Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Against IM

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.

Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.

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Periodic Update

As Congress gets ready to pass a greatly watered down patent reform act - watered down largely due to the lobbying of the two biggest patent trolls, IBM and Microsoft - and the Supreme Court begins to contemplate abolishing software patents, there are a few other news items.

First, there is the letter of Cecil D. Quillen, Jr. whose efforts on behalf of patent reform we have mentioned here before. Needless to say, despite the thoughtful comments he has received little response.

Next, Salvatore Modica send us this link to an article documenting how patents on the human genome have reduced research in the area. There is a message here, especially for people like Andrew Sullivan who exaggerate the role of pharmaceutical companies in saving their lives.

Finally I'd like to draw attention to the excellent paper of Bessen and Nuvolari in which they nail the reason for widespread knowledge sharing: the existence of a competing existing technology.

The Libertarian

I wanted to draw attention to a Libertarian Blog. It covers a lot of ground, but also IP issues from a libertarian perspective, including a recent interview with Stephan Kinsella.

Comment Posting Announcement

As you know we welcome comments. However the comments sidebar is getting taking over by gratuitous exchanges of insults rather than intellectual commentary on whatever side or point. I've tried not to moderate the comments beyond removing obvious spam. Heated exchanges are one thing but constant exchanges of insults are something else. I think interested readers are starting to feel discouraged by the tone of some of the comments, and some have complained. Let me start by requesting especially Lonnie, "nobody" and "none of your beeswax" to dial it back. If provoked don't respond, please try to stick to the intellectual point. If necessary we (the editors) will start removing posts that are designed to offend rather than inform. If you think another commentator is out of line, please don't respond in the comments, just let one of us know so we can take appropriate action.



IP and Guard Labor

A very well done and insightful review of AIM.

Pointing out some connections between our work and that of Mr. Adam Smith, which we had somewhat missed.

On Rajiv Sethi's blog.

Christian Science Monitor: A Response

Dear Professors David K. Levine and Michele Boldrin,

I agree with much of what you say in your Christian Science Monitor article *The patent system: End it, don't mend it*. I disagree with the implicit argument that the purpose of a patent for an innovation in an invention is given for the purpose of giving a reward for the innovation. The purpose is to reward the disclosure of innovations that otherwise would remain undisclosed.

One of the earliest if not the first software patent was for the "setuid bit." Was this patent necessary for disclosure? I do not think so since the function was necessary to disclose for proper use of the UNIX system. I also believe that most patents do not disclose innovation that would otherwise remain undisclosed for a long period of time. Disclosure of innovations that would not otherwise be disclosed does further innovation.

While your article focuses on patents you mention copyrights. Copyrights are are difficult problem. Why is the "Mickey Mouse" copyright so long? I believe that artists should have copyrights, but the length of time should be short, say on the order of ten years. I also believe that some copyrights, such as those for user interfaces, should not be granted. Imagine if someone received a copyright for drawing equally space straight lines on a sheet of paper.

Keep up the good work and writing about it,

Larry Welsch

Straw men from the AEI

Nick Schulz, of the American Enterprise Institute, commented on a recent piece David and I published on the CSM.

I found the comment particularly misleading. Our suggestions and proposals are "wrong" and "impractical", Schulz writes, but he does not even try to explain why!

We also build straw men by writing things we are aware not to be true either in the literature or as a pure matter of logic - which is a convoluted way to say that we actually lie!

So, even if I seldom get into these debates (as my very rare contributions to this blog unfortunately prove), I just could not resist and wrote him the following mail.

Dear Mr. Schulz,

I just read your comment on our "straw men" and our impractical proposals.

A few questions came to my mind, which you may want to help me with.

1) Where in the literature is there an accessible explanation of the sense in which the word "property" in "Intellectual Property" denotes anything other than what it denotes in any other common usage of the word "property"? I would be curious to find one, given that you treat this as an obvious point. A couple of weeks ago, in a debate at the JFK Harvard School of Government, my counterpart (a very distinguished local academic) argued exactly that: absent patents it would be impossible to trade ideas and have a functioning market for technology transfer, as ideas would be nobody's "property" (in the VERY usual sense) and hence contracts could not be written.

2) I would also appreciate if you let me also learn in what sense the law of the land treats the two forms of "property" differently. That could be another proof that we are building straw men, and that you are right in asserting that everyone already knows the two things are different, no? I am under the strong impression that, when enforcing patents and copyright, the courts of the land we both live in are treating them just like ordinary property. But I may be wrong.

3) I am also curious as to how the difference between rivalrous and nonrivalrous goods has ANY bearing on this issue. If you had ever spent more than 5 minutes reading our technical work, but also our less technical book, you may have noticed we explain quite clearly why there is nothing "nonrivalrous" in actual copies of ideas that are, in our parlance, as rivalrous as your cup of coffee is. Could you therefore spend a few minutes explaining to me in what sense actual ideas, those in the head of people, are nonrivalrous? I have been wandering about that for 26 years now, since I first heard it in graduate school. And I am still wandering.

Open debate is very useful and, whenever you feel like, either of us would be very happy to have one, possibly in public, with you or anyone else willing to debate, to discuss how "impractical" and "extreme" our positions are vis a vis other, including yours.

In the meanwhile, though, why building straw men by claiming that other have built straw men when they have not?



David and Michele Op-Ed

In the Christian Science Monitor


Russell Roberts and Michele Boldrin having a conversation about David's and my book.

A little bit of good news from France

The French Parliament has rejected the bill, proposed by the Sarkozy's government, that would have lead to the cut of the internet connection for "individuals" (IP numbers? Internet provider's accounts? Not clear ...) "caught" using peer-to-peer software to download copyrighted files. The bill had been approved by the Senate in the morning and this seems to be just a temporary stall. The bill will go back to the Senate, which will change one comma, and then will be re-submitted to the Parliament on April 29th ...

The Sarkozy's government needs the support of actors, singers and other "artists" in the forthcoming elections for the European Parliament: "artists" being traditionally on the left, this would help the poor right-wing husband of a struggling leftist artist to win the elections.

For those very same reasons the Prime Minister of Spain, Luis Zapatero, reshuffled his own government last week, appointing Mrs. Ángeles González-Sinde to the post of Minister of Culture (yes, they have that in Spain, and in France, and Italy ...). Her previous job was being the President of the Spanish lobby for the movie industry (the official name is way more pompous), the founder of which was her ... father.

In Spain, as in France, Italy and all over Europe, local "artists" are very active on the anti-freedom of downloading campaign, attributing the bad economic performances of the European (respectively, Spanish, French, ...) movie industry to the use of P2P software and downloading. As everyone knows, before P2P appeared the European movie industries were thriving and their movies were dominanting the world market.

Patents have a downside??

Shocked, shocked to hear that Of Mice and Academics: Examining the Effect of Openness on Innovation by Fiona Murray, Philippe Aghion, Mathias Dewatripont, Julian Kolev, Scott Stern #14819 (EFG).

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A Texas Tale of Intellectual Property Litigation (A Watering Hole Patent Trolls) Aunque suena insignificante, los números son alarmantes y nos demuestran que no es tan mínimo como

James Boyle's new book with his congenial IP views free to download

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1

French firm has patents on using computers to choose medical treatment 1