Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

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It's the Pattern Privilege, Stupid

As noted in Patent Reform Touches DNC in Denver,
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., told a crowd in Denver on Tuesday that it is crucial for Congress to pass legislation to update the U.S. patent system next year ... A proposal that would curb judicial "venue-shopping" for favorable courts is critical as is language to address patent abuses, she said. "How do you legally set a framework that prevents abuses and allows for a vigorous system that protects intellectual property?" Lofgren asked aloud. "It's not easy to come up with solutions."
Right. Call me crazy, but it almost seems like it's impossible to avoid "abuse" if one sets up a state-granted innovation-monopoly system! Hmm, I wonder how we could avoid that abuse... I wonder....


We would likely have far more property abuses and far fewer products without the protection, so we do need a system of some type.
If you'll parden the pun, Lonnie, that's patent nonsense. The myth that there'd be more abuse and less products is exploded in the book Against Intellectual Monopoly, in other blog posts here, and elsewhere, including blog posts at Techdirt.
Nobody Nowhere:

That "myth" has been exploded? I am sure. By opinions and pseudo science. I am still waiting for the facts. It seems like every time someone presents facts, particularly facts that disagree with the threads, the posters here manage to change the subject (which keeps happening to me) and point to the copious posts on this site. Well, you can buy the opinions on this site as being "proof" of something, but I am holding off until I see someone with a genuine fact.

"That "myth" has been exploded? I am sure. By opinions and pseudo science."

No, by evidence and reason.

Nobody Nowhere:

I hope you are not pointing to Boldrin & Levine as "evidence and reason." I am close to halfway through their book and am unimpressed. I have found dozens of significant errors in their book, which is about as unscientifically written as a book that purports to provide factual proof that intellectual property is evil can be.

The "fact" that struck me most was their inference that the number of IP attorneys had quadrupled in a period of four years in their discussion on patents. In fact, approximately 2,000 people sit for the test each year. The number has varied over the last decade, but I think the most that have ever sat for the test is about 2,700 in a year, and some years see less. There are about 30,000 registered patent attorneys and 6,000 registered agents. What I am unable to figure is the number of agents and attorneys that retire or die each year. Regardless of how you slice it, it is not physically possible for the number of patent attorneys (which they imply) to quadruple in a period of four years; their inference is yellow journalism at its worst.

After the extreme diatribe regarding patents (which is focused on the steam engine and Wright brothers patents, both of which have been reported on extensively by "Invention and Technology" magazine, which has an affiliation with the USPTO - and the articles essentially concluded that the patents were counter productive and the technologies therein became replaced by better technology once the blockade of technology by those patents was removed), Boldrin and Levine admit that pharmaceutical companies need a means of being compensated for the extreme cost of experimentation and clinical trials, and they admit (albeit weakly), that the patents for medicine may in fact have some merit. Their solution: get the government to pay for the development of medicine. WHAT? Pharm companies test dozens or hundreds of drugs every year, many of which, perhaps most of which, end up abandoned. Why would we want the government, that many here call the "destroy and damage" government, to decide which drugs end up in the market place? To rephrase: Boldrin and Levine propose eliminating patents by having the government decide which drugs go into the market. Some free market.

I could go on with many more examples of the errors and inconsistencies in the Boldrin and Levine book, but I do not have the time right now. Let me leave you with the most significant problem that evidences itself at the beginning of the book.

Scientists and statisticians (as opposed to whatever Boldrin and Levine are) are taught to assume the negative of what they are trying to prove, and then objectively seek evidence to see whether that evidence either supports or disproves their hypothesis. Boldrin and Levine's hypothesis: intellectual property is evil. Their technique: find evidence to support that hypothesis, minimize or ignore any evidence that would suggest otherwise. Boldrin and Levine's "evidence and reason" are tainted by an unscientific bias that is evident throughout their diatribe, which includes, I might add, name calling and sarcasm. I guess if you are weak on "evidence and reason," a little name calling and sarcasm go a long way.

My bad. The comment just above is from me, not Nobody Nowhere. I apologize for the error.
Posting an attack and signing my name to it is not very nice, apology-after-the-fact or no apology.

As for the evidence, there is some pretty good evidence in there, AND there is more evidence ELSEWHERE.

Some of the expenses of pharma trials result from government regulations, also. Some possible fixes:

* One of the "free-market" variety -- drug companies charge for participation in trials. People get earlier access, though to a riskier (unproven or less-proven) drug. * An arm of government is charged with testing drugs for safety and efficacy, using tax money. Pharmaceutical companies need to meet some minimal standard before the government will test their stuff, perhaps small-scale trials, a scientific paper perhaps explaining the theorized mechanism of action and at least reporting the evidence for some sort of efficacy in practise, and perhaps computer simulations of drug/target interactions. * Costs may go down in general as the ability to test drugs in silico and in vitro improves and becomes more automated. Eventually, companies don't have expensive drug trials unless the drug works in computer simulations and on cultured cells of the target type first. * Costs may go way down if patent-related monopoly rents go away on some lab equipment, automation, and other tools, and copyright rents on software used. * Costs for "me too" drugs entirely disappear, since the primary reason for "me too" drugs right now is patent-dodging. The "me too" drugs are replaced with straight clones, automatically equally as safe and effective as the original (assuming pure product so that manufacturing process differences are irrelevant).

I admit this comment leaves me wondering what book the commentator read. Unfortunately I can't find the statement about patent attorneys in the book and the comment doesn't mention even which chapter it is in. Things of minor importance we got from secondary sources, which in some cases may have been incorrect. Google unfortunately seems unable to find where we talked about the number of attorneys, so I can't see what secondary source we got it from.

The statement about patent attorneys is was intended to indicate in a general way the explosion in patenting, something that is very well documented, whether or not the number of attorneys that passed a particular exam doubled, quadrupled or remained the same. The post also uses "IP" attorneys and "patent attorneys who passed the exam" interchangeably, although I'm not sure why. I'm happy to try to track down what we said and issue a correction if it is wrong, but it would obviously help a great deal if I knew where it was in the book, so I could see what we said and why we said it.

Most of the rest of the post doesn't seem to have much objective connection to our book. We talk about James Watt fairly extensively in the introductory chapter of the book. In the chapter on patents, steam engines seem to occupy about three out of about 28 pages (in the online version which is paginated differently that the print version). The Wright brothers we mention briefly as an example of inventors who played with less than a full deck.

Our position on pharmaceutical patents seems to be misrepresented. "Boldrin and Levine admit that pharmaceutical companies need a means of being compensated for the extreme cost of experimentation and clinical trials, and they admit (albeit weakly), that the patents for medicine may in fact have some merit." On the contrary we strongly and firmly believe that all inventors and inventions need and deserve to be rewarded for the cost of their invention. We just happen to think that a government operated patent system is a lousy way to do this - and that includes the case of pharmaceutical patents where we don't weakly believe that patents may have some merit.

The key point - and I certainly hope the average reader of the book doesn't miss this - is that government is already heavily involved in the R&D of pharmaceuticals. One could argue for getting it out entirely, which would mean eliminating the FDA and the current system of government mandated clinical trials. As we don't think there is much interest in the part of the voting public in doing that, we didn't discuss that option. Moreover, it's not that we are proposing that the government pay for developing new medicines - they already do that. The issue is specifically clinical trials, where the current system mandates that to sell a medicine to the public, you must at great expense prove that it works, then you are required (again by the government) to tell your competitors - without charging them for that knowledge - what chemical you used and whether or not it works. Given that the government is forcing firms to reveal valuable knowledge without charging for it we would prefer for them to pay for the trials directly rather than indirectly by creating private monopolies.


My notes are currently inaccessible, but I do have the page number referenced where you implied that the number of patent attorneys had quadrupled. There are several sources for the number of registered practitioners (agents and attorneys). The one I was able to access the easiest is at Wikipedia:


Per Wikipedia, about 2400 people passed the United States patent registration exam in the 16+ month period from June 2005 to October 2006. Those numbers were slightly lower in 2002 and 2003, the years with which I am most familiar. In all the time that practitioners have been registered, 62,000 people have passed the test, also per Wikipedia. I believe the number of registered practitioners remains stable at about 35,000, which is the most people who have ever been registered to practice at one time.

You comment regarding the FDA and government involvement is interesting in that there are many who think the FDA and the government should be more involved in the approval of drugs. Go figure.

Yes, I may have misrepresented your comments regarding patents and pharmaceuticals. As you noted, it would have been more appropriate to say that you believe some sort of compensation or reward may be necessary for pharm because of the incredible costs incurred to develop a drug.

As for objective comments regarding your book, you will have to wait until I have time to finish your book and do a much better job of summarizing pages of notes.

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