State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

Capital in Disequilibrium: The Austrians’ Answer to New Growth Theory

This book, Capital in Disequilibrium: The Role of Capital in a Changing World by Peter Lewen, is supposed to be Austrian Economics’ answer to “new growth theory”, which recognizes that new human knowledge is the most important component to economic growth.  As opposed to the “old” ideas on growth which claimed economic growth was the result of increases in land, labor, or capital.  Old school growth theories focus primarily on increases in capital.  Perhaps the two biggest figures in new growth theory are Robert Solow and Paul Romer.  Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize in economics for his econometric study showing that technological change was the key driver in the US economy.  Sadly he then said technological change was not part of the study of economics, it was like background radiation and beyond our control.  Paul Romer takes over from Solow by making technological change part of the study and policy recommendation of economics.

humeThis book suffers from many of the same problems other economists who have explored new growth theory have had.  They attempt to graft the findings of new growth theory onto their preconceived ideas about economics.  For example, Robert Solow is a Keynesian so he has attempted to just tweak Keynesian ideas to fit this new information, instead of understanding that this new information required a whole new look at and approach to economics.  Paul Romer is what I would call a “mathematical Keynesian” and is also trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

This book attempts to take the finding s of new growth theory and meld them into Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT).[1]  ABCT claims that economic growth is the result of increases in capital/savings.  There is no evidence that increases in savings or capital in anyway result in economic growth and plenty of evidence to the contrary.[2]  Pasting some of the ideas of new growth theory onto ABCT neither solves the problems with ABCT nor adds anything to new growth theory.

The author’s ideas on scientific and technical knowledge come from Karl Popper, who has argued that knowledge is impossible.  This is not surprising as it is consistent with Hayek’s ideas of cultural evolution, which argues that reason is limited and it is conceit to suggest that anyone can use reason to determine a correct societal structure.  Both Hayek and the author are fans of David Hume (See Lewin’s youtube “Peter Lewin on Austrian Capital Theory – Part 1”).  David Hume you will remember said causality was an illusion and brought us the “is ought” problem in ethics.  In other words, Hume attacked the very basis of reason, logic, and ethics.  Hume is part of the Scottish Enlightenment, which elevated emotions above reason.  The Scottish Enlightenment underpins all of Austrian Economics.  The other philosophical tradition behind the Austrians is philosopher Franz Brentano who raised the psychology of the person to a primary.

It is not surprising then that the author concludes “The superior performance of capitalist economies cannot be logically ‘proved.’”  Under the author’s ‘implications for policy’ section we get this,

“It involves not only, or primarily, the addition of existing capital equipment but rather the introduction of progressively more technically advance equipment, the production of which is made possible by an institutional environment in which the discovery of such technical advances is encouraged.”

Interestingly enough the author never explains what encourages technological advances and he never even mentions property rights for inventions, i.e., patents.  Even Solow and Romer realize that they cannot ignore patents, however contrived their arguments are for dismissing them.

One of the reasons the author ignores patents is that he emphasizes what he calls “tacit knowledge.”  Tacit knowledge is something we know but cannot prove or of which we are not conscious.  This is perfectly consistent with the Austrian ideas that reason is limited or ineffectual.  As a result, he talks a lot about innovation and never mentions inventors.  He talks about organizations, but never individuals.  He talks a lot about production and ignores invention.  Austrians like to scream they are capitalist or free market, but they are certainly not pro-individualistic.  This is not surprising as this would require a commitment to the power of the individual mind to understand the world.  The author further reveals his collectivist ideas when emphasizes that the knowledge that is important to the economy is “social knowledge.”  The Austrians are collectivists.  They believe central planning interrupts the functioning of the process of gaining “social knowledge.”

This book does not contribute anything to new growth theory.  The only reason to read this book is to better understand the underlying principles of Austrian Economics, which are not pro-reason, pro-individual, or pro-capitalism (The economic system that occurs when the government protects individual rights.)

[1] A Graphical Introduction to the Austrian Business Cycle Theory, Gaurav Mehra,, accessed 9/8/15

[2] [This] technique has been applied to virtually every economy in the world and a common finding is that observed levels of economic growth cannot be explained simply by changes in the stock of capital in the economy or population and labor force growth rates. Hence, technological progress plays a key role in the economic growth of nations, or the lack of it.


September 9, 2015 Posted by | -Economics, Innovation, philosophy | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Intellectual Property, Innovation and Economic Growth

This article, Intellectual Property, Innovation and Economic Growth: Mercatus Gets it Wrong, by Mark Schultz & Adam Mossoff is a follow up to their other article Intellectual property and economic prosperity: Friends or foes?  This article is more hard hitting and the ask the questions of who has the burden of proof on whether patents promote economic growth?  Anti-patent proponents consistently fail to provide any empirical data to support their positions, although they are great at coming up with anecdotal stories.  Despite this they assume that the burden of proof is on people who support property rights in inventions.


The reason anti-patent advocates don’t think they have the burden of proof is that they have been taught the economic concept call pure and perfect competition as the goal of capitalism.  Some of these people even think that perfect competition is the definition of capitalism.  Perfect competition is inconsistent with the condition necessary for real per capita economic growth, is inconsistent with all property rights, has nothing to do with capitalism, is anti-mind, anti-invention, anti-patent.




August 29, 2014 Posted by | News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Libertarian Argument Against Patents Bites the Dust

Libertarians and Austrians, including such organizations as the CATO Institute, Von Mises, and the Wall Street Journal, have put forth a number of arguments against patents and intellectual property.  These arguments include that ideas (an invention is not just an idea, but I will let that go) are not scarce and therefore patents are not real property rights, patents are monopolies, patents inhibit the growth of technology, patents require the use of force to enforce one’s rights, patents are not natural rights and were not recognized as so by Locke and the founders, among other arguments.  I have discussed most of these arguments earlier and will put the links in below.  One of their favorite fall back arguments is that patents limit what I can do with my property.  For instance, a patent for an airplane (Wright brothers) keeps me from using my own wood, mechanical linkages, engine, cloth, etc. and building an airplane with ailerons (and wing warping).  This according to the libertarian argument is obviously absurd.  After all it is my property.  Here is an article Scarcity, Monopoly, and Intellectual Property on the Von Mises website where you can see almost every variation on the arguments mention above either in the article itself or in the comments.

Can I do whatever I want to with my property, or are there restrictions?  Well when I buy a book, a movie, or a song, it does not give me the right to make unlimited copies of them.  I have a property right in the physical book, but not the rights (copyrights) to make copies.  Of course, many Libertarians think copyrights are absurd also, so let’s look at another example.  Let’s assume you own your house and land outright.  Does that give you the right to do whatever you want to with you land?  Most likely, your land has easements for utility lines, such as water, gas, sewer, electricity.  You are not allowed to do anything that interferes with those easements.  You might object that I don’t own the easement, so this is a bad example.  So let’s say you own a bulldozer, does that give you the right to bulldoze my apple orchard and build a house there?  It is your property after all and according to the libertarian argument you are allowed to do whatever you want to with your property.  You might object, that of course the libertarians did not mean that you could take advantage of my property to build on.  Of course that begs the question, what is property?  If a patent and copyright are property rights, then this is exactly the same situation.  Another example where you are prohibited from doing something with your property, is in the case of water drainage.  In particularly wet areas of the US you are prohibited from moving the earth on your land so water drains onto your neighbors property more freely – and no this is not an EPA rule, this is common law property rights.  In parts of the country where water is scarce you are prohibited from damming up water on your land.  If you buy land in a residential neighborhood you are prohibited from setting up a pig farm.  Just because I own a gun, doesn’t give me the right to go around shooting people.  The libertarian argument that patents are not real property rights because they prevent others from doing something with their property fails even the most cursory review.

One of the common themes that runs throughout all Libertarian arguments against patents is that Libertarians’ do not seem to know what property rights are, or how they arise.  Here is a post on point, Property Right, Possession, and Objects; this post not only explains the proper basis of property rights, but why the Libertarian point that property requires possession is a fallacy.  Libertarians have failed to provide a clear definition of what property rights are and how they arise.  In fact, most anti-patent libertarians believe property rights are a useful social convention for distributing scarce resources.  This is interesting, because they can become so adamant about what is their property.  But nothing in this concept of property has anything to do with RIGHTS.  If another, better system comes along for distributing scarce resources, then your property is gone.

Property rights do not give the owner the right to do whatever they want with their property.  The source of property rights is creation, not the idea that it is a socially useful convention.  Patents recognize the metaphysical fact that the inventor is the creator of his invention and are completely consistent with other property rights in prohibiting an owner of other property from using it to build his invention.



Below is a list of other Libertarian arguments against patents and why they fail.


Inventions are not scarce:

Scarcity – Does it Prove Intellectual Property is Unjustified? 


Patents are monopolies

Patents: Monopoly or Property Right a Testable Hypothesis 

If patents are a monopoly, as some suggest, then it should led to certain outcomes.  A close examination shows that none of the supposed monopoly effects result from granting patents.


Monopoly/Rent Seeking vs. Property Rights/Intellectual Property

This post explains the characteristics of a monopoly and a property right and poses three questions to show the difference.  Patents fit all the characteristics of a property right and none of a monopoly.  Note that professional license, such as a law license has some of the characteristics of a monopoly.


More on the Myth that Patents are Monopolies 

This post contains a number of quotes from philosophers explaining that patents are not monopolies.


The Myth That Patents are a Monopoly 

This post compares the definition of a monopoly to the rights obtained with a patent.  It shows that the rights obtained with a patent do not confer a monopoly.


Patents are Natural Rights 

This post traces the ideas of Locke and William Blackstone to show patents and copyrights are natural rights.


Patents inhibit the growth of technology:

Source of economic growth

This post shows that those countries with the strongest patent systems are the technological leaders of the world Patents: Monopoly or Property Right a Testable Hypothesis


Patents require the use of force

This is one of the more absurd arguments by libertarians.  All property rights are enforced by the government’s use of force.  If someone trespasses on your land or steals your car, the government threatens or uses force to get it back.  The same is true for patent, which are property rights in inventions.


April 20, 2014 Posted by | -Philosophy, Patents | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Patents: Property Rights or Regulation

There appears to be a lot of confusion on whether patents and patent laws are property rights and property laws or regulations.  For instance, Steve Forbes in an article entitled, America’s patent system is all wrong for today’s high-tech world  starts that article by complaining that the Obama Administration is always looking for a way to “regulate and interfere in the free market.”  Mr. Forbes goes on to complain about Non-Practicing Entities (NPEs) asserting patent rights and ends the article by complaining that “don’t we have enough regulatory hurdles to jump in the first place?”  I have seen this same theme that patents (all IP) are regulations in a number of blogs.  These people do not seem to understand property rights.  Part of the confusion may be that we do not have clear definitions of what property rights are and what regulations are.  For instance, I looked up a number of definitions of property rights and the definition from Black’s Law Dictionary is representative.



The ownership of a thing is the right of one or more persons to possess and use it to the exclusion of others.


This definition is incomplete at best.  For instance, is a taxi medallion a property right?  Is a license to a part of the electromagnetic spectrum from the FCC a property right?  Is a government monopoly to provide electrical power within a certain geographic region a property right?  All of these are exclusive legal rights.

Personally, I would consider a taxi medallion or a FCC license a regulation.  So I looked up a number of definitions of regulation, and the one below from Free Online Dictionary is representative.

1. The act of regulating or the state of being regulated.

2. A principle, rule, or law designed to control or govern conduct.

This definition is so broad as to encompass any law.  For instance, is the right to free speech a regulation?  Is the right to your house a regulation?  Are the laws against murder a regulation? Is the Homestead Act a regulation?  All of these control or govern conduct.  When we are talking about regulations most people mean something like building codes or OHSA rules or the FTCs requirement that all bicycles are required to have retroreflectors on the pedals.  We generally do not think of the laws against murder, burglary, or even the rules on recording title to land and houses as regulations.  But if you look at these two definitions, property rights and property laws are a subset of regulations.  This is clearly nonsense.

Most histories of the modern regulatory state in the US place its origin around 1900 and refer to agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission (whose original function was to regulate railroads), the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, etc.  This provides a clue to the correct definition of regulation and shows that we do not mean common law property rules or common law crimes when we are speaking of regulation.

According to Steve Forbes and most people when we think of a regulations we think laws and rules that interfere with the free market.  Unfortunately, people use very loose definitions of ‘free market’.  For instance, some people think a free market is one that has “perfect competition”, which suggests that anti-trust laws are part of the free market as might be the FTC.  A better starting place to find out what is a regulation and what is a property right is the logical foundation on which this country was created – Natural Rights.  Natural Rights define property rights based on the idea that if you own yourself you own the product of your labor.  Thus you own land because you spent the effort to improve it, e.g., the Homestead Act.  (Today most of us trade our labor for currency that we then use to purchase ownership in our house or land based on our Natural Right to contract.  But the principle still applies.)  Inventions are the creation of the inventor and therefore the inventor has a property right in their creation.  I have created a three part test to determine whether something is 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?


If the answer is yes to all three questions, it is a property right.  A patent fits all three as does ownership in land.  Note that taxi medallions, electrical power monopolies, and FCC licenses all have at least one no to the above definition.  Thus a regulation is something that interferes with a person’s property rights, such as EPA wetland rules or the right to use your property to start a business.  Other regulations, such as minimum wage laws interfere with a person’s right to contract.

A regulation is a government rule that interferes with a person’s Natural Right to property or right to contract. 

Patents and NPEs do not fit that definitionThis definition clearly defines that property rights are not regulations and limits regulations to true meddling in ‘free markets’.


July 23, 2013 Posted by | -Philosophy, Patents | , , , , | 18 Comments

Patents: Monopoly or Property Right a Testable Hypothesis

It is common for people and economists to state that patents are a monopoly.  Because patents are a monopoly, it is argued that they negatively affect the pace of innovation and slow down the diffusion of inventions.  The only redeeming feature of patents they concede is that if provides a profit incentive to invent, but then it inhibits follow on inventions and the dissemination of knowledge.  If this thesis is correct, it should be testable.  Let’s test this hypothesis.


1) Countries with strong patent systems should innovate less than countries with weak patent systems.

2) Countries with strong patent systems should have slower dissemination of new technologies than those countries with weak patent system.


1) Countries with the strongest patent systems should innovate more than countries with weak patent systems.

2) Countries with strong patent systems should have faster dissemination of new technologies than those countries with weak patent system.

Let’s take a look at the facts, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO),  the top ten most innovation countries and the bottom 10 countries for 2012 are:

Top 10

1. Switzerland

2. Sweden

3. Singapore

4. Finland

5. United Kingdom

6. Netherlands

7. Denmark

8. Hong Kong (China)

9. Ireland

10. United States of America


Bottom 10

132. Syrian Arab Republic

133. Pakistan

134. Cote d’Ivoire

135. Angola

136. Togo

137. Burundi

138. Lao PDR

139. Yemen

140. Niger

141. Sudan


In a report from National University of Singapore they show a chart of the Fraser index vs. Ginarte-Park index.  The Fraser Index is a ranking of economic freedom and the Ginart-Park index is a ranking of patent strength.  The chart shows an almost perfect correlation between the two.  For those of you who are not familiar with economic freedom indices, there are several and they all show that economic freedom correlates positively with economic growth, wealth, education access, health, longevity, the environment, civil rights, etc.

They also had a couple of charts for the countries with the strongest patent systems for four different years and those with the weakest patent systems.  I do not know all the countries that were included in this survey.

Top countries

1980 1985 1990 1995
U.S.A. 39.30 U.S.A. 39.06 U.S.A. 39.06 U.S.A. 42.75
Netherlands 28.20 Belgium 32.23 Belgium 36.22 Netherlands 41.36
Switzerland 28.12 Netherlands 31.47 Netherlands 35.22 Denmark 41.26
Germany 28.01 Switzerland 30.55 U.K. 33.57 Finland 41.01
Japan 27.14 Germany 28.73 Germany 33.14 U.K. 40.15


Bottom countries

1980 1985 1990 1995
Nicaragua 2.38 Nicaragua 2.38 Guyana 3.17 Niger 5.38
Peru 2.22 Bolivia 2.30 Pakistan 3.17 Guatemala 5.10
Guatemala 1.90 Guyana 1.69 Jordan 2.95 Nicaragua 5.00
Guyana 1.78 Guatemala 1.50 Guatemala 2.15 Rwanda 4.64
Jordan 1.72 Peru 1.31 Peru 1.73 Zaire 3.51


If we examine the first postulate, does it appear the most innovative countries have the strongest patent systems or the weakest patent system?  Which countries do you think have the strongest patent systems – the USA, Singapore, Switzerland or Niger, Pakistan, Sudan?  It is clear that the most innovative countries according to the WIPO survey have the strongest patent systems.  If we look at the charts from the National University of Singapore (NUS) we see those countries with the strongest patent systems are clearly the most innovative.  Although the WIPO data and the NUS data are from different time frames we see some overlap between those countries with the strongest patent systems (NUS) and the most innovative (WIPO) and the same is true for the weakest and least innovative.

If we examining the second postulate, does it appear that the countries with the most technology diffusion have the strongest patent systems or the weakest patent system?  Which countries do you think have the most technology diffusion – the USA, Singapore, Switzerland or Niger, Pakistan, Sudan?  It is clear that those countries with the strongest patents have the most technology diffusion.

The macroeconomic evidence does not support the thesis that patents are a monopoly.  The data shows the exact opposite of what this theory predicts.


The empirical evidence is overwhelming that patents are a PROPERTY RIGHT not a MONOPOLY.


I have written extensively on whether the defining characteristics of a patent are consistent with the definition of a monopoly or the definition of property rights.  For instance see:

Monopoly/Rent Seeking vs. Property Rights/Intellectual Property.

This post explains the characteristics of a monopoly and a property right and poses three questions to show the difference.  Patents fit all the characteristics of a property right and none of a monopoly.  Note that professional license, such as a law license has some of the characteristics of a monopoly.

More on the Myth that Patents are Monopolies.

This post contains a number of quotes from philosophers explaining that patents are not monopolies.

 Property Rights, Possession and Objects

This post explains the difference in the concepts of property rights, possession, and objects.  Most economists and patent detractors confuse these concepts.  The origin, definition, and legal basis of property right are explained.

 The Myth That Patents are a Monopoly

This post compares the definition of a monopoly to the rights obtained with a patent.  It shows that the rights obtained with a patent do not confer a monopoly.


The only way to suggest that patents are a monopoly is define “market power” so broadly that any property rights confer market power.  I admit that I reject this argument.  A property right is not a monopoly and this is an attempt by people with a political agenda to attack the concept of property rights.

PATENTS are PROPERTY RIGHTS under the law, by definition, and according to all statistically significant macro-economic evidence.  People who suggest otherwise are pushing a political agenda or do not understand the definition of the words monopoly and property rights.


October 8, 2012 Posted by | -Economics, -Law, -Philosophy, Innovation, Patents | , , , , | 11 Comments

Paul Ryan: Good or Bad for Patents, Tech Startups and the Economy

Congressman Paul Ryan has been selected as the vice presidential running mate of Mitt Romney.  Many in the Republican Party have hailed him as true advocate of free market principles.  Unfortunately, his voting record is much more conventional than we have been led to believe.

Congressman Ryan voted for the America Invents Act (AIA).  This Act was laden with crony capitalist gifts for Wall Street, Big Pharma, and large corporations at the expense of startups and individual inventors.  The Act was widely criticized as being unconstitutional.  This was more than enough reason to vote against the AIA, but Paul Ryan led the charge to gut the only redeeming feature of the Act – namely ending fee diversion.  When I called Congressman Ryan’s office to ask why they were doing this, they responded that it was important to balancing the budget.  REALLY, in a $3 trillion federal budget the $100M or so you are stealing from inventors is going to make the difference?  This is less than 0.1% of the federal budget.  This is less than we give to Egypt or the UN or any number of other extra-Constitutional spending.

I pointed out that the PTO was a self funded agency, meaning no tax dollars are used to fund its operation.  Diverting the money of inventors and using it for another purpose is conversion (stealing).  Their response was how is this any different than putting the fee you pay to enter a National Park going into the general treasury?  There are a number of differences.  First, when I pay a fee to enter a National Park, I immediately get the service I paid for.  In the case of patents, inventors have to routinely wait from three to ten years to get the service they paid for.   Second, National Parks were created with federal funds, but inventions are created with private funds.  Even the Patent Office was created with private funds, since it is a self funded agency and always has been.  If a private company or an attorney did what the federal government does with patent fees it would charged with fraud and conversion.  This attitude that the federal government is above the law is exactly what is wrong with our country Mr. Ryan.

Ryan is bad for patents

Congressman Ryan voted for Sarbanes Oxley.  SOX has made it impossible for startups to go public, which has made it very difficult for startups to raise money.  Historically, most of the growth and job creation of startups occurs after they go public.  The Kaufman Foundation has shown that all net new jobs since 1972 have been created by startups.  To the best of my knowledge, Congressman Ryan has not said he is in favor of repealing SOX.  This means he is bad for technology startups and bad for job creation.

Ryan is bad for startup funding

Paul Ryan is widely praised for coming up with a plan to reduce our budget deficit.  Since government spending crowds out money that could be used to fund startups, this is good.  As part of this proposal he has a plan to rein in entitlements, such as medicare, medicaid and social security.  In spite of this, Congressman Ryan voted for medicare part D.  The question is which Paul Ryan will show up if he becomes VP.

Ryan also voted for TARP, for the bailout of GM and Chrysler, for the economic stimulus of 2008 and 2009, and for extending unemployment benefits to 59 weeks.

Ryan deserves credit for advancing a fairly realistic plan to reduce the budget deficit, but even this plan does too little to cut the deficit.  It’s goal is to reduce federal spending to 20% of GDP in about four years.  It is unlikely that we have four years before we are hit with massive inflation, which will more than double our interest payments on our debt and break our budget.  In addition, his voting record shows that he is unlikely to have the backbone to follow through with even this weak proposal.

Ryan is not a fiscal Conservative

Ryan has put forth a moderate plan to rationalize our tax system.  It does not go far enough, but it is his most pro-growth proposal.

The Problem with Supply Side Proponents

Supply side proponents (SSP) such as Larry Kudlow are ecstatic with the choice of Paul Ryan.  The problem with SSPs is that they do not understand that the only way to continually increase real per capita income is to continually increase our level of technology.  This means we need to eliminate the barriers to the capital markets for technology startups.  This means we need a well functioning system of property rights for inventions.  It also means we need to reduce the tax burden on startups, reduce their regulatory burden, legal risks, and accounting rules biased against them.  But Paul Ryan does not seem to understand this and neither do most supply siders.  As a result, it is unlikely that Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney will be able to put  the US on a sustainable path to growth.

Paul Ryan will be better than Obama or Biden

Unfortunately, this is damning him with faint praise.  Don’t be surprised if Paul Ryan turns into a Bush disappointment instead of a Ronald Reagan.   (Note I hope I am wrong and have to eat my words)

August 15, 2012 Posted by | -Economics, Innovation, News, Patents | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mark Cuban’s a Mythical Patent Creature

Mark Cuban has been famous for criticizing intellectual property and particularly patents.  According to IPBiz he stated on his blog that,

 Pick any country that is currently doing well, China is a perfect example. In China the Intellectual Property Laws are so weak that someone thought it was a good idea to completely replicate Apple retail stores. Compare their economy to ours. As much as I hate to compare other economies to ours, it’s worth taking a look .

 He has also criticized companies that enforce their patent rights.  But now Cuban has bought into a company, Vringo, that acquired Lycos’ patent portfolio and is now enforcing those patents, according to an excellent post on GametimeIP.  Vringo could be described as a Mythical Patent Creature (I stole this line from Patrick at Gametime IP).

This is not the full extent of Mr. Cuban’s hypocrisy.  I am sure that he has made a fortune on the IP rights he has in the Mavericks (Just think of the money we could make by rebroadcasting Mavericks games, if we didn’t have to pay for Cuban’s IP).  In addition, his argument that the countries that are doing well have weak IP rights is clearly nonsense.  Is North Korea doing well?  The start of China’s economic growth corresponds to their recognition of property rights including IP rights.  They didn’t have any IP rights during “The Great Leap Forward” when millions of people starved to death.  The current economic downturn in the US is not because our patent rights are too strong, but because they are too weak.  Patents are property rights and when patents are under attack you can bet that all property rights are under attack.  Clearly, the communist we have in the White House is not interested in strong property rights, but in fairness the Bush Administration was only ambivalent about property rights.

April 17, 2012 Posted by | -Economics, Patents | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

February 3, 2012 Posted by | -Economics, -Philosophy, Patents | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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