as we are experiencing even now. As invention goes rapidly ahead, we find ways to assure that marginal costs do not fall to zero. Monopoly comes to mind as the biggest cause.

And doesn't this help explain the decline in growth hypothesized in Tyler Cowen's recent book, The Great Stagnation link here?

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Most Recent Comments

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