State of Innovation

Patents and Innovation Economics

Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) on Patents/Inventions

There has been a lot of confusion about Ayn Rand’s position on patents and intellectual property among her fans.  I have written about this before in Ayn Rand on Intellectual Property.  However, I thought it might be interesting to catalog every case where patents and inventions are mentioned in Atlas Shrugged for people researching this issue and to further illuminate Rand’s position on patents.  The references are to the Kindle edition of Atlas Shrugged, which unfortunately has a large number of typos.

There are three main inventions in Atlas Shrugged, Rearden metal, the static electric motor, and the sonic destruction ray (aka Project X).  The story is intimately woven around these three inventions.

Below are the quotes (bolded) and context where necessary with my commentary.

1) Location 5796-5802  “…’he didn’t invent smelting and chemistry and air compression.  He couldn’t have invented HIS metal but for thousands and thousands of other people. HIS Metal! Why does he think it’s his? Why does he think it’s his invention?  Everybody uses the work of everybody else.  Nobody ever invents anything.’ (Jim Taggart) She (Jim Taggart’s Wife) said, puzzled, ‘But the iron ore and all those other things were there all the time.  Why didn’t anybody else make that Metal, but Mr. Rearden did?’”

Rand anticipates Open Source socialists.  This idea that no one invents anything is the standard argument of collectivists, but it does not stand up to scrutiny.  Why has inventing been concentrated in the last two centuries in relatively small populations of the U.S. and western countries?

2) James Taggart angry about Rearden’s success

location 5832-      “‘…And Dr. Pritchett, the old fool, is going around saying that he knows Rearden didn’t invent that Metal- because he was told, by an unnamed reliable source, that Rearden stole the formula from a penniless inventor whom he murdered!”

This anticipates the defense of every infringer.

3) location 5808-5810 “I’m not sure it was so great-inventing this new Metal, when so many nations are in  need of plain iron-why do you know the People’s State of China hasn’t even got enough nails to put wooden roofs over peoples’ heads?”

Fast track for green tech at the PTO – Why, except for politics, are so-called green tech inventions more important than other inventions?

4) location 5812-5822     “No sensitive person these days-when there’s so much suffering around us- would devote 10 years of his life to splashing about with a lot of trick metals.  You think it’s great?  Well, it’s not any kind of superior ability, but just a hide that you couldn’t pierce if you poured a ton of his own steel over his head!  There are many people of much greater ability in the world, but you don’t read about them in headlines and you don’t run to gape at them at grade crossings-because they can’t invent non-collapsible bridges at a time when the suffering of mankind weighs on their spirit!”

5)  location 5827 “The country gave Rearden that Metal, now we expect him to give the country something in return.”

Dr. Ferris, State Science Institute response on the Bill Directive 10-289

6) location7042-7046 ” ‘Did you hire any research men of your own?’ ‘ Yes, yes, some- but let me tell you, I didn’t have much money to spend on such things as laboratories, when I never had enough funds to give me a breathing spell.  I couldn’t even pay the bills I owed for the absolutely essential modernizing and redecorating which I had to do- that factory was disgracefully old-fashioned from the standpoint of human efficiency…'”

Lee Hunsaker, owner of 20th Century Motor Co. after a lawsuit forced Midas Mulligan to sell, and then Mulligan Galted

Our accounting rules don’t value inventions.  No accounting system shows any return for an invention.  I and other have written about how our accounting rules inhibits investment in the inventing process.  See Accounting Inhibits R&D

7) location 7111 “Our aim was not to produce gadgets, but to do good.”

Sounds like President Obama or President Bush’s 1000 points of light.

8)  location 7126 ” Don’t you know any words but ‘engineer’?”

Ivy Starnes, sister of Gerald Starnes, last owners of 20th Century Motors, on their “great plan” to change the factory that caused its failure and response to Dagny’s urgency for the names of the engineers working on the revolutionary motor

Do we value our engineers? Sales people and marketing managers are compensated more than corporate inventors/engineers.  Perhaps this is related to our dysfunctional accounting systems.

9)  location 7300-7302 “‘The secret you are trying to solve involves something greater-much greater-than the invention of a motor run by atmospheric electricity.  There is only one helpful suggestion that I can give you: By the essence and nature of existence, contradictions cannot exist.'”

Dr. Akston, professor of philosophy, speaking to Dagny about why people have Galted

10) location 196 “Anyway, this should be my lead for the character of John Galt.  He, too, is a combination of an abstract philosopher and a practical inventor; the thinker and the man of action together…”

Ayn Rand, forward to Atlas Shrugged

Iillustrating the fallacy of the “tinker-er, mad professor/inventor”

11) Location 152-154 “ [ Galt represents]…For Dagny, the ideal. The answer to her two quests: the man of genius…is expressed in the search for the inventor of the engine.”

Forward to Atlas Shrugged

12) Location 3758- 3763   “He [Rearden] had devised a new type of truss. It had never been made before and could not be made except with members that had the strength and lightness of Rearden Metal.  ‘Hank,’ she [Dagny] asked, ‘did you invent this in two days?’  ‘Hell, no. I “invented” it long before I had Rearden Metal.  I figured it out while making steel for bridges.  I wanted a metal with which one would be able to do this, among other things.’”

Dagny asking Hank about the invention of his new bridge truss

An illustration of advanced inventing: what could I do if…  I have written on this process before, see How to Build a Patent Portfolio that Dominates Your Market Place

Evolutionary vs. revolutionary technologies: how one invention opens up myriad new inventions. This passage illustrates that each invention can open up the possibility of more inventions and there is no finite number of inventions to be created.

13) Location 6377   Hank and Dagny find motor

14) Location 7777-7780  “’ A man with the genius of a great scientist, who chose to be a commercial inventor?  I find it outrageous.  He wanted a motor, and he quietly performed a major revolution in the science of energy, just as a means to an end, and he didn’t bother to publish his findings, but went right on making his motor.  He did he want to waste his mind on practical appliances?’ ‘Perhaps because he liked living on this earth,’ she [Dagny] said involuntarily.”

Dr. Stadler speaking with Dagny

France vs England at the beginning of Industrial Rev.  France was just as advanced in science, if not more so, however, their scientists didn’t work on practical applications or with practical inventors.  Only those admitted to the French Academy of Sciences were considered worthy – there was a stiff hierarchy.  In England, practical inventors interfaced with the scientific community aided by a patent law that did not care (as much) if the inventor came from the Academic Community.  For more information see The Most Powerful Idea in the World

15) Location 8968-8972 “Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it?  Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of fools?…Money rests on the axiom that every man is the owner of his mind and his effort…”

Francisco d’Anconia response to Money is the root of all evil

Anticipating the absurd arguments of Von Mises economists who want to use the inventions without paying the creator

Man’s mind is the key factor in production for humankind

15) Location11722- 11724     “Point Three.  All patents and copyrights pertaining to any devices, inventions, formulas, processes and works of any nature whatsoever, shall be turned over to the nation as a patriotic emergency gift by means of gift certificates to be signed voluntarily by the owners of such patents…the Unification Board shall then license the use of such patents and copyrights to all applicants, equally and without discrimination, for the purpose of eliminating monopolistic practices…”

Directive 10-289

Rand anticipated the nonsense of considering patents a monopoly.

This anticipates the actions of the Bush administration’s response to the anthrax scare: threatening a drug company to lower their prices on the antidote, or they would compulsory allow other companies to manufacture

It also anticipates Obama proposal to reduce the length of pharma’s patents to 7 years

And anticipates Liberals demanding that the drug companies reduce their costs for elderly, poor, and 3rd world.  Most countries already have made use of these compulsory measures, which leads to higher costs in the US where the inventions originate.

This illustrates people’s lack of understanding about the importance of property rights

16) location 11729  “Point Four. No new devices, inventions, products, or goods of any nature whatsoever, not now on the market, shall be produced, invented, manufactured or sold after the date of this directive.   The Office of Patents and Copyrights is hereby suspended.”

Sounds like the failure to fully fund the PTO and

Dudas’ irrational rationing of issuances of new patents

17) Location 11765  “A man’s brain is a social product.  A sum of the influences that he’s picked up from those around him.  Nobody invents anything, he merely reflects what’s floating in the social atmosphere…”

Dr. Ferris’s view there is no such thing as genius

Of course this begs the question, why are the majority of inventors in this world concentrated in so few countries?

18) Location 11817  “ We won’t have to worry about new inventions upsetting the market”

Explains why large multi-nationals want to pass the America invents act- to stifle disruptive competition

19) 11839  “There’s been enough invented already-enough for everyone’s comfort-why should they be allowed to go on inventing?”

You are either moving forward or moving backwards.  You cannot remain static. The reason why is in post Sustainability isn’t Sustainable

20) location13028   “…the boy had cared for nothing but his studies, not for sports or parties or girls, only for the vision of the things he was going to create as an inventor.”

Young genius commits suicide on eve of passage of Directive 10-289

21) Loc 11880  “…Taking over the patents is fine.  Nobody’s going to defend industrialists.  But I’m worried about taking over the copyrights. That’s going to antagonize the intellectuals.  It’s dangerous.  It’s a spiritual issue…”

Lawson responding to Mouch on impact of Directive

See the Copyright Term extension Act vs. America Invents Act- We are constantly weakening patent rights on one hand and strengthening copyrights.

This anticipates that Congress is always concerned about artists but could care less about inventors

22)  loc 15001”… Dwight Sanders? Where was the inventor of her motor?”

23) loc 15237   “…in whose arms? ‘ why the inventor of the motor.’ She gasped, closing her eyes; this was one connection she knew she should have made.”

24) Loc 15318 “The young inventor of the 20th century motor company is the one real version of the legend, isn’t it?”

Dagny on crashing into Galt Gulch


25) Loc 15587 “…I ask less of the men to whom I trade it for the things I need.  I add an extra span of time to their lives with every gallon of my oil that they burn.  And since they’re men like me, they keep inventing faster ways ways to make the things they make- so every one of them grants me an added minute, hour, or day with the bread I buy from them, with the clothes, the lumber, the metal…”


Wyatt on living in the Galt Gulch

This is a response to the whining about paying inventors or their patents stifling competition is nonsense, unless you want something for nothing

26) Loc 15777  “she was looking at the inventor of the motor, but what she saw was the easy, casual figure of a workman in his natural setting and function…”


Dagny observing Galt at work in the Gulch


27) Loc15989 “…no more than we consume for our immediate needs-with not a penny nor an inventive thought left over to harm the world.  It is evil to succeed, since success is made by the strong at the expense of the weak?”


Galt explaining to Dagny why they are on strike


28) Loc 16896 “that sacred fire which is said to burn within musicians and poets-what do they suppose moves an industrialist to defy the whole world for the sake of his new metal, the inventors of the airplane, the builders of railroads, the discoverers of new germs or new continents have done through all the ages?”

This demonstrates the absurd argument that artists are creative but inventors and scientists aren’t creative


29) Loc 17033  “…john intended to be an inventor, which meant that he was to be a physicist…”


Dr. Akston on the three brilliant students


30) Loc 17709  “…fraudulently solemn voice magnified by the microphone inventor’s ingenuity into the sound and power of a giant…”

Mouch getting ready to announce Directive 10-289.


31) Loc17745  “…Project X would not have been possible, this great invention will henceforth be known as the Thompson Harmonizer!”


32) Loc 17785  “..who invented that ghastly thing?”

Dr. Stadler talking to Dr. Ferris about the Thompson Harmonizer (Sonic Destruction Ray aka Project X)

33) Loc 17791  “’ what is the practical purpose of this invention?  What are the ‘epoch-making possibilities’?  ‘Oh, but don’t you see?  It is an invaluable instrument of public security.  No enemy would attack the possessor of such a weapon.”


Stadler asking Ferris about Project X, realizing it was his research that led to the invention


34) Loc17819   “…voice galloping across the continent with a description of the new invention…”


Dr. Ferris on Project X


35) Loc 17828 “This great invention was the product of the genius of a man whose devotion to the cause of humanity is not to be questioned…”


Wesley Mouch discussing Project X.


36 Loc 17836 “…the new invention was an instrument of social welfare, which guaranteed general prosperity… this invention, the product of dr. Robert Stadler…”


Announcer to the world on project x


37) Loc 17852 “…if people should misunderstand the nature of the new invention, they’re liable to vent their rage on all scientists.  Scientists have never been popular with the masses.”


Dr. Ferris talking about Project X


38) Loc 17853 “…this invention is a great, new instrument of peace…”

More on Project X


39) Loc 17875  “ Dr. Stadler could not believe it at first-that the new invention was to be greeted with particular gratitude by the mothers of the country.”


More on Project X


40) Loc 17956   “…fraudulent voices talking about some sort of new invention that was to bring some undefined benefits to some undefined public’s welfare.”


Dagny overhearing the broadcast


41) Loc 18603 “…he is the man who invented the motor we found…”


Dagny telling Hank that John Galt exists


42) Loc 19113 “wondering whether some invention of his own, some device of rays and lenses, permitted him to observe her every movement…”

Dagny wondering how Galt has followed her progress the past 10 years


43) Loc 19403 “They were both performing an expected routine, a routine invented by someone and imposed upon them, performing it in mockery, in hatred, in defiling parody on its inventors.”


Taggert with Lillian Rearden


44) Loc 20698 “…while you were combing the country for the inventor of my motor…”


Galt explaining to Dagny that he was working as a lineman for Taggert Transcontinental all this time


45) Loc 21962 “that the alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind-that the acceptance of a mystical invention is a wish for the annihilation of existence and, properly, annihilates one’s consciousness.”


Galt radio speech


46) Loc 22391 “…you would not be able to fulfill or even to conceive your wishes.  You would not be able to desire the clothes that had not been made, the automobile that had not been invented, the money that had not been devised…”

Galt radio speech


47) Loc 22396 “just as your mystics of spirit invented their heaven in the image of our earth, omitting our existence, and promised you rewards…”


Galt radio speech

48) Loc 22454 “physical objects cannot act without causes. That his organs of perception are physical and have no volition, no power to invent or to distort, that the evidence they give him is an absolute, but that his mind must learn to understand it…”


Galt radio speech


49) Loc 22495 “a student reading a book understands it through a process of-blank-out.  A scientist working on an invention is engaged in the activity of-blank-out.” [how most  teachers explain the world]

Blank-out is Rand’s way of showing that people refuse to acknowledge the process of reason, of thinking


50) Loc22577 “You who have never grasped the nature of evil, you who describe them as ‘misguided idealists’-may the God you invented forgive you!”

Galt radio speech


51) Loc 22594 “…when I worked in your world, I was an inventor.  I was one of a profession that came last in human history and will be first to vanish on the way back to the sub-human. An inventor is a man who asks ‘Why?’ of the universe and lets nothing stand between the answer and his mind.


It is interesting that Rand points out that being an “inventor” was one of the last professions in human history.  Perhaps the first person to take on the profession of a being an inventor was Galileo, who lived in Venice.  Venice passed the first modern patent laws in 1474.  The U.S. has been the preeminent producer of people who made their living as inventors.  The America Invents Act is another step along the path of ensuring that no one will make a living as an inventor in the U.S. anymore.


In fact, whenever you see great periods of prosperity, you see large numbers of new inventions.  Whenever you see a lack of inventors inventing, you can be assured we are stagnating economically


52) Loc 22621 “…whether you would be able to invent a wheel, a lever, an induction coil, a generator, an electric tube,-then decide whether men of ability are exploiters who live by the fruit of YOUR labor…”

Galt radio speech

53) Loc 22631  “…dream of enslaving the material providers who are scientists, inventors, industrialists…”

Galt radio speech

54) Loc 22644 “…and to exile from the human race the hero, the thinker, the producer, the inventor…”

Galt radio speech

55) Loc 22875 “you failed to recognize the motor I invented-and it became, in your world, a pile of dead scrap.”

Shows nations and people are wealthy because of their mind-embodied by their inventions and technology-not their natural resources, labor and land.

56) Loc 22947 “…Nor will he give ten years of unswerving devotion to the task of inventing a new product… they will seize his rewards and his invention”

Galt radio speech

57) Loc 22958 “…for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product…”

Galt radio speech

58) Loc 22974 “in proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns.  But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing the invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him.”

Hear, Hear

59) Loc 23002 “…they deliver their science to the service of death, to the only practical purpose it can ever have for looters: to inventing weapons of coercion and destruction.”

This is not about self-defense, it is about the policies we pursue that force us to spend so much time and talent and money on defense

60) loc 24304 “I’m Robert Stadler- he had thought-it’s my property, it came from my discoveries, they said it was I who invented it…”

Stadler on seizing Project X under his control and rule the country

61) Loc 24400 “’I invented it! I created it! I made it possible!’ ‘You did?  Well, many thanks, but we don’t need you any longer.  We’ve got our own mechanics.’ ‘Have you any idea what I had to know in order to make it possible?  You couldn’t think of a single tube of it!  Not a single bolt!’…’What claim do you have to it?’ Meigs patted his holster. ‘This.’”


July 30, 2011 - Posted by | -Philosophy, Patents | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. modules…

    […]Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) on Patents/Inventions | Blog of Dale B. Halling, LLC – Intellectual Property & Patent Innovation, Attorney – Powered by Clvr.Tv[…]…

    Trackback by modules | November 8, 2011 | Reply

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