Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

BlackBerry Case: Property Rights? Balderdash!

As if we needed a demonstration of the injustice of patents, RIM finally settled the patent-infringement suit against it by agreeing to surrender $612.5 million to NTP. BlackBerry will continue. But make no mistake about it: this is legal extortion.

NTP is a patent-holding company. It doesn't make things. Instead, it monopolizes ideas and sues others for infringing on its state-granted privileges. Here's how the Wall Street Journal describes the background of the case:
NTP was co-founded in 1992 by former patent examiner Don Stout and the late inventor Thomas Campana, who worked on ways to send emails wirelessly. In 2001, NTP sued RIM saying it held patents covering the "push" aspect of wireless email.
RIM wasn't accused of breaking into NTP's office and stealing something. It was accused simply of implementing an idea that Campana had "worked on" and had registered with the state.

This is (intellectual) property and protection of property rights? Balderdash! It is a license to extort. As the Washington Post reports: "Intellectual property attorney Donald R. Steinberg said the size of the settlement might spur more lawsuits from patent-holding companies, but that in most cases, a settlement is often desirable because it limits risk on all sides." What risk does the suit-filing patent-holder take? That his extortion might not succeed? This is "entrepreneurship in the Corporate State.

What great products aren't we seeing because of this corrupt system?

Patents are a key form of state-privilege by which people get rich at the expense of others. The patent system would have no place in a real free market. It is said that patents are needed to encourage innovation, but now the truth is clear for all to see. Patents suppress innovation. The notion of intellectual property rights has no justification. It fails both the natural-rights and "utilitarian" test. As Thomas Jefferson recognized long ago, ideas, lacking finitude, are not the kind of "things" to which the principles of property can be applied:
He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.


Larry Ruane said...

Stephan Kinsella has written extensively on this topic.

Two excellent points he makes:

1. The purpose of property rights is to deal with the problem of scarcity. Ideas are not scarce in same sense as are physical entities. Therefore, ideas cannot be regarded as ("intellectual") property.

2. Not only do patents (and copyrights) not protect real property rights, they infringe on the property rights of everyone else (i.e. the non-patent or copyright holder). They prohibit these others from using their own property in certain peaceful ways. In the case of patents, you are prohibited from assembling parts that you own, to make a specific kind of machine or device, using your own labor. Likewise, you violate copyright laws by laying down a particular pattern of symbols on your own paper, using your own computer or typewriter.

Sheldon Richman said...

Your #1, of course, is Jefferson's point. Re copyright, we must be specific so that counterfeiting (a private bank's currency) wouldn't be legitimized. After all, a counterfeiter uses his own property to make what looks like real currency. The way out, I think, is this: the crime of counterfeiting is not the copying process, but using (misrepresenting) the copies to get things from other people on terms other than those they would agree to if they knew all the facts.

Clyde Adams III said...

Sheldon, I agree completely with your post, and your statement that "The notion of intellectual property rights has no justification." It is not clear that Jefferson would have agreed.

The Jefferson quote might be a bit misleading, because it is easy to miss the qualifying phrase "in nature." The quote states there can be no *natural* property right in an idea; it does not imply there can be no such artificial property right.

Jefferson helped draft the first Patent Act, headed the first patent commission, and granted the first US patent, all in 1790.

Jefferson never applied for a patent for any of his own many inventions, and he several times expressed concern about the patent system; but his concerns were on a practical level. I am not aware that he ever questioned the government's proper right to issue patents. I wish he had.

Sheldon Richman said...

It is nature that I am concerned about. There is no natural property right in ideas. Jefferson follows up the quote I used with: "Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody."

Obviously, I disagree with him.

Anonymous said...

..."Jefferson follows up the quote I used with: "Society may give an exclusive right to the profits..."

Hm. Is this "Society" fellow the same guy who can take me out behind the woodpile and have his way with me when he can't find any other willing partner? I've heard of him and I'm gonna be packin' heat if I hear he's in MY neighborhood.

Sheldon Richman said...

Yes, Mr. Jefferson sure blew that one. Societies cannot give anything, especially rights.