Posts Tagged ‘Intellectual property’
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.
Trademarks have their origin in ancient history. Manufacturers and artisans would place a mark on the goods they produced to distinguish it from competitors’ goods. English common law recognized a tort (of unfair competition or passing off) for deceiving consumers by placing a competitor’s mark on your product. The first recorded case in English law covering trademarks is Southern v. How, Popham 143, 79Eng. Reprint 1243, first reported in 1656. The starting point forUS trademark law is the English common law on trademarks.
The policy behind trademark law is to prevent people from profiting by deceiving consumers as to the origin of a good. In order to deceive a consumer the owner of the mark must have established in the marketplace that consumers associate the mark with the manufacturer’s goods.
Trademarks can develop into incredibly important intellectual property assets. Image if McDonalds did not have an exclusive right to the name McDonalds ®. How much would a franchisee be willing to pay for a franchise that had no exclusive right to the name McDonald’s ®? Coca Cola company has a market capitalization of $110.4 Billion and total tangible assets of $25.3 B. Thus the market values Coca-Cola’s intangible assets at $85.1 B. Coca-Cola has two main intangible assets, its “secret formula” and its trademarks (Coke ® and Coca Cola ®). The “secret formula” can probably be duplicated and therefor the trademarks probably account for most of the value of the intangible assets.
Trademarks are still recognized under the common law of most states. The court will recognize a company’s trademark if they can show that relevant consumers associate the mark with the company. When a company wants to let the world know that they believe they have rights in a mark, they use the ™ symbol with their mark. This puts the world on notice that the company believes they have rights in that mark. Note that the SM symbol may be used with a mark designating a service. The law for service marks SM and trademark ™ is essentially the same. In this post when I use the term trademark it means both trademarks and service marks. In addition to common law trademarks, many states have statutory and registration processes. This post will not focus on individual state registrations.
A federal trademark law was enacted in 1879 and found unconstitutional. This effort was followed up by a trademark Act in 1881. The present trademark statutes can be found at 15 USC § 1051 et seq. and are commonly referred to as the Lanham Act. It is important to remember that the federal trademark statute only applies to trademarks used in interstate commerce. This is because Congress only has the right to regulate interstate commerce under the constitution, US Constitution at Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3. The Lanham Act provides for registration of marks used in interstate commerce. When a mark is registered with the US trademark office, the owner may now use the ® symbol with their mark. A federal registration has a number of advantages over relying on common law trademark rights. For instance, by obtaining a federal registration it is a non-rebuttable “legal assumption” that the owner of the mark is using the mark through all states and territories of theUnited States. 15 USC §1057(c). Federal registration of a mark also provides the owner with prima facie evidence of the right to use the mark exclusively. 15 USC §1155(a). The term of a trademark is indefinite, however federal registrations must be renewed every ten years. 15 USC § 1059. A trademark terminates when the owner abandons the mark. The statute defines abandonment as three consecutive years of non-use. 15 USC §1127.
The excellent book Great Again by Henry R. Nothhaft with David Kline, points out that 2000 was the year in which the tax and regulatory burden in theUS reached a tipping point compared to other OECD (First World) countries. 2000 was also the year in which average corporate tax rates of OECD countries fell below theUS’s. TheUS now has highest marginal corporate tax rate in the world (in most states) and our effective tax rate is 50% higher than the European Union average. Is there any wonder why the US is losing high quality jobs to other countries?
The book’s identification of the year 2000 as the tipping point is ironic since this is also the year that I identified in my book as the tipping point for anti-technology startup regulations. The book Great Again calls the decade from 2000-2010 the lost decade, let’s hope it is only a single lost decade. Besides the negative effects of the US corporate and capital gains tax rates, the US has also significantly weakened our patent system and made it extremely difficult for startups to raise capital because of Sarbanes Oxley (although Dodd Frank only makes this worse). The major asset of startups is their patents – legal title to their inventions. Weakening our patent system has undermined this asset.
Some other interesting points made by the book include that a SBA (Small Business Administration) study showed that 1% cut in the corporate tax rate increases the number of start-ups by 1.5% and decreases the rate of failure by 8%. A World Bank study showed that 10% increase in the effective tax rate results in 2.2% reduction in investment to GDP.
The policies necessary to grow high quality jobs and get our economy growing are clear. The only conclusion is that the US is not interested in growing the economy, it is only interested in growing government power.
Great Again: Revitalizing America’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, by Henry R. Nothhaft with David Kline
The Ayn Rand Institute held a lecture on intellectual property (IP). The talk was given by Adam Mossoff a law professor at George Mason University School of Law. There are eight parts to the lecture. I provide a short synopsis/comment about each video with a link below in case you want to skip to a particular section of the talk. I have previously written on Ayn Rand’s views of intellectual property, see Ayn Rand on Intellectual Property. My post is more about the issues of patent law, while this lecture is more about how IP is the most fundamental of all property rights.
Part 1 of 8: Introduction
This part is a general discussion of the state of the economy and how Ayn Rand’s ideas apply. Mossoff argues that intellectual property has risen to prominence and discusses all the new advances in technology that are based on IP. He explains that Leftists and Libertarians have joined in an all out attack on IP, particularly patents. He also argues that “Net Neutrality” is an attack on IP. He notes that recent Supreme Court cases have significantly weakened patent rights. He concludes with the idea that all property is really intellectual property.
Part 2 of 8: All Property is Fundamentally Intellectual Property
From this point forward the lecture focuses on patents and inventions. Ayn Rand stated that patents are the heart and core of property rights. The talk is about the moral justification for IP. All property is based on two concepts: 1) the nature of value, and 2) man as a rational animal and his mind is his basic tool of survival. It is only life that makes the concept of value possible. Unlike other animals, man has to first determine what values are necessary to sustain his life using his mind.
Professor Mossoff seems to be making an argument that all products/services we use are/were inventions (products of the human mind). They may have been invented a long time ago, but they do not exist in nature (separate from man) and therefore they had to be invented by man before they could be produced. He then points out that human needs do result in the creation of products/services to fill those needs. First, the solution to the need has to be invented and produced and only then can the need be satisfied.
The birth of Industrial Revolution corresponds with the creation of property rights in inventions, i.e., patents. I make this point in my post, Source of Economic Growth.
Part 3 of 8: The Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution was an explosion of inventions that occured when patents were created. Daniel Webster argued that an invention is the product of the inventor’s mind and he has more rights to his invention than any other property. Mossoff quotes a US judge in the 1800s who states that patents are a natural right. Mossoff argues that theUSpatent system (first modern patent system) was the key reason theUSsurpassedEnglandas the driving force of the Industrial Revolution. This explosion of inventive and economic activity in theUSamazed Europeans.
Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged refers to machines as the frozen form ingenuity.
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 then 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 two reasons. One, there is not conflict between ideas, but there is a conflict when a physical embodiment of the idea (invention) is created. They the copier has clearly limited the return for the inventor. Second, a specific purpose of patent laws is to spread the knowledge behind the invention so that other inventors can take advantage of this knowledge – so patents do not limit access to knowledge they increase it. 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 theUSSR,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).
Part 4 of 8: Libertarians Assume Resources
Mossoff shows that Libertarians ignores the creation of these inventions. They just assume they exist. The Leftists version of this in theUSis the statement “theUSis the wealthiest Nation in the World” and therefore we should be able to afford X (national health care, social security, free education, fill in the blank). Both groups ignore how and why these resources were created.
Libertarians deny the very foundation of all property rights in their attacks on IP – the rational mind. Libertarians embrace the anti-mind collectivist premises that Leftist use to attack all property rights. I made the same point in my book The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur.
Part 5 of 8: Why the Utilitarian Defense of IP Fails
Mossoff points to the ACLU v. Myriad, see my post ACLU – Gene Patent Non-Sense.
Value creation is the source of property rights according to Ayn Rand. Mossoff states that it is no coincidence thatRandin Atlas Shrugged had the state nationalize all patents in the infamous Directive 10-289. It was because patents are the most fundamental of all property rights. Man’s mind is the root of all material value ever produced in the world.
Mossoff argues that Locke’s labor theory of property is incorrect. He argues that Locke was specifically talking about physical labor. Note it takes calories and effort to perform mental labor, so the distinction between physical labor and mental labor is not that one involves the physical transform of the world. (A similar point seems lost on computer programmers). I would argue that Locke never intended labor to mean “physical labor” but productive effort in modern terms. However, Locke also never clearly defined that all material values comes from the mind.
Part 6 of 8: Question -1
The question is from a teacher at theHenryGeorgeSchoolwho suggests that Kilby and Noyce’s decision to resolve the interference (who owns the patent) to the integrated circuit by not pursuing a patent resulted in faster development of the IC. Mossoff points out that this is fallacy. First, other people would have been inspired to design around the patents or license them and there is no evidence that the development of the IC would have been slowed down. (Most patent attorneys will tell you that there has never been a patent that cannot be designed around eventually) Second, the macroeconomic evidence shows that countries with weak patents are slow to adopt new technologies. Third, Mossoff points to the Bayh–Dole Act, which was enacted because federally funded research was not being commercialized. The reason it was not being commercialized was that the ownership rights were uncertain. This is a typical tragedy of the commons problem. Fourth, Mossoff points out that when the uncertainty about the ability to patent genetically modified life forms was removed in theUSthe biotech industry took off. Biotech languished inEuropefor another decade because of their resistance to recognize patent rights in genetically modified organisms.
The questioner clearly did not listen to a single thing that was being said during the lecture.
Part 7 of 8: Question – 2 & 3
Another question from a teacher at theHenryGeorgeSchool. He suggest that land is special. He argues that the value of land is often enhanced by what is done around your parcel of land and has nothing to do the owner’s labor. As a result, he argues that people should pay “society” a rent for the use of the land. The questioner is confusing externalities with property rights. Externalities and spillover benefits have been used over and over by socialists to justify stealing from producers for the socialists pet projects. The questioner also confuses luck with property rights. Just because someone is lucky and becomes wealthy does not justify stealing from them.
Mossoff points out that land has value because people used their mind to create value from land. Land has no inherent value.
The next questioner asks about multiple people who contribute to the invention of a chair. In patent law this is why patent are a right to exclude, not the right to make something. This ensures that all contributors have rights to the invention. If we did not have a right to exclude, then the final inventor (or first inventor) would be the only one who would receive an economic return.
Part 8 of 8: Question – 4 . . .
Is IP enforcement of copyrights censorship? Mossoff points out that if a Leftist comes into your house and spouts off socialist nonsense it is not a violation of their free speech rights to force them to either leave or shut up. The right to free speech does not give you the right to use someone else’s property. The government’s enforcement of your property rights is not a violation of the 1st Amendment because you do not have a right to free speech while on or using someone else’s property. Milton Freedman showed that free speech is actually impossible without property rights.
Another question suggests that IP slows down the adoption of new technologies. There is absolutely no statistically valid evidence for this point of view. There are anecdotal stories of this happening, but the actual evidence is that countries with weak patent rights have slower adoption rates of new technologies not vice versa.
This intriguing question and its implications for US economic policy are tackled in the groundbreaking book Great Again, by Henry R. Nothhaft with David Kline. They answer the above query with a series of questions:
Could a twenty-year-old college dropout, just back from six months in an ashram somewhere, attract funding for a capital-intensive venture based on the manufacture (yes, the manufacture) and sale of a $2,500 consumer product unlike any that had ever been bought by consumers before? One whose potential uses were at best unknown, and possibly nonexistent? And one for which the total current market size was exactly zero?
Not only could Apple not get funded today, it probably could not go public. Nor would Apple have received its first patent (USPN 4,136,359) in only 20 months. The book asks “how many of today’s Apples are not getting a chance?”
The authors use the above example to make a broader point that theUSis failing economically and technologically because of the policies we are pursuing. They show that all net new jobs created in theUSsince 1977 (and possibly longer) were created by startups like Apple. All increases in real per capita income are due to new technologies and most revolutionary/disruptive technologies are created by startups and individual inventors. So what are the policies that have undermined our economy, by undermining technology startups?
The book examines five areas:
1.Role of regulations. The Authors show that our tax policies, Sarbanes Oxley and our indifferent (some might say arrogant) regulators’ application of well meaning regulations to startups is driving them either overseas or out of business.
2. Underfunding the patent office. This is costing theUS millions of jobs and billions in GDP. According to the authors, each issued patent is worth 3-5 jobs on average, particularly patents issued to startups.
3. Manufacturing policies in the US. Manufacturing is key, particularly in a world that does not respect property rights in inventions, to ensuring that theUS profits fromUS innovation and not other countries. TheUS is also losing the global battle for human talent.
4. Battle for global talent. Our restrictive immigration policies are depriving theUS of talented entrepreneurs such as Andy Grove, founder of Intel.
5. Funding for research. The book shows that our spending on basic science and engineering is not only declining as a percentage of GDP, but the system has become short-term oriented and bureaucratic.
While this book tackles complex issues, it is a quick easy read. It is full of interviews from entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and technologists who built America’s technology startups over the last three decades. Great Again provides numerous real life examples to illustrate its points.
This pioneering book shows how the US can create jobs and increase per capita income. The policy prescriptions are based on solid science. Just cutting government spending (balancing the budget) will not cause theUSeconomy to grow vigorously, we need pro-growth policies. The authors are some of the few people that understand what policies are needed for the US to be GREAT AGAIN.
Great Again: Revitalizing America’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, by Henry R. Nothhaft and David Kline
I was confronted with the statement that there are “Hugh transaction costs related to patents.” This statement implies the assumption that these transaction costs are unjustified. I disagree with the premise, but since all systems can be improved I will provide a number of specific proposals to reduce the transaction costs.
The alternative proposed by the author of this statement, was to shorten the length of patents and increase government funding of R&D. The proposed system of government funding for research is not effective substitute for patents. The history of government funding for research is mixed at best and much more expensive than patents. The US patent system is completely funded by user fees (in fact Congress has been stealing user fees to pay for their pet projects). The patent system has been significantly more effective at stimulating innovation than government funded projects – see Zorina Khan’s work including her book The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920 (NBER Series on Long-Term Factors in Economic Development) also see The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, by William Rosen.
Litigation Costs: There has been a very effective propaganda campaign to suggest that the patent litigation is out of control. The implication is that there is an explosion in patent litigation. This is just not true.
“The real facts of the so called litigation crisis are that for the past two decades the number of patent lawsuits commenced annually has been about 1.5 percent of all patents granted. In 2006, it was 1.47 percent. This is business as usual. Most patent lawsuits, moreover, settle before trial. In 1979, some 79 percent of patent cases settled before trial, while in 2004 almost 86 percent did. Matters are actually improving.
Also, the U.S. has few patent trials. For instance, in 2001 only 76 patent lawsuits were tried and only 102 went to trial in 2006. By no measure can 102 patent trials be considered a national litigation crisis. The annual report of Federal Judicial Caseload Statistics, which is on the Internet, provides the factual antidote to false claims of a litigation crisis (www.uscourts.gov/ caseload2006/contents.html).” see http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/07/0629/art2.html
Even though this data is a little old nothing has changed in the last several years. In a $14.4 trillion economy built on technology this is anything but a litigation crisis.
There is also a myth that there is a patent quality issue in the US. This is not supported by the facts.
“As to the massive numbers of “unworthy patents” argument, the real-world test is how many patents are challenged and the outcome of those challenges. Between 1981 and 2006 the USPTO issued more than 3.1 million patents. In that period, 8,600 were challenged at the Patent Office through inter partes and ex parte reexaminations. The number challenged amounts to less than three-tenths of one percent. Of those challenged, about 74 percent resulted in claims narrowed or cancelled. In addition, almost 60 percent of the relatively few patents challenged in a court trial are sustained.
My point is that the USPTO’s work is certainly not perfect, but the Patent Office is also not pouring out a stream of bad patents.” http://www.manufacturingnews.com/news/07/0629/art2.html
By every objective measure: R&D per patent, GDP per patent, and number of citations per patent patent quality is increasing. See http://hallingblog.com/2010/01/07/patent-quality-nonsense/ and http://hallingblog.com/2009/08/18/patent-quality-myth/.
Cost and Time to Obtain a Patent: When Edison applied for his light bulb, he received a patent in 3 months. The reason it takes so long to obtain a patent today is because Congress has been stealing money from the Patent Office.
I have an angel investor friend who was a highly successful entrepreneur who complained that when he invested in a company he did not know about hidden prior art and this created a large amount of uncertainty. He supported the idea of publication of patents. However, the answer was not publication of patents, which breaks the social contract, but fully funding the patent office – as the Edison example above proves.
Disingenuousness of Libertarian Argument about Costs of Patents: All property rights systems have some costs involved in them. GE employs 600 attorneys to comply with tax laws, it probably employs another 600 to comply with SOX, discrimination laws, environmental laws, health and benefit laws. However, it probably employs less 100 patent attorneys. Their patent costs are a drop in the bucket compared to dealing with tax and other regulatory laws. The Libertarian attack on patents in light of all the other burdens imposed on business is disingenuous.
Patents are property rights and companies’ purposeful infringement of other people’s property rights is not a regulatory burden, it is the result of purposeful belief that they can get away with the theft. It is called efficient infringement. See “Technology Theft as a Business Strategy” http://hallingblog.com/2010/03/24/pat-choate-technology-theft-as-a-business-strategy/
Patent Litigation: While patent litigation costs are similar to litigation costs generally, there are a number of things that can be done to make the system more efficient. Some are changes to government and some are private sector initiatives.
Secondary Market/Title Insurance for patents. Before the advent of title insurance it was very expensive to buy a piece of land. You had to pay an attorney for a title report that did not come with any insurance. Lawsuits over the boundaries of real property were epidemic before the advent of modern survey tools. Patents are in the same position where no title insurance has been created. Unfortunately, antitrust law undermined the first efforts to create a title insurance/secondary market for patents. Patent pools were a way to determine the validity of patents, enforce patents, and widely license the patents in a cost efficient manner. But the antitrust idiots said that they were illegal. Today, Luddites are using the rallying cry of “patent troll” to kill off the beginning of a secondary market – see http://hallingblog.com/2009/09/18/in-defense-of-patent-trolls/ For more information see Jump Starting a Secondary Market for Patents http://hallingblog.com/2009/11/16/jump-starting-a-secondary-market-for-patents/.
Accelerated Patent Court: A new court similar to the ITC that has expertise in patents and accelerates the patent litigation process is needed. The court should be sufficiently funded and have procedures that allow patent cases to be resolved in under a year. Perhaps the court would be limited to issuing injunctions as a remedy as opposed to economic damages. The goal of this new court is to establish the US as the premier arbiter of patent rights. The US is the best positioned country to protect patent rights, despite our recent history. This would increase the US’s standing as a technological leader in the world and draw innovative companies and people to the US.
Judges: Appoint judges with technical backgrounds and who have passed the patent bar to adjudicate patent cases. Judges without these qualifications make silly mistakes, such as stating that any invention that is just a combination of known elements is suspect whether it should obtain a patent. All inventions are combinations of known elements – it is called conservation of matter and energy. You cannot create something from nothing. (For more on the Supreme Court’s ignorance see http://hallingblog.com/2010/01/19/ksr-supreme-ignorance-by-supreme-court-2/ )
Patent Reciprocity: One of the largest costs of obtaining patent protection is foreign filing. Patent reciprocity would significantly reduce this cost.
If you drive your car across the border into Canada you do not lose title to your car. If you take your manuscript across the border into Canada you do not lose the copyright to your manuscript. But, if you take your invention across the border into Canada, you lose your patent protection and anyone can steal the invention – not the physical embodiment, but the underlying invention.
Patent reciprocity would automatically provide patent rights in a foreign country when you obtained a patent in the US and vice versa. This idea was first proposed by the US in the mid 1800s according to B. Zorina Kahn’s book “The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920“. Unfortunately, the idea died and since then patent rights have been part of the convoluted process of trade negotiations.
Patent reciprocity would significantly increase the value of patents and increase the value of research and development. As a result, it would spur investment in innovation. Reciprocity would increase the valuation of technology start-up companies in all countries that participated. It would also increase per capita income.
Eliminate Maintenance Fees: Maintenance fees are the major cost associated with a patents filed outside the US.
Maintenance fees are a backhanded way of introducing a “working requirement” to patents. Working requirements for patents have always been rejected in the US. These fees favor large entities and reduce the effective life of patents.
A strong patent system pays for itself several times over in increased tax revenues from increased economic activity. The supply side returns from a strong patent system probably exceed the return resulting from lowering the capital gains tax.
Reduce Formalism in Patents: A large part of the cost of obtaining and litigating a patent is overly formalistic requirements. The Non-obviousness requirement should be repealed. It is not logically a part of the definition of an invention and is the source of uncertainty, and increases the cost of both obtaining and enforcing/defending patent lawsuits. For more information see Non-Obviousness a Case of Judicial Activism http://hallingblog.com/2010/06/18/non-obviousness-a-case-study-in-judicial-activism/.
Some of the other overly formalistic requirements include the rules on restrictions, the inequitable defense, and the silly requirements related to section 101. Restrictions are required for trivial differences that are embodiments of the same inventive idea. The doctrine of equivalents has been dead for over a decade. Formalism over logic rules in the realm of inequitable conduct. USC 101 issues related to software inventions also place form over function that require absurd recitations to computer hardware. All of these formalistic requirements favor patent thieves at the expense of real innovators.
Here are three easy questions for Libertarians, Socialists, and Economists to determine if a right is a monopoly or a property right.
1) Does the right arise because the person created something?
Creation is the basis of all property rights. The law is just recognizing the reality that the person is the creator and without that person the creation would not exist. This is consistent with Locke’s Natural Rights and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.
2) If someone else was the creator would they have received the right in the creation?
3) Is the right freely alienable?
Freely alienable means that right can be sold, transferred, divided, leased, etc. This is a key feature of property rights.
Let’s see how this applies to some common property rights, some monopolies, and rent seeking systems.
Land: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-yes.
Some people may be confused about why question 1 is a yes with respect to land. Clearly no one created land. That is true, but the reason that the person owns the land is because they improved it. This was the major criteria for receiving land under the Homestead Act.
Now some people may complain that most of us do not obtain title to land because we improved it. This is true, but we had to create something and trade this for money. This money was then used to buy the land. Because property rights are freely alienable, they can be transferred for other property. As a result, creation is still the reason we own the land.
Thus a right in land is a property right.
Note in the modern world land is usually not completely alienable because of various regulations. However, this is an encroachment on property rights but does not change the underlying fact that rights in land are property rights.
Utility Grants: 1-yes, 2-no, 3-no
Utility grants includes electric utilities, water utilities, cable television, etc. In all cases, the company that receives the right has to build something (electrical power system, water purification and distribution system, or cable system. As a result, the answer to question one is yes. However, if someone else created a utility system in the same geographic area they would not receive the same right. Utilities receive their legal rights not because they created something, but because a political entity selected the particular organization. The grant is generally not alienable. If the present holder of the utility right wants to sell, lease or subdivide their utilities rights, they have to get permission from a political entity.
Thus utility grants are monopolies not property rights.
Patents: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-yes
You obtain a patent because you created an invention. If someone else had created the invention, they would have received the patent to the invention. Patent rights can be sold, leased and subdivided.
Patents are property rights.
Note that you have to apply for a patent in order to obtain it. The same was true for land under the Homestead Act.
Mineral Rights: 1-yes, 2-yes, 3-yes
You obtain mineral rights because you discovered minerals at a particular location. Much like land in the modern world most mineral rights are purchased, but this is still the result of creation. If someone else had discovered the minerals they would have received the right. Mineral rights can be sold, leased, subdivided etc.
Mineral rights are property rights.
Professional licenses: 1-no, 2-yes, 3-no
Professional licenses include medical licenses, legal licenses, cosmetology licenses, etc. You obtain a profession license because you proved a mastery of certain knowledge and fulfilled other bureaucratic requirements. You do not obtain a professional license because you have created something. If someone else proved mastery of the subject matter and fulfilled the other bureaucratic requirements they could also receive a license. Professional licenses are not alienable at all – they cannot be transferred, sold, subdivided, etc.
Professional licenses are pseudo monopolies or rent seeking devices. They clearly do not limit the market to one provider, but they do limit the number of providers in a market.
Modern antitrust law turned the law against monopolies on it head. The Statute of Monopolies limited the power of the Crown (government) to interfere with private property rights. The Statute of Monopolies excluded patents for inventions because they result from the creative act of the inventor and therefore are property rights.
On the other hand modern antitrust law increases the power of government to interfere with private property rights. The underlying theory of antitrust law is the efficient market hypothesis. The hypothesis postulates that wealth is created by falling prices for existing goods and services and this is result of competition to sell existing goods and services. However, this is not true. Increases in per capita income are the result of increases in technology – inventions. Antitrust law undermines the incentive to create and invest in new technologies and therefore hurts our economic health.
This book has an extremely intriguing title. The book’s goal is to explain why the Industrial Revolution happened and how it happened. The book explains that there are over two hundred theories for why the Industrial Revolution occurred. The author points out that most of these theories miss the most obvious point, “which is that the Industrial Revolution was, first and foremost, a revolution in invention.” (Italics in the original) It further explains, “For a thousand centuries, the equation that represented humanity’s rate of invention could be plotted on an X-Y graph as a pretty straight line. . . . Then during a few decades of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in an island nation with no special geographic resources” it changed. Ultimately, the Industrial Revolution was a perpetual innovation machine.
The author explains that England’s patent laws democratized invention and this combined with the advent of limited liability companies and the new capital markets resulted in an explosion of new inventions that created unimaginable wealth.
“The best explanation for the preeminence of English speakers in lifting humanity out of its ten-thousand-year-long Malthusian trap is that the Anglophone world democratized the nature of invention.
In England, a unique combination of law and circumstances gave artisans the incentive to invent. . . . Human character (or at least behavior) was changed, and changed forever, by seventeenth-century Britain’s insistence that ideas were a kind of property. This notion is as consequential as any idea in history.” (emphasis added)
The United States went on to create the first modern (non-archaic) patent system that was considerably more democratic (this is small d democrat) than England’s. This was a major reason why the U.S. became a world economic power in less than 100 years. Unfortunately, the U.S. is presently considering legislation, the America Invents Act (aka Patent Reform), that will again make inventing undemocratic and the province of the wealthy.
The book explains the history of patent law, the history of the science of steam (thermodynamics) as well as the history of the technology and economics of steam engines. The writing style is easy to read and very informative. Despite the bold initial statements in the book, it really focuses on the story of the Industrial Revolution instead of supporting its thesis.
Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes Magazine, was a strong defender of the US patent system. He followed in the footsteps of one of his hero’s, Ronald Reagan, who made strengthening the US patent system a major part of his economic reform. For more information see Reagan’s 100th Birthday.
Now Forbes (the magazine) pushes an anti-intellectual, anti-free market, anti-patent point of view as evidenced in the opinion piece Google’s Conundrum: Buy The Patents Or Pay The Lawyers? The author belongs to that Luddite group that wants to categorize patents as monopolies. Patents are property rights. Property rights derive from the act of creation or more specifically invention in the case of patents. Monopolies are the result of political calculations and have nothing to do with creation.
The author then goes on to state:
When Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Clinton suggested imposing restrictions on patents in the field of genetics, publicly traded bio-tech firms experienced a predictable mini-crash. The impact of their recommendation would not have been as violent if the patents had shorter lives than twenty years.
Of course if the property rights in one’s invention was weaker before you suggested making it even weaker, it would have less impact on the value of the companies owning these assets. This is like saying the value of a company will decrease less when nationalization is proposed if the tax rate were higher. For instance, if the tax rate were 100% then it would not affect the value of company at all if politicians proposed nationalizing the company. The author Reuven Brenner, is an economics professor at McGill University according to Wikipedia. You would think that a professor would not make these obvious logical errors – the sort of errors that would make even an undergraduate paper on the topic receive a C or lower.
As if this gaff were not enough the professor then asks:
What would happen if the life of patents was shortened?
Prices of patented goods would decline and there would be less piracy
Yes and the price of all goods would decline if we would just get rid of property rights. Of course, no one would produce anything and the same is true of weakening patents. Innovation will come to a virtual standstill. History shows that without secure property rights in inventions, innovation grows so slow that humans are stuck in the Malthusian Trap. See The Source of Economic Growth.
As for there being less piracy that is like saying there would be less car theft if we did not give people title to their cars. This is not Alice in Wonderland Mr. Brenner. Words have meaning and even if there is not a law against piracy, it is still piracy.
Mr. Brenner continues with his Socialist line of reasoning by arguing, “Phillips’ initial success in Holland and throughout Western Europe was due to copying Edison’s lamps without paying any royalties to the Edison interests.” Stealing always enriches the thief, but it does not create wealth it redistributes it and destroys it. How many invention was Edison or some other inventor unable to fund because Phillips stole Edison’s inventions?
Mr. Brenner should be aware that since Robert Solow’s famous paper on economic growth it is clear that all per capita growth is due to increases in technology. Most new technologies are created by start-ups that require property rights in their inventions (patents) in order to secure capital. (See SBA Study). In addition, all net new jobs in the US are created by start-ups according to the Kauffman Foundation. If the US wants to create high quality, high paying jobs it needs strong property rights for inventions.
Intellectual Property’s Great Fallacy,by Eric Johnson
This paper starts with a bold statement that the theoretical underpinning for intellectual property (patents & copyrights) “has been washed away.” Shortly thereafter it states “it’s hard to imagine big-budget Hollywood movies being made without copyrights. And many new pharmaceuticals would not have been brought to market without the inducement of the patent laws.” The paper never attempts to resolve this contradiction. But this is far from the only problems and errors with the paper.
Property Rights: Mr. Johnson does not seem to understand the basis of property rights or the difference between property rights and monopolies. He incorrectly states that patents and copyrights are monopolies. Patents and Copyrights are property rights and any definition of monopoly that includes patents also includes all property rights. This of course leads to the nonsense that all property rights are monopolies. For more information see The Myth That Patent are Monopolies.
Mr. Johnson tries to denigrate patents and copyrights by showing that their origin is from arbitrary government grants. In the case of patents this was reformed by the Statue of Monopolies. The exact same thing can be said of all property rights. All land was considered to be owned by the King and he arbitrarily gave monopolies over certain areas of land. This usually included the right to profit from the peasants on the land. If the noble who received this arbitrary grant of land crossed the King, the King could and did take back the grant. This practice continued at least until the U.S. Revolutionary War. For instance, most of the colonies were arbitrary grants of land and President Washington was given large tracts of land for his service in the French and Indian War. It was not until Locke that the theoretical basis for property was established, which is productive effort. Patents and copyrights are property rights given for the inventor’s or author’s productive effort. This theory of property rights acknowledges the reality that but for the creator the property would not exist and therefore the creator is the owner.
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards: The main thesis of the paper is that creative activities do not need extrinsic rewards. In fact, the author argues that extrinsic rewards actually reduce the amount of creativity. His evidence appears to be survey data. However, survey data tends to be subject to a number of bias errors. The paper ignores the actual empirical evidence. The industrial revolution was an outpouring of new inventions. As explained in the book The Most Powerful Idea in the World “For a thousand centuries, the equation that represented humanity’s rate of invention could be plotted on an X-Y graph as a pretty straight line.” “Then during a few decades of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” in England and the US that equation changed. Michael Kremer published a study (Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990) that argued that inventive talent and motivation are randomly distributed throughout the population. His model works well until the industrial revolution. Then England and other common law countries significantly out invent the rest of the world and their GDP per capita also grows much faster than the other countries in the world.
Mr. Johnson also repeats the myth of the First Mover Advantage. Even the author of the seminal paper on the first mover advantage has admitted that he overstated the case. There are numerous business books that have argued that it is better to be a copier, including In search of Excellence and more recently Copycats: How Smart Companies Use Imitation to Gain a Strategic Edge. For more information see More Evidence that Stealing Invention is a Business Strategy. My post Invention – A Financial Analysis, show that an inventor is always disadvantaged compared to a copier without property rights in his invention.
The paper argues that R&D managers at large corporations believe there are plenty of incentives for companies to invent aside from patents. First of all this survey data is selective. There are plenty of studies that show patents are critical for the success of start-ups. See Patent Signaling, Entrepreneurial Performance, and Venture Capital Financing . Once again Mr. Johnson’s data is selective at best. Large corporations are not highly inventive. According the SBA most emerging technologies are created by individual inventors and startups. See An Analysis of Small Business Patents by Industry and Firm Size.
Free Markets and Patents
Mr. Johnson makes a number of statements like “While intellectual property entitlements are conceded to be modes of interfering in a free market, they are nonetheless understood to be necessary to address a problem of “market failure.” This statement is based on the “Efficient Market Hypothesis.” This hypothesis has been an major excuse for interfering with markets and property rights by statists, while pretending to support free market capitalism. For instance, it is used to justify government involvement in education, labor markets, and limiting property rights through antitrust laws. Free market capitalism is not based on the efficient market hypothesis. It is based on property rights and contracts and the right of individuals to exercise these rights without government interference.
Value of Patents
Mr. Johnson makes the outrageous and completely unsupported statement that, “Patents have turned to be largely worthless to own, and, even worse, costly to defend against.” As shown above Patents (property rights for inventions) were essential for humans in escaping the Malthusian Trap. Patents have been shown to be critical for startups, see Patent Signaling, Entrepreneurial Performance, and Venture Capital Financing. IBM makes over $3B a year from licensing fees. Once again Mr. Johnson’s assertion is selective at best and perhaps purposely misleading.
Mr. Johnson argues that the low cost of inventing has opened up opportunities for most people to be inventive and they are doing so in increasingly large numbers. Again his data is selective at best if not outright misleading. Since the advent of the open source and anti-patent movement the U.S. has faded from the clear technological and innovation leader of the world to being a second tier country according to most observers. People in the US are not talking about the explosion of innovation, but the implosion. Mr. Johnson seems to live in an academic fantasyland.
This paper may pass for an academic paper in today’s world, but it is not science. At best is a selective survey of existing research in this area. It does not add any new data, informatio, or conclusions. If it were a patent application, it would not pass the novelty test. However, this appears to be the norm for most of what is considered academic research today.
Intellectual Property’s Great Fallacy, by Eric Johnson
 Rosen, William, The Most Powerful Idea in the World”: A Story of Steam: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, Random House, Kindle Version, location 258-264, 2011.
 Rosen, William, The Most Powerful Idea in the World”: A Story of Steam: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention, Random House, Kindle Version, location s64-270, 2011
Kremer, Michael, Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol 103, p. 681-716, 1993.
About a year ago I finished my book The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations are Killing Innovation. The book argues that the US economy was faltering long before the financial crises because changes to our laws were inhibiting investment in technological advances. Intellectual, financial, and human capital are the three foundations necessary to develop new inventions and all three have been undermined since 2000. In this post I will review how the policies affecting these foundations have changed in the last year.
Intellectual Capital: patents mainly represent this prong. The good news is that David Kappos replaced the incompetent and traitorous Jon Dudas. Kappos is a patent attorney and therefore also has a technical background. Unfortunately, he spent his whole career working for large companies and does not understand the challenges of individual inventors and technology start-up companies. The bad news is that Supreme Court again illustrated their utter incompetence in the Bilski decision. None of the Justices understand the difference between the utility requirement under 35 USC 101, the novelty requirement 35 USC 102 and the obviousness requirement 35 USC 103. The justices demonstrated that they do not understand the need for a working embodiment (35 USC 112) in order to even evaluate 101 and 102 issues. They presented nonsense hypothetical’s in oral argument that were not enabled and then demanded to know whether these hypothetical’s meet the utility requirement. They also made absurd statements that patents limit the flow of information. Another low point in the year was the farcical ruling in the ACLU v. Myriad case. The judge ignored the law and wrote 100 pages of nonsense to his cover up his crime.
Despite some progress in this area, overall the US continued to weaken the Intellectual Capital foundation necessary for economic growth, job creation, and investment in inventions.
Financial Capital: Sarbanes Oxley significantly undermined this foundation. The only good news is that the financial reform bill raised the threshold for the application of SOX to $60 million in market capitalization. However, SOX did incredible damage to our economy in only 60 pages. The financial reform bill is 2700 pages and no one knows all the damage it will cause, but it certainly was not a step in the right direction. The major issue financial reform should have addressed was Fannie and Freddie and it did not even address this issue.
There was no progress at all in this area.
Human Capital: this was undermined by the FASB rules requiring the expensing of stock options. Despite the fact that accountants are unable to understand the simple fact that dividing a pie does not reduce the size of the pie, this idiotic policy continues unchallenged.
The US has made no progress in the last year in implementing policies that would encourage technological entrepreneurship. The US is continuing its corny capitalism policies that reward political connections over true economic progress.
The US is also likely to increase the capital gains tax rate from 15% to 20% in 2011. This will further damage the incentive to invest in new technologies. The Obama administration is proving that it is even more incompetent than the Bush administration.
A NY times op-ed piece suggests that a relatively minor investment of $1 billion in the US Patent Office would create 1.5 million jobs for a cost of $660 per job. Note that the $1 billion in funding would actual be repayment of user fees that Congress has stolen from the Patent Office over the last two decades. The conclusion of the authors is:
So our guess is that restoring the patent office to full functionality would create, over the next three years, at least 675,000 and as many as 2.25 million jobs. Assuming a mid-range figure of 1.5 million, the price would be roughly $660 per job — and that would be 525 times more cost effective than the 2.5 million jobs created by the government’s $787 billion stimulus plan.
To encourage still more entrepreneurship, Congress should also offer small businesses a tax credit of up to $19,000 for every patent they receive, enabling them to recoup half of the average $38,000 in patent office and lawyers’ fees spent to obtain a patent. Cost, after all, is the No. 1 deterrent to patent-seeking, the patent survey found.
For the average 30,000 patents issued to small businesses each year, a $19,000 innovation tax credit would mean a loss of about $570 million in tax revenue in a year. But if it led to the issuance of even one additional patent per small business, it would create 90,000 to 300,000 jobs.
Please read the full article.
The author, Matt Ridley, has written an excellent book that is epic in the scope of issues he tackles. The book covers why homo sapiens thrived while other members of the homo genus fail. He shows that on average the human condition has gotten consistently better and this increase in wealth has been especially true in the last 200 years. He destroys the noble savage myth. He shows the intellectual failings of Marxism, environmentalism, self sufficiency, and renewable energy. His two main themes underlying these vast topics are: 1) trade leads to division of labor, which leads to invention and 2) the inexorable march of human progress.
Despite Mr. Ridley’s incredible breadth of knowledge, there is a logical gap in his first thesis when he attempts to explain the industrial revolution and why it took off in England. This logical gap is the result of his misunderstanding of intellectual property.
This misunderstanding of intellectual property is most likely due to his open source utopianism. This utopianism leads the book to conclude “Thanks to the internet, each is giving according to his ability to each according to his needs, to a degree that never happen in Marxism.” P. 356. Even with this imperfection, this is an incredible book that I highly recommend to anyone.
Population Density – Good or Bad for Wealth Creation?
The book argues that population density is necessary for trade and division of labor, which is the route to economic prosperity. It also argues that the division of labor leads to inventions, which leads to further specialization. Specialization requires a large enough market to support it and as a result population density is the friend of economic progress. However, later in the book it argues that increasing population caused a decline in the living standards of Japan and Denmark. This decline supposedly occurred because the increasing population decreased the value of labor and therefore the market for specialization and inventions. England escapes this fate because of coal and phantom land in the colonies. This contradiction between the need for human density for specialization and economic progress and the idea that increased population density reduced the value of labor destroying the market for inventions is not adequately resolved.
The book argues, starting on page 52, that trade is what allowed homo sapiens to succeed where other apes failed and even other humans failed such as Neanderthals. It provides numerous examples of how various groups of humans regressed technologically because of inadequate population densities to support specialization, such as Tanzania. The book summarizes the lessons by quoting economist Julian Simon “population leading to diminishing returns is fiction: the induced increase in productivity is scientific fact.” P. 83.
In a chapter entitled “Escaping Malthus Trap,” Ridley discusses how Japan after a period of prosperity gives up its technology. He states “that sometime between 1700 and 1800, the Japanese collectively gave up the plough in favour of the hoe because people were cheaper to hire than draught animals.” P. 198. The reason for this according to Ridley was rapid population expansion due to paddy rice technology. This population boom made labor cheap and killed the market for technology. Denmark follows the same path as Japan and by the 1800s becomes “trapped by its own self sufficiency.” P. 200. Britain escapes the Malthusian trap that Japan, Denmark, and Ireland suffer, according to Ridely, because of selective breeding (maybe p. 200), ghost acres provided by the colonies (p. 202), release valve emigration to the colonies (p. 202), and coal (sustained industrial revolution p. 216.)
There is a logical inconsistency between the conclusion early in the book that population density is necessary for prosperity, but later in the book arguing that prosperity stalled after a burst in population in various countries. The explanation of selective breeding, does not explain why the US or Australia prospered. These countries were heavily populated by British rejects. Similarly, the ghost acres provided by the colonies were eventually used up. It might be argued that there was some tipping point that could only be achieved with ghost acres. I think this fails also, because it flies in the face of the book’s earlier argument that increased population densities allow more specialization and invention to increase everyone’s standard of living. The release valve emigration fails for the same reasons as the ghost acres. The emergence of coal is also unsatisfying. Coal mining was known before the birth of Christ and trade in coal occurred in England as far back as the 1300s, according to Wikipedia. The book also argues that many surges of economic growth were extinguished by parasitic political systems. However, it never states this is why Japan’s and Denmark’s prosperity was reversed.
What was new in the industrial revolution was not coal, but the machines to use coal and numerous other inventions. The book argues that these inventions were not in general due to new scientific discoveries, p. 255, and I agree. So why at this particular point in time did we have a sudden increase in rate of technological advance, including machines that used coal? The beginning of the industrial revolution coincides with the recognition of property right’s in inventions. The US constitution states (Article 1, section 1, clause 8 ) that inventors have ‘RIGHTS” in their inventions. Patents, which are legal title to an invention, are the only free market system for encouraging people to invent. While Britain had a patent system at least back to the Statute of Monopolies, 1623, it did not recognize a right to property in one’s invention. It was a royal grant, subject to the whims of the ruling monarch. As a result, it was expensive and arbitrary. However, when the United States recognizes that inventors have a property right to their invention, this provides a whole new incentive to inventors and their financial backers. No doubt this attitude towards inventions also infected Britain. For more on the correlation between real per capita increases in income and patent systems see Source of Economic Growth.
Mr. Ridley argues that patents at best have marginal effect on the rate of invention. However, Mr. Ridley shows an appalling lack of knowledge about patents and intellectual property. He also has a number of inconsistent statements about intellectual property. For instance, on page 267, he states that copyrights have little effect on the creativity of musical composers. However, on page 326 he states that Nashville was saved by music entrepreneurs using good local copyrights in the 1930s. Not only are these two statements contradictory, there is no such thing as local copyrights in the United States.
The book has numerous other errors about intellectual property. For instance, it states that intellectual property is not like other property, because it is useless if you keep it to yourself, p. 262. This statement is nonsense. The Coca Cola formula is not shared and this is the only reason it has any value. A patent to an invention (legal title to an invention) only has value if there is some ability to exclude others from using it – as opposed to knowing about it. If everyone can make a laser without pay royalties, then it may have value to the world but it has no differential value to the inventor. Patents are derived from exactly the same philosophical basis as real property. Namely, Locke’s theory of Natural Rights. For more information see Scarcity – Does it Prove Intellectual Property is Unjustified? Below are a list of some, but not all, of the book’s errors related to patents:
1) The book then states that people get rich by selling each other things and services not ideas, p. 263. What are authors, professors, engineers, scientists, really selling? Authors are not selling books, they are selling ideas that just happen to be embodied in books. The Kindle proves this. The Kindle does not allow the user to buy a book, but to buy the ideas in a book. Professors are either selling the teaching of ideas or just an expensive way to bore students. Engineers are selling a service, which encompasses ideas not the paper (digital ones and zeros) on which it is written. Most companies do not make money manufacturing things, they make money with inventions (ideas) that are implemented in things. When a company only sells things with no (new) ideas in these things, then their profit margins are extremely narrow. One of the limitations on growth has been this Luddite refusal to allow inventors to specialize in inventing. This book’s premise is built on the division of labor, but the author rejects this idea when it comes to inventing.
2) Mr. Ridley also seems to be confused between the spread of information related to inventions and the legal right to use that information to build an invention. It is a major goal of modern patent systems to spread information about inventions so that they can be used by other people to build other inventions. In the U.S. we built patent depository libraries to spread the wealth of information in patents (before the internet). Patents encourage people to share the information associated with their inventions instead of keeping them a trade secret. Countries without patent systems tend to invent mainly things that can be protected with a trade secret. (See Switzerland before they adopt a patent system) As a result, other inventors do not get learn from these inventions and the rate of technological progress is inhibited.
3) The book perpetuates the first mover advantage alternative to patents. Xerox had the world’s greatest first mover advantage in plain paper copiers, when it agreed to settle an antitrust lawsuit in 1975 by giving away its patent portfolio. Its market share went from almost 100% in plain paper copiers to 14% in just four years. The first mover advantage is a fairy tale.
4) The book argues, p. 264, that there is no evidence that patents are what drive inventors to invent. This statement is completely illogical. Real property rights are not what drive farmers to farm or builders to build houses. Nevertheless, there would be a lot less building and less efficient farming, if we did not have real property rights. Just look at countries, where property rights in buildings and land are hard to impossible to obtain.
5) The book states that a number of inventions were never patented, p. 264, such as automatic transmission, Bakelite, ballpoint pens, cellophane, cyclotrons, gyrocompasses, jet engines, magnetic recording, power steering, safety razors and zippers. While it is possible that the first version of some of these inventions were not patented, all of these inventions were subject to numerous patents. This can be easily verified with a simple patent search. For instance, there are at least 20 patents and probably hundreds of patents on automatic transmissions. The same is true of ballpoint pens, gyrocompasses, jet engines, magnetic recording, power steering, safety razors and zippers. A simple internet search shows that chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863-1944) invented and first patented the synthetic resin that we know as Bakelite in 1907. Jacques E Brandenberger was granted patents to cover the machinery and the essential ideas of his manufacturing process of the new film (cellophane). The assertions of no patents for the zipper is also easily shown to be incorrect. Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine received a patent in 1851 for an ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure’ (zipper).
6) The book argues that the Wright brothers, enforcing their patent on airplane control surfaces, supposedly shut down the airplane industry in the US. This is the typical propaganda of open source community. First of all the Wright brothers were building airplanes, so the industry was not shut down by enforcement of the patents. Second stealing other people’s property is not shutting down industry, it is shutting down theft. We would not say that someone stopped the harvest of wheat, because they did not let someone else reap the wheat they planted on their land.
7) The patent thicket argument is repeated by Mr. Ridley to suggest that patents inhibit advances in technology. A number of papers have shown that there is no empirical evidence for the patent thicket argument and that the logical analogies on which it is based are flawed. For more information see Intellectual Property Socialism: Part IV USPTO Takes Aim at Inventors.
8 ) Mr. Ridley further demonstrates his ignorance of patents by repeating the concern that the US Patent Office was issuing patents for human genes in the 1990s, p. 265. What the Patent Office did and does was issue patents on “isolated genes.” This is similar to patents on things like isolated forms of vitamin B12, which was patented. For more information see Gene Patenting Debate Continues.
9) The book also mistakenly calls a patent a “temporary monopoly.” A patent is a property right, just like property rights in land, houses, cars, etc. The logical basis for patents is exactly the same as other property rights. Property rights are based on Natural Rights, which states that since you own yourself you own the product of your labor (physical and mental). For more information see The Myth that Patents are Monopolies.
10) He also implies that patents are top down solution to encouraging invention. Nothing could be further from the truth. All a patent system does is provide property rights to inventors for their inventions. This is similar to property rights for land, which is a bottom up way to increase the productivity of farming for instance. Just giving pseudo property rights to peasants in the USSR and China caused enormous increases in farm production. Property rights are a bottom up solution, not a top down solution. In fact, the genius of the United States patent system (as opposed to Britain’s) is that it was accessible to all people, including women and slaves that had no property rights under their state laws. This encouraged a torrent of inventive activity in the U.S. that propelled it from a backward farming country to an economic and technological powerhouse in the world in less than 60 years. For more information see the excellent book by B. Zorina Kahn, The Democratization of Invention: Patents and Copyrights in American Economic Development, 1790-1920.
I am convinced that Mr. Ridley’s poor research on patents and intellectual property is due to his infatuation with the open source movement. On page 356 he opines that genetic research will soon go open source. He is so excited about open source that he eventually suggests a Marxist’s open source utopia – “Thanks to the internet, each is giving according to his ability to each according to his needs, to a degree that never happen in Marxism.” P. 356
The open source movement has been a dismal failure. Its biggest success has been to extend UNIX (LINUX) to personal computers, other platforms, and add new features. Open source has mainly extended existing technologies, much like the incremental invention that can be expected from large companies. The open source movement deludes itself into believing they are fighting some sort of David versus Goliath battle against large corporations and the patent system. The reality is that open source developers are giving large corporations, such as IBM, their efforts for free and weakening the bargaining power of technical personnel. The open source movement plays right into the hands of large corporations and other large institutions, by weakening the property rights of developers in their work. It should be no surprise that open source has been an abysmal failure, since this exactly the situation most of the world lived under until 1800. Before modern patent systems, new inventions were rare and the return for the invention was often controlled by a trade guild. The members of the trade guild profited equally, meaning there was little incentive for the inventor to spend time creating. Per capita income of the world before 1800 had been stagnant for millennia. Where modern patent laws were adopted around 1800, incredible increases in per capita income occurred. Mr. Ridley trumpets this progress throughout his book. In areas without patent systems, we see stagnant growth in per capita income. For instance, Japan’s per capita income does not take off until they copy the US patent system in the 1860s.
It is unfortunate that this excellent book is disfigured by the author’s irrational infatuation with the open source movement. This infatuation causes the author to embrace the logical contradiction that increases in population density increase economic growth and also causes the Malthusian trap (decreases in economic growth). It also causes him to reject the solution to the Malthusian trap, which is the recognition of property rights in inventions.
 Ted Buckley, Ph.D., The Myth of the Anticommons, Bio, www.bio.org (2007); Epstien, Richard A., Kuhlik, Bruce N., Is there a Biomedical Anticommons, Regulation, (Summer 2004), pp. 54-58
AIPR has provided an excellent analysis of the numerous problems with the present “Patent Reform” bill. There analysis is reproduced below:
S.515 and HR.1260, the Patent Reform Act: the weak grace period harms startups, small businesses and university spin-offs, and will strangle millions of jobs
The Patent Reform Act weakens the one-year grace period, in way that sharply tips the patent system in favor of large companies and companies with substantial offshore business, and against small companies, startups, university and other research spin-offs, and companies requiring FDA approval, and U.S. employees of international companies. Small companies’ patents will be invalidated. The costs of the patent system for small entities will increase, and venture capital investments in startups will decrease, by about $1 billion per year. Because of multiplier effects, within a few years, the reduction in business formation that starts immediately will, within a few years, destroy about $100 billion per year of economic activity.
Current law gives an inventor one year to communicate outside a single firm, to openly raise capital, to assemble strategic partners, and to field test. Under current law, the grace period allows a year to sort good inventions from bad, before significant resources must be committed to the patent process. The current grace period lets companies gather information for a year so they can make good business, patenting, and investment decisions during the most difficult part of an invention’s lifetime, the early stage transition from the lab to commercialization.
The proposed amendment to the grace period is unworkable and unusable in practice. The bill proposes that all disclosures of the invention within a year before the filing date bar will bar a patent, unless the true inventor can show “the subject matter was obtained directly or indirectly from the inventor.” While this sounds facially reasonable, given the methods of proof available, this grace period is useless as a practical matter, because the bill provides no access to discovery of the facts that inventors will need to prove their cases. Inventors will be forced into premature “use it or lose it” decisions, to file a patent application today or run a high risk of losing the option forever.
Further, the bill is ambiguous. One key term, “disclosure,” is undefined. Because the PTO must interpret statutes as adversely as possible in order to force issues to the Federal Circuit, the PTO will be required to interpret the new law to excuse only printed publications prepared with the care and expense of a full patent application. ALL testing, offers for sale, public demonstrations, etc. will be patentability bars, with NO grace period, until the courts straighten this out. That will take at least seven years. It might be never, if the courts read the new law the way some big companies have advocated.
- The situations that destroy patent rights arise suddenly, with no opportunity for a small company to recover. The bill reflects the way large companies do business, but penalizes small companies:
- The bill sharply favors companies that can do all of their financing, R&D, pre-launch marketing, etc. in house—but creates unacceptable risks for companies that must disclose their inventions or business plans in order to get investors or partners
- Other countries that converted to a patent system like S.515 have lost their startup and small companies – the Patent Office admits it has never considered Canada, which made almost the same change, and had experienced no net benefit, only a shift from small companies to large
- Because patent rights become so fragile, small company inventors must operate as if there were no grace period at all. That raises huge costs:
- Businesses have to conduct their affairs based on the information available today. The bill assumes that businesses have perfect foresight knowledge, and can make good decisions without the information that accumulates over the grace period year of current law.
- Under existing law, patent rights are largely determined by ordinary business activities. A business doesn’t have to spend extra money just to speculatively protect patent rights. Under the new weak grace period law, a business has “use it or lose it,” at great expense and risk of error.
- The statute forces companies to spend money on patent attorneys far earlier, when most startups have the least money available, even on inventions that turn out to be worthless over the year.
- Best estimates from other countries, whose laws are similar to S.515, are that inventors will have to file 100,000 to 200,000 more patent applications per year, a cost of about $ 500 million to $1 billion per year.
- Venture capital investments will fall significantly if small companies are forced to spend money on patent applications for inventions that turn out to be worthless, and that are not filed under current law, but must be filed under S.515’s “forced to file”
- This surge of patent applications will overwhelm the Patent Office, worsening backlog. Many of these applications will go abandoned after the Patent Office bears its highest cost, the cost of examining an application for the first time. The Patent Office’s fee structure is backloaded toward issued patents, so that the Office will receive only 20% or so of its fee income for doing 70% of the work.
- “Harmonization” and international patent protection (the main rationales given by the proponents) are relevant to only a tiny minority of small entities
- Why would we want to “harmonize” toward economies that have less than half the U.S. rates of startup formation and R&D investment?
- Startups succeed or fail depending on their U.S. markets. International patents are irrelevant to most startups.
- The House bill provides that this provision only goes into effect when other major countries change their laws to harmonize toward a middle ground. S.515 removes this quid pro quo. S.515 can’t achieve any benefit if it doesn’t require other countries to move our direction.
Letter of the Small Business Coalition on Patent Legislation to SBA Administrator Karen Mills, (December 15, 2009) at http://www.connect.org/news/pdf/Coalition-Letter-to-SBA-Dec-15-09.pdf, on behalf of National Small Business Ass’n, CONNECT (San Diego small businesses), American Innovators for Patent Reform (coalition of inventors, researchers, engineers, entrepreneurs, etc.), Professional Inventors Alliance (independent inventors), National Ass’n of Patent Practitioners (patent attorneys, a majority of whom represent small businesses), IP Advocate (university faculty inventors)
David Boundy and Matthew Marquardt, Patent Reform’s Weakend Grace Period: Its Effects on Startups, Small Companies, University Spin-Offs, and Medical Innovators, Medical Innovation & Business, Summer 2010, 2:2 pp 27-37, http://journals.lww.com/medinnovbusiness/Fulltext/2010/06010/ Patent_Reform_s_Weakened_Grace_Period__Its_Effects.6.aspx
I believe there is a lot of confusion regarding the difference between invention and innovation. This confusion is the result of erroneous definitions and the purposeful intent of some to increase their importance by belittling the contributions of others.
I believe that most of this mischief started with the great economist Joseph Schumpter. According to Wikipedia:
Following Schumpeter (1934), contributors to the scholarly literature on innovation typically distinguish between invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully in practice
There is nothing inherently wrong with the distinction above, but the way it is applied blurs together a number of different skills. Blurring skills together shows a misunderstanding of the process of innovating. Broadly speaking, innovation can be broken into two distinct sets of skills: creation and dissemination. By creation I mean creating something new, not production – creating something old.
A subset of creation is invention. An invention is a creation with an objective repeatable result. A creation that is not an invention has a subjective result, such as the effect of a painting on a viewer, or the effect of a book on a reader. Many activities combine both a subjective creation and an invention, such as architecture. However, we can separate out the invention from the other creative elements and this helps our understanding of the process.
Dissemination may include a number of processes, such as education (marketing, sales), manufacturing, finance, and management. This is not to say that marketing cannot be creative, it clearly often is very creative. However, the creative part of marketing can be separated out from the dissemination or execution part of marketing. The same is true of manufacturing, which can definitely include inventing. But an invention related to manufacturing is part of the creation step not part of the dissemination step.
Finance can also have inventions. For instance, the invention of a fractional reserve ratio bank is clearly an invention. It has the objective result of securitizing assets and turning them into loans and currency. A fractional reserve bank will securitize land and turn into a loan and currency. Despite this, it is important to understand that the first person to develop the fractional reserve bank is inventing and the person operating the fractional reserve bank is disseminating.
All real per capita economic progress is the result of inventing. This is not to say that it is unnecessary to disseminate inventions, but if there were no new inventions there would not be any economic progress. We would be stuck in static world once all the inventions had been completely disseminated. Of course, if we stop all dissemination activities we will quickly starve to death.
It is my belief that business and economic professors have focused on “innovation” instead of “invention” because they have no idea how to invent or how the process of how inventing works. They concentrate on what they know, i.e. business and economic practices. As a result, the focus is dissemination, under-appreciating the importance of inventing. In addition, it results in misleading business theories, such as:
- Management teams are more important than the quality of the invention.
- Execution is everything; patents and other IP do not matter.
- Get Big Fast.
The truth-test of these theories is directly related to the strength of the patent laws at the time the company is created. When patent laws are weak, these theories are more true and when patent laws are strong, these theories are less true. Unfortunately, when patent laws are weak these theories do not overcome the disincentive to invest in risky new technologies. Management teams do not build revolutionary or disruptive technologies, they just disseminate these technologies. These sorts of teams are like large companies and generally can produce a return with less risk by NOT developing high-risk technologies. They tend to focus on incremental technologies or on stealing someone else’s technology. While this may be good business advice in a period of weak patents, it is bad for our country’s competitiveness and our standard of living.
Technological progress (i.e., inventing), in the long run, is the only competitive business advantage. The best management team in the world selling buggy whips at the turn of the century could not overcome the technological advance of the automobile and stay a buggy whip company. The best management team in the world selling vacuum tubes in the 1940s, could not overcome the advance of transistors and semiconductors and stay a vacuum tube company. This country is littered with companies that had great management teams that were overwhelmed by changes in technology. For instance, Digital Computers had a great management team, but they could not overcome the advance of the personal computer. Digital Computers failed to invent fast enough to overcome the onslaught of small inexpensive computers. US steel was not able to overcome the onslaught of mini-mills, aluminum, and plastics. This was not because they did not have a good management team, it was because the management team under- prioritized invention and over-prioritized execution or dissemination skills. Ford & GM have not become walking zombies because they did not have strong management teams, but because they have not invented. As a result, they have antiquated production systems and weak technology in their products. 86% of the companies in the Fortune 500 in 1959 are no longer there. Some of these companies disappeared because of bad management, but most companies disappeared because they did not keep up with changing technology. In other words, they did not invent.
Inventions or advances in technology are the ONLY WAY to increase real per capita incomes and the only long term business advantage. Business school theories that do not prioritize invention, are bad business and bad for our country.
- The Austrian Business Cycle Debunked
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- Inventing to Nowhere: The Movie
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- USPTO’s Secret Program to Deny Politically Inconvenient Patents
- Yale Law Professor’s Attack on Patents: A Comedy, Farce and Tragedy All Rolled into One
- Competition is for Losers
- Philosophy of Science