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CATO & Reason Demonstrate Ignorance of Property Rights – Patents


CATO & Reason Demonstrate Ignorance of Property Rights – Patents

The CATO Institute are reiterating the findings of the flawed paper The Private and Social Costs of Patent Trolls , Boston University School of Law Working Paper No. 11-45, by James E. Bessen, Michael J. Meurer, and Jennifer Laurissa Ford.  This paper looks at lawsuits filed by NPE (Non-Practicing Entities) and the subsequent drop in the stock price of the company being sued.  The paper suggests that this loss of wealth is all “deadweight” loss, since little of the money ends up with the original inventors of the technology.  This last part is an intellectually dishonest slight of hand.  The authors make no attempt to determine if the cases are meritorious.  If the firms are infringing a valid patent, then the filing of the lawsuit represent the cost to society of deterring the theft of inventions.  This cost discourages further theft by companies.  If half the patent lawsuits (by cost) are meritorious then the net cost of these lawsuits is zero.  Unless you assume that the cost of protecting property rights has no value, which I am afraid is the ultimate problem with anti-reason people at Reason Magazine and CATO.  Neither of these organizations seems to understand property rights.

This lack of understanding of property rights causes multiple errors in both the paper and CATO’s and Reason’s analysis of this issue.  For instance, once you understand that patents are property rights you understand the purchase of patents by investors is not different that the purchase of a building from the builder.  The profits by the subsequent purchaser of the building are not “DEAD WEIGHT” costs and neither would a lawsuit by the purchaser to demand rent for someone squatting in their building.  When the (paying) occupancy rate for buildings is high this encourages the building of new structures.  The same is true for patents – when owners of patents receive good returns on their assets then inventors create more of these assets.

Unfortunately, the CATO Institute has become hopelessly lost on the issue of property rights.  They have adopted the Utilitarian point of view that property rights are just an efficient way of allocating scarce resources.  Professor Adam Mossoff has commented on this nonsense.  Mossoff states that Jeremy Bentham’s ideas are at the root of Libertarian’s attack on IP.  Bentham basic philosophy was Utilitarianism – the greatest good for the greatest number. Bentham stated that the reason for property rights was because of scarcity and conflict resolution not natural rights.  Mossoff then points out that the followers of Bentham argue that there is no conflict between people using the same ideas like there is with land.  Ideas can be copied and used endlessly.  This argument fails for because there is a conflict when a physical embodiment of the idea (invention) is created. The copier has clearly limited the return for the inventor and patent law only prohibits the physical embodiment.  I discuss the fallacies behind the scarcity theory of property at my post Scarcity: Does it Prove Intellectual Property is Unjustified and Scarcity -2 and Scarcity -3.  Mossoff points out that this is the philosophical point of view used by the Cato Institute and the Von Mises Institute to attack patents (IP).

Utilitarianism’s “greatest good for the greatest number” always leads to totalitarianism.  It also never leads to the purported goal.  The reason for this is that utilitarianism is merely a justification for short term actions.  Once something has been produced, it always looks like the greatest good is to redistribute the creation.  However, this is clearly only true in the short term.  In the long term it is clear that this always destroys the economy.  This is the theory behind the USSR, North Korea, and all socialist states.  As Ayn Rand pointed out you only need open your eyes to see that these countries do not produce the greatest good for the greatest number.  This is because stealing the product of one’s mind (mental labor is labor) is no different than banning free speech.  It stifles the mind, which source of all economic progress (values).

The CATO Institute’s article is under the header “Regulation.”  This again demonstrates that the CATO Institute does not know the difference between property rights and regulations.  Here are three easy questions for Libertarians, Socialists, and Economists to determine if a right is a monopoly (rent seeking) or a property right.

1) Does the right arise because the person created something?

2) If someone else was the creator would they have received the right in the creation?

3) Is the right freely alienable?

Patents meet all the tests of property rights.  They are not a regulation.  Enforcing property rights does not result in dead weight costs.

Another great article on this issue can be found at Gametimeip entitled Myopic Patent Cynicism.




1 Comment

  1. Dale, when I click on the links about scarcity, I just get taken back to the site. You need to fix a bug, I think.

    Good points in general, though!

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