Patents and Copyrights

This has been a popular topic in the past, and since we love hate mail, and since I happen to be reading “The Fatal Conceit” by Hayek, I thought I’d bring up the issue yet again.

Perhaps you remember the article January about SOPA where we posted this great video:

When I stumbled on this great quote from Hayek’s book, I was inspired to repeat this again, perhaps better articulated. Our copyright and patent laws are an affront to social evolution:

“The difference between these and other kinds of property rights is this: while ownership of material goods guides the user of scarce means to their most important uses, in the case of immaterial goods such as literary productions and technological inventions the ability to produce them is also limited, yet once they have come into existence, they can be indefinitely multiplied and can be made scarce only by law in order to create an inducement to produce such ideas. Yet it is not obvious that such forced scarcity is the most effective way to stimulate the human creative process. I doubt whether there exists a single great work of literature which we would not possess had the author been unable to obtain an exclusive copyright for it; it seems to me that the case for copyright must rest almost entirely on the circumstance that such exceedingly useful works as encyclopaedias, dictionaries, textbooks and other works of reference could not be produced if, once they existed, they could freely be reproduced.

Similarly, recurrent re-examinations of the problem have not demonstrated that the obtainability of patents of invention actually enhances the flow of new technical knowledge rather than leading to wasteful concentration of research on problems whose solution in the near future can be foreseen and where, in consequence of the law, anyone who hits upon a solution a moment before the next gains the right to its exclusive use for a prolonged period.

It would be hard to say it any better than this brilliant economist, but I’d like to reword that last bit based on my experience: The kind of anti-competitive behavior associated with copyrights and patents lead to a WASTE of time and resources creating an imaginary race to be the first to claim rights to the next invention. Individuals and corporations alike buy their lottery ticket by funding teams that work concurrently to other teams at other companies on the exact same concepts. WASTEFUL of resources, and WASTEFUL of life. Perhaps nowhere is this more blatant than in the realm of medicine. This WASTE turns all business into another high stakes gamble. A horse race to be exact. It has the exact opposite effect that was intended. In fact the “horses” will steal any concept that isn’t nailed down in their charge for the claim of originality. In the end there is less originality rather than more.

Time and again we meet another “entrepreneur” wanting to chase a new concept that a dozen other chaps are already chasing. No capitalist in their right minds would do this if it weren’t for the possibility of beating the others out for the patent. Worse yet, then convincing the world of the value of their patent, up to and including bribing the FDA. What a mess.

Being a software engineer may be enough to make me wise to the fact that we cannot engineer society. Most importantly we cannot allow Sony to engineer society. When they do it they fight for the right to record cable shows on their VCRs and then fight against the right to copy their shows to MP3 … they fight for their profit. If we let them, they will. Stop social engineering. One less Transformers movie won’t hurt anyone. In fact, maybe the guy about to discover the cure for cancer will be in the lab instead of watching another DVD.