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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Intellectual Monopoly

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





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Corruption

One of the big problems with monopoly is the corruption involved. John's post about campaign contributions by corporations - I'm not sure that banning them is really effective though - reminds us that one of the problems is that the monopolization of government power through bribery helps sustains those monopolies. It's also true that monopolies have strong economic incentive for "marketing" including bribing those who are responsible for the welfare of others. Case in point - the pharmaceutical companies bribery of doctors to get them to prescribe their patented products. Why don't book publishers bribe professors to assign their books to their students? It seems they do.

A nice review

Yes, we post bad reviews too...just there aren't any...As with any good review, there is value added beyond the book itself.

George Leef's review of Against Intellectual Monopoly

Save the Whales!

Find out how here.

The Fallacy of Intellectual Property

From Mises Blog:

Intellectual property is the principle that the creator of an idea has a right to certain controls over all the physical forms in which his idea is recorded. The extent of this control may be different depending on whether the idea is considered copyrighted, patented, or trademarked, but the essential principle is the same in all cases. This presumed right of the creator of an idea is often believed to be similar to the right that a homesteader has to land he has settled, but the analogy is false. Intellectual property is necessarily a statist doctrine. FULL ARTICLE By Daniel Krawisz

Jay Walker (inventor of Priceline) on Patents

See here, and here, he says:
I'll tell you something interesting about Priceline. Because Priceline was invented in a room, it was an invention. One of the things we did is applied and got U.S. patents on the invention. How do you like that? Then, along comes this little company and you might have heard of it. It's called Microsoft. Microsoft owned this other company called Expedia, at the time. They said, This Priceline thing looks like it is going pretty well. We ought to do that too. We'll just download some of the code right from the website, right from the HTML. Just take that HTML. So, somebody came into the office and said, Well, Jay, just like you said, Microsoft's in our business. I said, Oh, that's not good. But the fact is, in the United States, the intellectual property laws are reasonably strong and although most people didn't understand what Priceline had patented, they thought we had patented some auction, stupid people, we have nothing to do with auctions at all. Some New York Times reporter called it a reverse auction and nobody every got over it. I never forgave the reporter for it. We were branded as an auction, but we weren't. We were a demand collection system and because of that we sued Microsoft and Microsoft decided maybe it wasn't the best idea to copy us. They turned off that functionality on Expedia. Since then, nobody has copied Priceline. It has been ten years. For as long as our present patents last, I don't expect anybody to copy Priceline. Since Microsoft isn't going to copy, that is probably a good sign that others probably shouldn't either, but it proves a very important point. It proves the power of intellectual property, at some level, to provide space for a startup that is truly novel, that is warranting a patent, or we had several patents in this case, to give it the breathing room to invent something new, create value. Eventually, Priceline will have to compete on its invention when the patents expire. However, there are plenty of people competing with Priceline. They're just not copying it. Somebody is offering LastMinuteFares.com and somebody else is offering JoinMyClub.com. In other words, there is a million people competing with Priceline. They just can't copy Priceline's essential idea which is name your own price, put up a credit card for a flexible set of terms and conditions where, if those terms and conditions are accepted, you basically own the product. That's the core Priceline patent. So, there's how Priceline, again, anticipated copying. Let's just say there was no intellectual property. What would that mean? That would mean Priceline would have to go quickly, right? They would have to keep innovating.
Yeah--we're from the government, and we're here to help you--to "give you space," to "give you breathing room"--while we tax and regulate the living crap out of you!

[StephanKinsella.com cross-post]

Are Patents "Monopolies"?

On occasion you get some defender of patents who is upset when we use the m-word to describe these artificial state-granted monopoly rights. For example here one Dale Halling, a patent attorney (surprise!) posts about "The Myth that Patents are a Monopoly" and writes, " People who suggest a patent is a monopoly are not being intellectually honest and perpetuating a myth to advance a political agenda."

Well, let's see. First, see my post Epstein and Patents, noting that the pro-patent Epstein writes:

Patented goods are subject to a lawful monopoly created by the state in order to induce their creation. No one thinks that new pharmaceutical drugs will be invented by private firms that cannot receive a rate of return sufficient to recover [various costs]. … The legal monopoly granted by the patent is the only mechanism that allows the producer to recover those fixed costs….
Is the pro-patent Epstein being dishonest?

And see my comments (1, 2) on The Three Stages of Invention post, excerpted below:

First, as to whether patents are monopoly grants--hell, even the feds admit this: "Section 154 and related provisions [e.g. Sec. 271] obviously are intended to grant a patentee a monopoly only over the United States market...." U.S. Supreme Court, Deepsouth Packing Co. v. Laitram Corp., 406 U.S. 518 (1972). See also: King Instr. v. Perego, by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ("Congress made the policy choice that the "carrot" of an exclusive market for the patented goods would encourage patentees to commercialize the protected inventions so that the public would enjoy the benefits of the new technology during the patent term in exchange for granting a limited patent monopoly. In other words, the public expected benefits during "'the embarrassment of an exclusive patent as Jefferson put it.'" Graham v. John Deere Co., 383 U.S. 1, 10-11 (1966).)

See also Engel Ind. v. Lockformer Co. ("We hold that the disputed royalties provisions do not inappropriately extend the patent monopoly to unpatented parts of the patented system"); Carborundum Co. v. Molten Metal Eq. Co. ("A patentee, in demanding and receiving full compensation for the wrongful use of his invention in devices made and sold by a manufacturer adopts the sales as though made by himself, and therefore, necessarily licenses the use of the devices, and frees them from the monopoly of the patent.")

And: Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230 (1947):

The Florida statute is aimed directly at the promotion of intellectual creation by substantially restricting the public's ability to exploit ideas that the patent system mandates shall be free for all to use. Like the interpretation of Illinois unfair competition law in Sears and Compco, the Florida statute represents a break with the tradition of peaceful coexistence between state market regulation and federal patent policy. The Florida law substantially restricts the public's ability to exploit an unpatented design in general circulation, raising the specter of state-created monopolies in a host of useful shapes and processes for which patent protection has been denied or is otherwise unobtainable. It thus enters a field of regulation which the patent laws have reserved to Congress. The patent statute's careful balance between public right and private monopoly to promote certain creative activity is a "scheme of federal regulation . . . so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it."
Brenner v. Manson, 383 U.S. 519 (1966):
Whatever weight is attached to the value of encouraging disclosure and of inhibiting secrecy, we believe a more compelling consideration is that a process patent in the chemical field, which has not been developed and pointed to the degree of specific utility, creates a monopoly of knowledge which should be granted only if clearly commanded by the statute. Until the process claim has been reduced to production of a product shown to be useful, the metes and bounds of that monopoly are not capable of precise delineation. It may engross a vast, unknown, and perhaps unknowable area. Such a patent may confer power to block off whole areas of scientific development, without compensating benefit to the public. The basic quid pro quo contemplated by the Constitution and the Congress for granting a patent monopoly is the benefit derived by the public from an invention with substantial utility. Unless and until a process is refined and developed to this point -- where specific benefit exists in currently available form - there is insufficient justification for permitting an applicant to engross what may prove to be a broad field.
Diamond v. Chakrabarty, S.Ct. (1980), Brennan's dissent:
I agree with the Court that the question before us is a narrow one. Neither the future of scientific research, nor even the ability of respondent Chakrabarty to reap some monopoly profits from his pioneering work, is at stake. Patents on the processes by which he has produced and employed the new living organism are not contested. The only question we need decide is whether Congress, exercising its authority under Art. I, 8, of the Constitution, intended that he be able to secure a monopoly on the living organism itself, no matter how produced or how used.
Now you can argue that patent holders do not necessarily have "monopoly power" (see The Importance of Patents for Economic Development - 1999, by Prof. William Hennessey), but as Rothbard et al. have pointed out, the government's concept of monopoly is flawed; the only issue that matters is whether there is a legal monopoly granted. See, e.g., Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, ch. 9, pp. 185-86:
The monopoly problem as a special problem of markets requiring state action to be resolved does not exist. In fact, only when the state enters the scene does a real, nonillusory problem of monopoly and monopoly prices emerge. The state is the only enterprise whose prices and business practices can be conceptually distinguished from all other prices and practices, and whose prices and practices can be called "too high" or "exploitative" in a completely objective, nonarbitrary way. These are prices and practices which consumers are not voluntarily willing to pay and accept, but which instead are forced upon them through threats of violence.
See also Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State (with Power and Market): "The only viable definition of monopoly is a grant of privilege from the government."

Now it is, indeed, clear that a patent is a monopoly grant to someone that permits them to charge above-market prices; this is exactly the goal of the patent law: to provide this monopoly profit to inventors so as to incentivize them to innovate and file for patents. And it is why, for example, Blackberry paid over $600 million to NTP in a recent patent suit; and it is why consumers will have to pay more for Blackberry services than they otherwise would, etc. Did NTP have "monopoly power" as defined by the government's antitrust scheme? I don't know. Probably not. But did they extort RIM/Blackberry by use of the government-granted patent monopoly? Of course.

See also Arnold Plant, The Economic Theory Concerning Patents for Inventions, sections 16, 19, 20, 24:

The patent system may, on the one hand, be expected to affect the making of inventions in two ways. The first is to divert inventive activity into those fields in which the monopoly grant will be expected to prove most remunerative. It may, secondly, affect the total amount of inventive activity.

... the utilitarians assumed that the patent system was responsible for the greater part of inventing activity. The question which they one and all failed to ask themselves, however, is what these people would otherwise be doing if the patent system were not diverting their attention by the offer of monopolistic profits to the task of inventing. By what system of economic calculus were they enabled to conclude so definitely that the gain of any inventions that they might make would not be offset by the loss of other output? By no stretch of the imagination can the inventing class be assumed to be otherwise unemployable. Other product which is foregone when scarce factors are diverted in this way completely escaped their attention.

... at the beginning of this century Professor J. B. Clark was still writing: "If the patented article is something which society without a patent system would not have secured at all - the inventor's monopoly hurts nobody… His gains consist in something which no one loses, even while he enjoys them."? No inkling here that the patent inducement to invent diverts scarce human effort from other production, and that the subsequent exploitation of patents again interferes with the disposition of scarce factors which would obtain under competitive conditions.

... It seems unquestionable not only that a very considerable volume of inventive activity must definitely be induced by price conditions, but also that that activity is diverted by price movements from other types of endeavour as well as from other fields of invention. Entrepreneurs faced with new difficulties or with new opportunities will divert not only their own attention, but that of every technician who can be spared, from the business of routine production to that of urgent innovation. They will not rely exclusively upon those types of professional inventors whose autonomous output pours out in a stream of unvarying size, and some of whom may be prepared, in return for the inducements which the entrepreneurs can offer, to transfer their spontaneous activity to their service. It cannot be assumed that all who are capable of innovation spend their whole lives in inventing. Many of them are also able administrators and production controllers; some in the past have been clergymen and barbers, and in our own time there is a steady flow of technicians from the research laboratories of pure science into those of industrial invention and out again. ... The patent system ... enables those who "have the monopoly of the right to use a patented invention to raise the price of using it ... and in that way to derive a larger profit from the invention than they could otherwise obtain. The effect must surely be to induce a considerable volume of activity to be diverted from other spheres to the attempt to make inventions of a patentable type. [emphasis added]

See also Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State, ch. 10, sec. 7:
It is by no means self-evident that patents encourage an increased absolute quantity of research expenditures. But certainly patents distort the type of research expenditure being conducted. . . . Research expenditures are therefore overstimulated in the early stages before anyone has a patent, and they are unduly restricted in the period after the patent is received. In addition, some inventions are considered patentable, while others are not. The patent system then has the further effect of artificially stimulating research expenditures in the patentable areas, while artificially restricting research in the nonpatentable areas.

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Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

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Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? So, if our patent system was "broken," TFP of durable goods should have dropped. Conversely, since

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