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IP: Intellectual Property

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As title.

I know there are various types of intellectual property, like patents for discoveries of drugs, or copyrighting for artistic talent. Should these have varying times? Is there any justification for not protecting intellectual property indefinitely? Consider how hard it would be to make a machine that required permission from the great great grandchildren of 50 inventors.

Edited by softwareNerd

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yeah, i have been wondering about that myself lately. In biology class we were discussing Darwin and his thesis about natural selection. Our professor went on to say that if he had not had the background knowledge of previous scientists to build upon he would not have been able to formulate his theory. There were no patents on knowledge in his time. Of course one should be able to benefit from one's knowledge...but like you I wonder when is it taken too far? According to her science would advance a lot faster if wasn't kept private and hidden as they often are.

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As title.

I know there are various types of intellectual property, like patents for discoveries of drugs, or copyrighting for artistic talent. Should these have varying times? Is there any justification for not protecting intellectual property indefinitely? Consider how hard it would be to make a machine that required permission from the great great grandchildren of 50 inventors.

Ayn Rand said that protecting patents indefinitely would prove to be an injustifiable barrier to the progress of science and technology.

I concur. The fact that one man has invented a machine does not mean that another man cannot invent it too through his own effort. A patent is provided to provide a headstart to the patentholder as he is the one who applied his own effort in the first place to invent the device. But mantaining a patent indefinitely would preclude the rights of other men who might have the ability to invent the same thing.

As for the other question, I think that copyrights for individual works like a novel or a piece of music should and do hold indefinite validity as long as the author lives.

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There were no patents on knowledge in his time.

There are no patents on knowledge now. There are patents on the practical application of scientific knowledge and copyrights on the publication of knowledge. The theory of evolution would be no more patentable today than it was in Darwin's time.

An idea as such cannot be protected until it has been given a material form. An invention has to be embodied in a physical model before it can be patented; a story has to be written or printed. But what the patent or copyright protects is not the physical object as such, but the idea which it embodies. By forbidding an unauthorized reproduction of the object, the law declares, in effect, that the physical labor of copying is not the source of the object's value, that that value is created by the originator of the idea and may not be used without his consent; thus the law establishes the property right of a mind to that which it has brought into existence.

It is important to note, in this connection, that a discovery cannot be patented, only an invention. A scientific or philosophical discovery, which identifies a law of nature, a principle or a fact of reality not previously known, cannot be the exclusive property of the discoverer because: (a) he did not create it, and (B) if he cares to make his discovery public, claiming it to be true, he cannot demand that men continue to pursue or practice falsehoods except by his permission. He can copyright the book in which he presents his discovery and he can demand that his authorship of the discovery be acknowledged, that no other man appropriate or plagiarize the credit for it—but he cannot copyright theoretical knowledge. Patents and copyrights pertain only to the practical application of knowledge, to the creation of a specific object which did not exist in nature—an object which, in the case of patents, may never have existed without its particular originator; and in the case of copyrights, would never have existed.

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I've always had trouble with this issue.

It seems arbitrary to say "You have the right to this invention for 25 years, then you suddenly lose your rights." If one has a right to something, one should have it indefinitely and be able to pass it on to one's descendants just like physical property.

On the other hand, I am not sure idea of patents is valid at all. Where is the physical force in copying somebody else's invention and producing it yourself?

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Just as with copyrights, when an invention is patented it is made public.

Ingenuity and inventiveness are most often kept hidden until their application has been patented.

GC: the kind of force used when stealing someone else's intellectual property may be comparable to fraud, but the effect is the same as a thief breaking into your house and stealing your property when you are not there.

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I've always had trouble with this issue.

It seems arbitrary to say "You have the right to this invention for 25 years, then you suddenly lose your rights." If one has a right to something, one should have it indefinitely and be able to pass it on to one's descendants just like physical property.

On the other hand, I am not sure idea of patents is valid at all. Where is the physical force in copying somebody else's invention and producing it yourself?

Once again, Godless Capitalist has uncovered key weak points in an issue that many people take as an article of faith. Why, indeed, should intellectual property have an expiration date when other forms of property do not?

Ayn Rand defends time limits on patents and copyrights because “intellectual property cannot be consumed. If it were held in perpetuity, it would lead to the opposite of the very principle on which it is based: it would lead, not to the earned reward of achievement, but to the unearned support of parasitism.” (The Objectivist Newsletter, May 1964)

But the most prominent form of property, land, is not consumed either. Even after it has been stripped of its forests and mineral deposits, its value can still increase. Should we say, then, that landowners and their heirs may not hold on to real estate for more than 25 years?

But let us also examine the idea that patents and copyrights exist to “reward achievement.” If that were truly the case, then two men who arrived independently at the same invention would share the reward. Instead, under current patent law, monopoly status is conferred exclusively on the first to file claim. Thus it is not intellectual achievement that is rewarded but the physical or legalistic agility of getting to the patent office first.

Moreover, when the government confers monopoly status on just one of two or more rivals, it is denying the patentless independent inventor the right to the fruit of his labors. By forbidding him the right to sell his device to others, the government is denying him access to his property, in a fashion no different than prohibiting farmers from putting their land into cultivation. In this respect, patents are an invasion not a defense of property rights.

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Marc: But first you have to establish that the concept of "intellectual property" is valid. I am not all convinced that ownership of an idea for an invention is comparable to ownership of physical property.

To clarify, suppose two people invent the same thing independently. The first one to the patent office gets the rights; the second one gets nothing even though he did the work himself rather than "stealing" it.

Ayn Rand said that protecting patents indefinitely would prove to be an injustifiable barrier to the progress of science and technology.

I concur. The fact that one man has invented a machine does not mean that another man cannot invent it too through his own effort. A patent is provided to provide a headstart to the patentholder as he is the one who applied his own effort in the first place to invent the device. But mantaining a patent indefinitely would preclude the rights of other men who might have the ability to invent the same thing.

This argument really seems to be based on pragmatism rather than principles. You either have a right to something or you don't.

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I'm sorry I thought the "concept of intellectual property" was a given here.

Are you saying that I don't have a right to the product of my mind?

This has been discussed here on this forum in "Ethics: Downloading Music - Wrong? By what standard?"

Also in "CUI: Patents and Copyrights" by Ayn Rand.

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According to her science would advance a lot faster if wasn't kept private and hidden as they often are.

Think about it this way: if there was no monetary gain to be had from science would science advance faster or slower?

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^^ more pragmatism

I'm sorry I thought the "concept of intellectual property" was a given here.

Are you saying that I don't have a right to the product of my mind?

The physical product, yes. If you come up with an idea for a better mousetrap and build one, then you have the right to that mousetrap. But the question is do you have the right to prevent others from building more mousetraps just like yours? On what basis?

I've read "Patents and Copyrights." I don't think it makes a solid argument.

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The physical product, yes. If you come up with an idea for a better mousetrap and build one, then you have the right to that mousetrap. But the question is do you have the right to prevent others from building more mousetraps just like yours? On what basis?

I also cannot agree with the grounds for intellectual property rights. I think there is a big difference between copying and stealing and as far as I can tell the only purpose of copyright laws is to legally equivocate the two.

Ragnar Danneskjold said in Atlas Shrugged “There can be no such thing as conditional property.” But yet I cannot legally copy a mousetrap… what gives? Is the mousetrap mine or isn’t it?

*As to the original issue of how much time rights should be protected for: I think putting a time limit on property rights is defiantly a pragmatist approach and isn’t something that could actually be decided on. Well actually there are two answers I am willing to consider: zilch or forever (in terms of how long the originator of idea has rights to said idea).

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If you have an idea and invent something, you might decide to keep it to yourself. On the other hand, you might want to engage in trade with others, with this idea as your currency. Patents protect your ability to make known the fact that you have invented something and your ability to trade with it.

You have the right to your idea, but once you give it out for free, you give up that right. When you patent that idea, you in effect say, "I am letting you know of this idea, on the legally enforced condition that you do not steal it from me."

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If you have an idea and invent something, you might decide to keep it to yourself. On the other hand, you might want to engage in trade with others, with this idea as your currency. Patents protect your ability to make known the fact that you have invented something and your ability to trade with it.

You have the right to your idea, but once you give it out for free, you give up that right. When you patent that idea, you in effect say, "I am letting you know of this idea, on the legally enforced condition that you do not steal it from me."

There is nothing wrong with the idea of having final authority over one's own property. The trouble with a patent is that it confers a legal monopoly on a single inventor. It prohibits those who independently arrive at a similar device from selling the product of their labor. In this sense patents are an infringement on property rights, not a safeguard.

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When you patent that idea, you in effect say, "I am letting you know of this idea, on the legally enforced condition that you do not steal it from me."

That's an interesting way of looking at it. But why have patents at all? All you need is a statement on the product itself that anyone who purchases it is agreeing not to copy it. The mechanism is then purely private. Note btw that there would be no time limit.

The only problem I can see is that sometimes you can see how something works without actually buying it. You could just see the mousetrap in the store, identify the new idea in the design, and copy it.

In any case, the non-copy agreement would certainly work for copyrights on books, music, etc.

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Well but then we are back to the idea that intellectual property is equivalent to physical property (including one's own body) I'm not yet convinced that they are comparable. I'd like to see a solid argument for that position.

And even if they are comparable, why should there be a time limit on intellectual property but not physical property? To defend time limits, you have to show why the right to intellectual property is not as strong as the right to physical property. The only argument I have seen is the pragmatic one that indefinite patents would retard progress. This is almost certainly true (it would lead to monopolies in many areas) but it is still an argument based on pragmatism not principles.

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Your idea does not have a time limit, and your right to your idea does not either. But your right to your idea does not include denying other people the right to think. Indeed, you don't have a right to control the contents of other people's minds.

A patent is a legal protection on a person's ability to trade with others. Without it, inventors have no alternative but to withdraw from all contact with others.

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That's an interesting way of looking at it. But why have patents at all? All you need is a statement on the product itself that anyone who purchases it is agreeing not to copy it. The mechanism is then purely private. Note btw that there would be no time limit.

The only problem I can see is that sometimes you can see how something works without actually buying it. You could just see the mousetrap in the store, identify the new idea in the design, and copy it.

That is a quite significant problem; in addition, you can properly acquire an object without purchasing it. The only way you can make copyrights and patents be a private and enforceable matter is via a mutual agreement (between the purchaser and the vendor). No such agreement holds between recipients of gifts, or the scavenger who collects discarded items (property no longer owned).

In any case, the non-copy agreement would certainly work for copyrights on books, music, etc.

I don't see how: I can easily and legally acquire a book without entering into an agreement with anybody.

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Ragnar Danneskjold  said in Atlas Shrugged “There can be no such thing as conditional property.”  But yet I cannot legally copy a mousetrap… what gives? Is the mousetrap mine or isn’t it?

Yes, the mousetrap is yours, but the idea isn't. Patent laws don't prohibit you from doing what you want with your property, they prohibit you from doing what you want with someone else's propery, namely the idea.

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David; all good points. But they do not resolve the issue. I am prepared to hear arguments for eternal patent protection or no patent protection, but not limited (eg 25-year). That's just arbitrary and (as far as I can see) unsupportable by rational principles.

Your idea does not have a time limit, and your right to your idea does not either. But your right to your idea does not include denying other people the right to think. Indeed, you don't have a right to control the contents of other people's minds.

Well, then, if 2 people invent something independently the 1st one to the patent office should not be able to claim exclusive rights and prohibit the 2nd person from using the idea.

I am still having trouble with the concept of "right to an idea." Any explanations will be gratefully received.

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Yes, yes, I've read that whole essay many times. It really does not firmly establish principles; it just makes a bunch of assertions and skips rigorously connecting the dots. Unfortunately a lot of AR's writing on specific political issues is similar (and ARI's for that matter). Perhaps the connections are obvious to AR, LP, etc. but not to me.

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Yes, yes, I've read that whole essay many times. It really does not firmly establish principles; it just makes a bunch of assertions and skips rigorously connecting the dots. Unfortunately a lot of AR's writing on specific political issues is similar (and ARI's for that matter). Perhaps the connections are obvious to AR, LP, etc. but not to me.

Yeah, they patennt rights and copyrights seem arbitrary to me too(time limits,etc.), but id love to hear why they arent arbitrary.

But id love to hear a good defence.

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See Ayn Rand's discussion of "first to the patent office".

To quote that passage:

As an objection to the patent laws, some people cite the fact that two inventors may work independently for years on the same invention, but one will beat the other to the patent office by an hour or a day and will quire an exclusive monopoly, while the loser’s work will then be totally wasted.  This type of objection is based on the error of equating the potential with the actual.  The fact that a man might have been first, does not alter the fact that he wasn’t. Since the issue is one of commercial rights, the loser in a case of that kind has to accept the fact that in seeking to trade with others he much face the possibility of a competitor winning the race, which is true in all types of competition.

The second inventor just got screwed, not be being an hour slower, but by the government that took the right to use his own ideas away from him. It is an injustice to say that the second inventor cannot sell his idea; this isn’t competition... rather a state enforced monopoly.

Once again a legal attempt to equivocate physical property with intellectual property. Two people can not attempt to build a skyscraper on the same plot of land, but two people can independently come up with the same idea. For that reason I do not think intellectual property rights should reflect physical property rights... if they have a purpose in the government at all.

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