Patents gone wild!

Patents are government enforced monopolies that are granted to encourage innovation.   There is no natural property right in “intellectual property” (IP).  Natural property rights exist in physical things.  If you create or obtain property by peaceful and honest means, then you have a natural right to keep and defend that property against those who would use force or fraud to take your property from you.  Governments are created to help protect those rights.

Throughout most of human history there has been no recognition of  patents.    Anyone could copy a good idea from anyone else.  Only Kings or other dictators bestowed monopolies to favored groups and used force to stop those who infringed on the monopoly.  The inventor of the first wheel had a natural property right in that specific wheel.  Other people who made similar copies for themselves did not take anything away from the original creator.  Why should force be allowed to stop someone from copying from someone else?  Do the ends justify the mean?  Isn’t it immoral to use force to stop a peaceful person from doing something that does no harm to others?

It is wrong to assume that people would not be inventive if they had no patent protection.  They might be more inventive and more creative.  Do a thought experiment:  What would happen if there were no patents?  Might there not be more and faster invention?  As much as possible, inventors would try to keep their manufacturing processes secret.  But keeping such secrets would be very difficult, if not impossible in many cases.  Inventors would also try to use contracts to prevent people from copying their inventions.  Contracts would give them some protection, but only against those who are party to the contracts.

Patents are supposed to be granted only for original inventions that are not obvious.  In the recent case between Apple and Samsung, one of the patents which Apple successfully defended was the “look and feel” of the IPhone, including the rounded corners and the “bounce-back” screen.  Mercedes Benz has a new TV ad where they tout that they have over 80,000 patents.  (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc6CejduPP0)  Is that a good thing?  Today, it is becoming very difficult to create anything technical without infringing on someone else’s patent.  What government gives, government can take away.  Until we get rid of patents, our government should get much more conservative about what types of inventions get patent protection and about how much time the patent is granted for.

In the case of drugs and medical devices, I would feel much better about our government providing for our “general welfare” by funding medical research if no patents were allowed if taxpayer money is used in anyway to fund the development.  Inventions based on taxpayer funded medical and technological research, or based on research done at public universities should not be patentable, either by the States or the universities.  They should be left in the public domain for the benefit of all citizens.

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