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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Patented Nukes

There was an interesting story that ran this morning on NPR (transcript here) about the fact that despite all of the secrecy surrounding the Manhattan Project, the U.S. Government was secretly patenting the various components of the first atomic bombs and related nuclear technology. This was done apparently to ensure that the U.S. Government would have monopoly control over nuclear technology after the war (as opposed to those pesky scientist actually creating the technology), despite the fact that the process of filing for a patent could itself pose a security risk. To quote the article

Even during the war, some people feared the patent project might backfire. They worried that spies might be able to figure out that the United States was developing a bomb by trying to submit their own patent applications. Outsiders who filed patent applications on related topics got a note back saying their patent had been stamped secret, a clue that the government deemed the topic sensitive.

No spies ever figured this out, though.

Forbes Magazine Jumps on the Bandwagon

Forbes Magazine's online edition has a long article relating the well-known litany of stupid patents that the USPTO has granted, from those Jack-O-Lantern lawn leaf bags to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It seems the message is finally starting to make inroads into the business commmunity.

University of Oregon v. RIAA

Adam Liptak has an interesting Sidebar in today's NYT about the Attorney General of Oregon defending the University of Oregon's decision to fight an RIAA subpoena seeking the identities of students the RIAA suspects of sharing music. The University and Attorney General are saying that privacy protection for the University's students is more important than complying with the RIAA subpoena, particularly since this RIAA legal operation more resembles an extortionary shakedown in which violators of copyright are given the opportunity to settle (typically to the tune of three or four thousand dollars) rather than using actual judicial proceedings to determine the approriate compensations.

One-click patent rejected

Great News! The U.S. Patent Office has apparently rejected Amazon.com's patent on one-click shopping on obviousness grounds, after the original patent was challenged by New Zealand actor Peter Calveley. The post on CNet's news site is here.

The DOD Monopoly

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (link here) has a post indicating that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is contemplating requiring American soldiers to sign no compete agreements when they enlist to keep them from serving a single tour of duty (and the training that entails) and then taking jobs with private contractors like Blackwater where they do essentially the same work but get paid a lot more money. I suppose that since national defense is a public good, the organization that provides this good is something of a natural monopoly, in which case, Secretary Gates seems to be suggesting that outsourcing these functions hasn't been a good idea.

Nice post by Lessig

Lawrence Lessig has a nice post (link here) on his blog -- and given how busy he's been lately, new posts are always welcome -- on the frequent disconnect between free market ideologues and network neutrality proponents over what could possibly be wrong with letting the big telecoms and cable companies have control over not just prices but content on the internet. In this case, the culprit is AT&T and their censoring of Pearl Jam.

The Times Gets it Right

The New York Times gets it just right in their editorial today (link here) on the Federal Communications Commission's "compromise" on open wireless rules for the public spectrum auctions coming up early next year, and the follow-on auctions of the analog television spectrum in 2009. Under the compromise, some portion of the spectrum being auctioned next year will have requirements that cell service providers operate open networks, without restrictions on which phones customers use and which software applications they run on their phones and over the open networks.

As the editorial notes, AT&T and Verizon fought this ruling tooth and claw.

Krugman on bandwidth

Via Mark Thoma, Paul Krugman's New York Times op ed for today observes that despite a considerable lead over Japan and Europe in broadband connectivity in the late '90's and early '00's, the U.S. now lags both Europe and Japan considerably in both percentage of population with broadband internet connections, and in bandwidth for those with broadband connections.

This is a classical example of the disincentive of monopolies to innovate. Various decisions by the Bush administration and its Congressional allies over the past 6 years -- particularly the decisions not to impose common carrier status on local telephone and cable TV companies with respect to broadband services -- left control over virtually all local U.S. broadband markets in the hands at most two service providers: the local telephonce company or the local cable company. The result has been predictable. Americans now pay more for internet connectivity and receive lower quality service than do Japanese or European consumers.

Krugman concludes his column by saying:

It's too early to say how much harm the broadband lag will do to the U.S. economy as a whole. But it's interesting to learn that health care isn't the only area in which the French, who can take a pragmatic approach because they aren't prisoners of free-market ideology, simply do things better.

I would add that economists need to work a little harder to make the public understand that economics itself has nothing to say about the benefits of free markets. The benefits economists associate with market allocations are those brought about by competitive markets, and this is precisely what is lacking in American broadband today.

Lessig on Lucas (films, that is)

Lawrence Lessig has a nice op-ed in the Washington Post today (link here) on what you might be tempted to call corporate piracy: they are allowing Eyespot, an internet site that provides technology for video remixing, to make clips from the Star Wars movies available to its users for their remix projects. The catch? Under the provisions of copyright law relating to derivative works, Lucasfilms will own any remixes that incorporate their clips, and any additional material or images that the remix includes. Lucasfilms will, of course, be entitled to use these without compensating the remix artist. Lessig's characterization of this as digital sharecropping seems apt.

Sports blogs and IP

There is a story up on the NYT web (link here) about a new IP controversy in which a sports blogger, Brian Bennett working for the Courier Journal of Louisville, KY, was ejected from the press box of the Louisville vs. Oklahoma State baseball game for discussing game action during the game in his live blog.

The NCAA contends that their television and radio contracts prohibit any alternative live communication of game action during a game, and that they were therefore justified in ejecting Bennett. The Courier Journal maintains that they were within their First Amendment rights in reporting on the news of the game.

While the litigation over this will likely be complicated, I would hazard an opinion that under existing copyright law, this will likely be judged fair use, based on what the lawyers call a "negative harm, implied consent" situation. Blog accounts of a game are not even close substitutes for the televised view of the action, or even running radio accounts, since the blogger has to slowly (relative to game action) type up his account of what is happening. On the other hand, a blog account that indicates a game is getting exciting has the potential to motivate otherwise uninterested parties to turn on their TV or radio and join the game. This is equivalent to a rave book review, which, in turn, is the basis of the "negative harm, implied consent" fair use doctrine.

Of course, fair use does depend on the circumstances. If this were a cricket game, blogging it might well be a contract violation.

In any case, this is one to watch, so stay tuned.

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Most Recent Comments

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