Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Against Monopoly

Between 1991 and 2004, only 20 U.S. patents for inventions [but not including design patents, plant patents, re-issue patents, etc.] were granted to citizens from LDCs, compared with 14,824 from other developing countries, and 1.8 million to citizens of rich countries.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 2006. The Least Developed Countries Report 2006.


LDC's: Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, Yemen and Zambia.

Source: Knell, M. 2006. Uneven Technological Accumulation and Growth in the least developed countries. Background paper prepared for The Least Developed Countries Report 2006, UNCTAD, Geneva.

I never claimed to be a lawyer

I recently posted material suggesting a way to avoid the music police. Well here is material testing that I was wrong.


Opening Up WiFi Networks To Deny Responsibility from the good-luck-with-that... dept

A short article in Salon comes across a bit too innocently, about someone who has decided to open up their WiFi access to anyone close enough to use it in order to deny any responsibility for any illegal traffic that goes over his network. This isn't a new argument. It's been used before. The problem is that it's unlikely to work. We've pointed out in the past that all of the RIAA's lawsuits against individuals contain no proof that that particular individual was sharing files, but that hasn't stopped the courts from deeming them valid (though, no one has really tested it yet). In this particular article, the guy uses Comcast, and even taunts them that he'll deny any responsibility if he gets accused of sharing music or movie files. Of course, Comcast will immediately cut him off for violating his terms of service that say he can't share his account via WiFi. In theory, he could even be charged with a felony for helping to share an internet connection. Meanwhile, the article attempts to raise deeper issues that we've touched on before about whose responsibility is it if you get hacked. Is it your own responsibility for having weak security? The writer of this article seems to think that's a perfectly valid excuse - even though he's purposely setting the system up with weak security. Considering the recent fines by the government against companies that set up weak security that allowed them to get hacked, he might not have much of an argument. All of that being said, I do think sharing WiFi is a good idea - if your ISP allows you to do it. I think more ISPs should allow (or even encourage) users to share their connection via WiFi, because it makes the connection that much more useful. That doesn't mean there aren't security concerns, but those can be dealt with if the person setting up the system, and those connecting to it are smart about how they do so.

The Music Police


For years, the RIAA has claimed that having the IP address of a computer that has shared unauthorized files is the equivalent of having the evidence of who was actually sharing files. That, of course, is false. The IP address simply can help you know who paid for the internet access, but not who was using what computer on a network. In fact, this even had some people suggesting that, if you want to win a lawsuit from the RIAA, you're best off opening up your WiFi network to neighbors. It seems like this strategy might actually be working. Earlier this month the inability to prove who actually did the file sharing caused the RIAA to drop a case in Oklahoma and now it looks like the same defense has worked in a California case as well. In both cases, though, as soon as the RIAA realized the person was using this defense, they dropped the case, rather than lose it and set a precedent showing they really don't have the unequivocal evidence they claim they do.

I found this on Sam Smith's www.prorev.org

A Hint of the Potential of Open Sourcing

This example is not open source, but it suggests the potential of opening processes up.

Musgrove, Mike. 2006. "Lego's Robot Redux: Hackers, Longtime Fans Help Revamp Kits To Build Better Gizmos." Washington Post (29 July): p. D 1.

"In deciding to revamp the aging Mindstorms robot line, Lego turned to its most faithful core of fans: enthusiasts and hackers who had banded together to form their own online support network. In 2004, Lego e-mailed four of its biggest Mindstorms fans across the United States. The team members spent 10 months advising Lego as the Mindstorms Users Panel, discussing their dream lists of what the next kit should and should not be."

"Lego's star chamber, later expanded to 14 members, helped shape what the new robots will be able to do and which parts come in the 571-piece kit. One member was even able to pressure the company into building a part that makes its debut in the new Mindstorms set -- a rare event at Lego, which treats every individual piece with reverence. The new part is a connector that allows two long pieces to be joined at a 90-degree angle."

"The resulting toy has much more up-to-date technology than the original set, including a USB 2.0 port for fast downloads and Bluetooth for wireless connections. With the right parts and programming, a Mindstorms robot can dance in response to sounds or follow the beam of a flashlight. Lego even decided to embrace the hacker community, which has spent years altering the electronic brain of the system to make the robots perform beyond what Lego had intended. The company is making public the new source code, which is the programming that runs the unit, and allowing users to modify it and share their changes, as long as they promise not to profit from it."

My own blog has begun at


Exposing the Telecom Ripoff

BusinessWeek just published a terrific article, exposing the giant telecom corporations as fraudulently winning regulatory support that will solidify its control over the Internet. In part, justification is to promote the technology, but the article shows their research commitment is minimal. Gimein, Mark. 2006. "The Phone Companies Still Don't Get It: They Block Competition and Charge Too Much." Business Week (31 July): pp. 51-3. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_31/b3995070.htm

51-2: "In case you haven't been keeping score, after the original phone company, American Telephone & Telegraph, was broken up in 1984, the country was left with eight major regional telcos. Over the past decade these companies proceeded to gobble one another up. Now there are four: AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth, and Qwest .... The "new" AT&T is actually the rechristened SBC, based in Austin, Tex., which acquired the venerable name last year -- and it's in the process of buying BellSouth. That will leave two phone giants, Verizon and AT&T, and the much smaller Qwest. The biggest wireless carriers are Verizon Wireless, majority owned by Verizon, and Cingular, which is soon to be wholly owned by AT&T. It's not exactly the return of the old Ma Bell monopoly -- the world has gotten way too complicated for that -- but that's a lot of power in the hands of just two companies."

52: "One way in which these companies are very different from the old phone monopoly is that while the original AT&T had a world-class research operation, its successors don't. One of the signal facts of the communications revolution is that virtually all the new technologies that made it possible were developed outside the phone world. Last year, Verizon's revenue came in at nearly $80 billion. AT&T (without BellSouth or Cingular) had revenue of $44 billion. And yet while Intel Corp. spent $5.1 billion last year on research and development, AT&T spent just $130 million. The word "research" doesn't even appear in Verizon's annual report."

52: "The phone giants have even used "innovation" as a key justification for their aggressive merger wave. Last year, when SBC was buying the remnants of AT&T, SBC Chief Executive Edward E. Whitacre made sure to note that by merging, the combined company would have "the intellectual and financial resources to spur innovation"."

Against Monopoly

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights is suing to overturn the the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation patents on stem cells. The organization site gives the URLs for the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times articles.

The former is especially good

http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/nw/?postId=6583 http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/nw/?postId=6573

Against Monopoly

David gave me permission to flog my new book, Railroading Economics: The Creation of the Free Market Mythology (Monthly Review Press). Although the subject is not intellectual property, its relevance for this blog is the story it tells about the development of economics during the late 19th century.

The same people who created laissez-faire economics, such as John Bates Clark, insist that markets could not work for industries with high fixed costs. In particular, railroading at the time was a major industry in US. So these economists wrote textbooks arguing in favor of laissez-faire, especially with regard to labor markets, while at the same time promoting a Schumpeterian line about leniency toward oligopolistic industry.

In fact, Schumpeter seems to have cribbed much of his analysis from these economists, although all of them may have just been following the dominant German tradition -- dominant in the sense that the major figures among the young economist at the time all studied in Germany.

Centering around this railroading story is a thumbnail sketch of the economic history of the United States.

If any of you get the chance to look at the book, I would appreciate a dialogue.

Addendum: Michael is still learning how to use the posting system, so in response to Tim's request in the comments, here is the Amazon link for the book in clickable form [Posted by David.] .

Against Monopoly


Nathan Myhrvold, Microsoft's first chief technology officer, has a plan for Intellectual Property. First he gathers leading scientists and patent attorneys to brainstorm and come up with ideas that his company, Intellectual Ventures, can license to others. They plan to produce nothing but patents. You know what comes next.

The company also offers to "immunize" corporations from patent suits for a $50 million fee. The company will go around and buy patents before other patent trolls do, thereby "protecting" the clients. Others, of course, will have to face the consequences of not having ponied up the $50 million.

Does the word "blackmail" have any relevance here?

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The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges Finally got around to looking at the comments, sorry for delay... Replying to Stephan: I'm sorry

Let's See: Pallas, Pan, Patents, Persephone, Perses, Poseidon, Prometheus... Seems like a kinda bizarre proposal to me. We just need to abolish the patent system, not replace

The right to rub smooth using a hardened steel tool with ridges I'm a bit confused by this--even if "hired to invent" went away, that would just change the default

Do we need a law? @ Alexander Baker: So basically, if I copy parts of 'Titus Andronicus' to a webpage without

Do we need a law? The issue is whether the crime is punished not who punishes it. If somebody robs our house we do

Do we need a law? 1. Plagiarism most certainly is illegal, it is called "copyright infringement". One very famous

Yet another proof of the inutility of copyright. The 9/11 Commission report cost $15,000,000 to produce, not counting the salaries of the authors.

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece P.S. The link to Amazon's WKRP product page:

WKRP In Cincinnati - Requiem For A Masterpiece Hopefully some very good news. Shout! Factory is releasing the entire series of WKRP in Cincinnati,

What's copywritable? Go fish in court. @ Anonymous: You misunderstood my intent. I was actually trying to point out a huge but basic

Rights Violations Aren't the Only Bads I hear that nonsense from pro-IP people all the

Intellectual Property Fosters Corporate Concentration Yeah, I see the discouragement of working on a patented device all the time. Great examples

Music without copyright Hundreds of businessmen are looking for premium quality article distribution services that can be

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Patent Lawyers Who Don't Toe the Line Should Be Punished! Moreover "the single most destructive force to innovation is patents". We'd like to unite with you

Bonfire of the Missalettes!

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

Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation? I wondered about TFP, because I had heard that TFP was increasing. Apparently, it depends on who

Music without copyright I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. They are very convincing and will