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Objectivism And Tainted Holdings

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Wills are contracts with the government. You do not promise your heirs, "I will deliver such and such specified amount of money to you contingent upon my death in exchange for blank." What you do is make a contract with the government: "I pay this service fee and upon my death any remaining property of mine is to be divided up as follows:" Wills are not a trade for value gained in life (as are insurance policies), they are a method of preventing huge legal hassles in disposing of property that is now ownerless, not pledged. You pay the government (or you should . . . context) for the tiny bit of piece of mind you gain by knowing that your funeral will not be interrupted by angry relatives fighting over the silverware. THAT is the trade going on.

As for the principle that indicates you must at least attempt to regain lost or stolen property in order to maintain your right to it: forty-five minutes after you drop your pen on the subway it may very well be IMPOSSIBLE to trace where it went. You are claiming that you still have a RIGHT to that pen in three hours, six days, even ten years regardless of whether you made any effort to demonstrate that you gave a damn about finding it! Frankly, that's ridiculous; people live in the REAL WORLD where you LOSE THINGS and after ten years or so unraveling a paper trail of embezzlement may be utterly impossible. This is why statutes of limitations exist. If you aren't making a conscientous effort to at least keep track of what was stolen from you then GUESS WHAT! You've abandoned it, you've abandoned your right to it, and TOUGH COOKIES. You don't have to announce that you did, YOU DID.

No one can have a DERIVATIVE right to property when the PRIMARY right to it was abandoned. In CUI Ayn Rand describes physical property as (paraphrase) a "dynamic claim to a static amount of goods" (as opposed to intellectual property). The dynamic means that the nature of your claim may change with changing circumstances, and some of those circumstances may be unjust, as has happened often in the past. So what happens if you drop your pen on the metro or lose a war with an aggressor? Do you keep stubbornly asserting that the universe owes you a particular pen or a particular piece of land? No! You move on, knowing that your MIND is the ultimate source of wealth and that you can weather shocks of this nature. It is THIS ability that will ultimately enable you to regain what you may have lost.

I am oddly reminded of The Hobbit here, if you'll pardon a digression; the Ultimate thief, Smaug the Dragon, is described as being a miser of the worst kind. Unable to produce wealth, he clings with tremendous tenacity to the wealth he has stolen, visiting ferocious destruction on anyone that would take even a copper piece from him. The dwarves, who CREATED the wealth, were paragons of generosity for the most part.

Anyway, the point of this digression is that only someone who is helplessly unable to actually produce anything obsesses over wealth he "claims" for whatever arcane reason, but did not produce HIMSELF. End result: Daniel needs to get off his duff and start working if he wants a fortune, the other one is gone gone gone and no sense crying over spilled milk.

The Hobbit also contains an illustrative story of a family maintaining records (in the form of a map) about their lost wealth for several generations . . . it is only these records and their continuing interest in said wealth that allows them to reclaim it. :lol:

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I remember no such thing. Property rights stem from the effort involved in the creation of that property, not from any effort involved in the continued use of that property. This is not some natural resource, like land, that needs to be continually used in order for ownership to be maintained. This is property, like money, that Alan produced through his effort. He does not need to continue to use that money in order to maintain ownership of it. His rights to that property stem from the fact that it was his effort that produced that property.
Just as a preliminary, can I assume you're familiar with ch. 10-11 of CUI? That would make the discussion more efficient, since I'll be drawing on Rand's discussion of concrete vs. intangible property. In the made-up case that we're saddled with, we have no idea whether the stolen property is manufactured or not -- I assumed it was, in order to make his hypothetical plausible, but that's a dispensible assumption. So let me first ask whether you think that no effort is required to maintain property (in other words, you really are saying that ownership is a perpetual entitlement, I assume) -- so do you reject the concept of intellectual property, or do you think that IP should be perpetual? Another question: what about lost property? Bearing in mind that Objectivist morality is supposed to be applicable and related to reality (i.e. it described proper actions for men acting according to reason), how should a moral being deal with apparently unowned objects, either a rock on the ground or an apparently lost knife? If I knew your answers to those quesrtions, I'd have a better basis for answering your objection.

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Wills are contracts with the government.  You do not promise your heirs, "I will deliver such and such specified amount of money to you contingent upon my death in exchange for blank."  What you do is make a contract with the government: "I pay this service fee and upon my death any remaining property of mine is to be divided up as follows:"

Rubbish, wills don't even need to be registered with the government. It is advisable for the reasons that you state (fighting parties at your funeral), but not required. What you do is you register the will contract with the judiciary in order to expedite execution and reduce the likelihood of foul play.

Wills are not a trade for value gained in life

Rubbish, if they were not a trade then please, tell me, how does the willer choose which of the 6 billion people on the planet to name as his heir(s)? Why are wills routinely changed in order to remove an heir from that will? Why do some wills stipulate clauses for certain things that the heirs must do in order to be given their inheritence?

You pay the government (or you should . . . context) for the tiny bit of piece of mind you gain by knowing that your funeral will not be interrupted by angry relatives fighting over the silverware.  THAT is the trade going on.

Agreed, but that's evidence of why you should register the contract between the willer and the heirs.

As for the principle that indicates you must at least attempt to regain lost or stolen property in order to maintain your right to it: forty-five minutes after you drop your pen on the subway it may very well be IMPOSSIBLE to trace where it went.

I asked for the principle and you immediately switch to an example showing the impracticality of finding lost property.

You are claiming that you still have a RIGHT to that pen in three hours, six days, even ten years regardless of whether you made any effort to demonstrate that you gave a damn about finding it!

Demonstrate how? Demonstrate to whom? What is this consciousness that must see me performing some demonstration in order to maintain my moral right to my own property?

Frankly, that's ridiculous; people live in the REAL WORLD where you LOSE THINGS and after ten years or so unraveling a paper trail of embezzlement may be utterly impossible.  This is why statutes of limitations exist.

"People live in the real world" Jennifer? You mean that there's a dichotomy between idealism and pragmaticism? I don't care whether it's impossible to unravel ten years of paper trail, whether it's impossible to trace where my pen went, I care whether if I do find that pen and can demonstrate that it is the same pen that I dropped ten years ago that it is still mine by right.

I know precisely that the pragmaticism/idealism (false) dichotomy is why statutes of limitation exist, that doesn't make them right and none of this says anything about the principle behind your time decay of property rights.

If you aren't making a conscientous effort to at least keep track of what was stolen from you then GUESS WHAT!  You've abandoned it, you've abandoned your right to it, and TOUGH COOKIES.  You don't have to announce that you did, YOU DID.

So, in order to maintain any ownership of any property, I have to always be willing to place the recovery of that property as my highest priority at any time that it is stolen from me or lost? Is that the principle that you're working with?

If I can't spare the time currently to report my car as stolen because I have to get home as soon as possible for some other priority, then the thief can now keep my car because I didn't pursue the theft immediately upon learning of it? Or do we again get into some arbitrarily chosen timeframe that I have to report the crime within in order to maintain my moral rights?

No one can have a DERIVATIVE right to property when the PRIMARY right to it was abandoned.  In CUI Ayn Rand describes physical property as (paraphrase) a "dynamic claim to a static amount of goods" (as opposed to intellectual property).  The dynamic means that the nature of your claim may change with changing circumstances, and some of those circumstances may be unjust, as has happened often in the past.  So what happens if you drop your pen on the metro or lose a war with an aggressor?  Do you keep stubbornly asserting that the universe owes you a particular pen or a particular piece of land?  No!  You move on, knowing that your MIND is the ultimate source of wealth and that you can weather shocks of this nature.  It is THIS ability that will ultimately enable you to regain what you may have lost.

Again, none of this says anything about the principle. I agree with the choices, I would also not fixate on the lost pen, but if it was something that I could demonstrate ownership of (let's say it had my signature on it) and ten years later I saw someone fish that pen out of a drain, I would still be within my rights to claim it as mine. I don't think I would be bothered doing that, but if it was a gold pen I might.

Whether I chose to look for it in-between has no bearing on whether it's mine or not, it was mine, I didn't trade it, I never decided to abandon it, so it's still mine.

I am oddly reminded of The Hobbit  here, if you'll pardon a digression

I'll pardon it, but not entertain it. Again you've looped back onto pragmaticism. I agree, that the most healthy choice is not to spend any extreme amount of effort on it and to get on with your own life. But none of that says anything about the principle by which you claim that property rights can decay over time.

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Just as a preliminary, can I assume you're familiar with ch. 10-11 of CUI? That would make the discussion more efficient, since I'll be drawing on Rand's discussion of concrete vs. intangible property.

I have read it, and will refresh my memory when I get home (which will not be until Monday). Best not to assume that just because Rand has said something that I will agree with it though, everything is up for grabs as far as I'm concerned, unless you can lock it in with a principle.

In the made-up case that we're saddled with, we have no idea whether the stolen property is manufactured or not -- I assumed it was, in order to make his hypothetical plausible, but that's a dispensible assumption. So let me first ask whether you think that no effort is required to maintain property (in other words, you really are saying that ownership is a perpetual entitlement, I assume) -- so do you reject the concept of intellectual property, or do you think that IP should be perpetual?

The perpetuality of IP is something I was thinking about just this morning. Specifically, Rand's comments on patent expiry seem grounded in a pragmaticism that may have no idealogical basis ("may" because I'm still thinking about it :)

I'm nothing if not consistent, so if I'm proposing that ownership of physical property (say a table that I constructed myself) is perpetual, then I will also include intellectual property, property is property. I was thinking about it, but by the end of this post I have decided, I am in fact saying that all property rights are perpetual (including IP) until shown otherwise.

I was thinking this through this morning on the bus. I remember being very uncomfortable when I read Rand's comments on patent expiry (which I guess was in CUI), specifically on the arbitrariness of the chosen timeframe (from memory, 50 years after the death of the patent owner). Any arbitrary choice like that raises alarm bells in my head.

I'm leaning towards patents being perpetual as well. I don't see any principle by which they would expire. I'm happy to be shown one, and perhaps Chap10,11 of CUI already do that, and I have forgotten, but it's hard for me to imagine such.

If a man can take existing plans and make a table and then sell that table to someone else, and if ownership of that table (while that table exists) never expires - then a man can also make a new design for a type of engine and the same moral law applies to that product as to his table. Each is a mixture of both mental and physical effort, the former attaches ownership to the physical article, the second to the physical plan.

Even in the absense of a political context, one would first need to create a plan for their mud-hut (even if only in the mind), that is a creation. If he then proceeds to chisel such plans onto a tablet, those plans have a physical presence that is objectively observable. Those plans are his, ownership of and rights to them should never expire. If he sells those plans to his son, then they should now be the property of the son, ad infinitum, without expiry, pragmaticism be damned.

Another question: what about lost property? Bearing in mind that Objectivist morality is supposed to be applicable and related to reality (i.e. it described proper actions for men acting according to reason), how should a moral being deal with apparently unowned objects, either a rock on the ground or an apparently lost knife? If I knew your answers to those quesrtions, I'd have a better basis for answering your objection.

First of all natural resources are not property, they are natural resources. They only become property when a man injects his effort into them in some way. Please see my blog article on Land Ownership which details the process by which land (and other natural resources) become property through use, and what that use constitutes both without and with a political context. So, a rock lying on the ground can only enter the following conversation if it is property somehow.

On to the lost knife...

Let's get explicit, because in reality one does not happen upon a "lost knife", one happens upon an unpossessed knife. To conclude immediately that it was lost is an error. So it is to conclude immediately that it is abandoned.

One cannot happen upon unpossessed property and uniformly conclude anything about it other than that it is property (ie. it has or had an owner) and that it is presently unpossessed.

I think that the actions of the Objectivist in such a situation would be to use reason to acertain the most likely situation and then act accordingly.

Eg. if a tree saw is discovered sitting on the grass in front of someone's house then it would be immoral to conclude that it was abandoned, and take it. Likewise it would be immoral to conclude that it was lost, and hand it in to some lost-property office. The most likely scenario is that the saw has been placed there by its owner for their own purpose and momentarily forgotten. The proper action in that situation is to either leave it there, or at your discretion, to alert the owner to the fact that they have left the saw out where it might be stolen.

If, however, you discover a rusty old tree saw in the charcoal remnants of a campfire in the middle of the bush, then you could properly conclude that it had been abandoned by the owner, and (if you wish) you could properly take ownership of it.

But the context is key. If it was a car, instead of a saw, then you would be incorrect to conclude that the owner of that car had abandoned their property. You should conclude that the car was stolen, and abandoned by the thieves.

It boils down to this. Part of the effort that one must expend in order to make unpossessed property yours is to critically examine the context and honestly seek out the truth. A $10 note on the ground isn't yours just for picking it up.

The risk that you take when taking possession of unpossessed property is in being wrong. In drawing the wrong conclusion. As you get ten steps away from the campsite, a man appears from the bush and yells at you because he just left his rusty saw in the fireplace while he went to the toilet. You cannot, now knowing the truth, persist in your claim of ownership. The conclusion that you made, your guess, however well intentioned, was wrong. You must return the man's property to him.

I welcome your comments on the above. I am putting a summary of my whole position re this thread in a following post.

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There are really two aspects to this scenario. Let's discuss them separately.

1. Whether Alan maintains ownership of the property despite it being stolen and despite his inaction in pursing its recovery (perpetuality of property rights).

2. Whether Charlie can be held liable for paying back a debt incurred by Bob despite his innocence of the crime (transfer of debt).

I say that either of these considered in isolation is a slam dunk.

1. If you steal my car, but I'm too busy to pursue the theft until next week, then I do not relinquish my property rights to the car and can rightfully pursue my ownership of it when my priorities allow. Substitute "next week" for any time period you'd like and the same holds, ie. there's no time decay to property rights, no expiry period, there's no principle for it and if there is then let me know.

2. I can't write a will leaving the Empire State Building to my son, because I don't own it and I cannot demonstrate ownership of it. If I run into the Empire State Building so that I possess it, and then die, that doesn't change the equation. If I steal the deeds to the Empire State Building, then die, that doesn't mean that my son rightly inherits the Empire State Building. The rightful owners could rightly pursue him for its return. Whether he is ignorant of the theft or not does not change the fact that the property was not mine to begin with, I had no right to bequeath it, and the will in which I did bequeath it is invalid in respect to that bequeathing.

The only thing needed to add them together is the realisation that bequeathing property is not handing over a physical article, but it is transferring the legal rights of ownership (in full) of an amount of property.

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Umm, I just realised something.

Unless Bob is alive, then he can't defend himself at a trial, so the so-called crime of theft is only an allegation. Unless you're willing to try a dead man then there's no way to even decide that this was a crime.

Shame on us all. Clerisan should have been pulled up on the first post with "check your premises."

So, we can continue the conversation sans the whole issue of the bequeathing of stolen property if you like.

Thankfully, despite my silly example of the Empire State Building thief, real estate transfers are a complex process involving many weeks of time, during which solicitors and government registrars are involved, and would be ample witness to any forced handover of deeds by one party to another.

Anyway, the process becomes a lot simpler if Bob is alive to be convicted of theft. Assuming he is convicted then his assets would be seized (from the point of his arrest) and the debt will be attached to him and paid out of his assets, and if he can't pay it back from moneys that he is in possession of then he will be sent to prison and begin paying off his debt (see my The Perfect Prison blog for how I think that should work).

One other comment, on transferring stolen property. It's important to make a distinction between uniquely identifiable property (cars, real estate, the hope diamond) and commodity property (oranges, gold, oil, even money in 99% of cases where no record of serial numbers is made).

In all unique property trades that we perform there are checks involved to confirm ownership, buying a car from someone is not a process of exchanging cash for the physical vehicle and keys. There are ownership checks performed, there's a registration transfer performed, liens are checked, many personal details are taken from each party. This is all done as a recognition that the vehicle itself is unique and if it was stolen at some point then the rightful owner may, at some point, come and repossess the vehicle. They can do that because they can show that they are the rightful owner through their ownership registration documents.

When found the property would be repossessed even if the current possessor purchased it unknowingly using morally obtained funds, his error is in not properly confirming the ownership of the property by the person selling it to him. His avenue of justice is in pursuing his own action against that person to reclaim the money he paid.

I don't have time to check/edit this, excuse any mistakes.

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Daniel is never the victim, because his old man lost the land and failed to protect it--he can't give it to Daniel after it has been stolen, this makes no sense. However, if he represents his family's estate, and in that case he would be defending his father, he still would not be the victim.  Alan failed to defend it.  All Daniel can do is fight for it on behalf of his father, only then would a will kick in and only then could Daniel become a victim if it's taken from him.  Crimes and victimizations aren't handed down, the father remains the victim.

Interesting concept. This clarifies any claim that I might have against the Polish government for land my family had in East Prussia before WWII. (We lost our land during the war.)

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Best not to assume that just because Rand has said something that I will agree with it though, everything is up for grabs as far as I'm concerned, unless you can lock it in with a principle.
I try not to assume, and I certainly don't favor argumentum ad verecundiam. Now, surely not everything is up for grabs unless you can deduce it from a principle? Where do these principles come from? We'll see...

I've taken a look at your blog and will surely have something to say about it later. In the interim, I want to point out two problems in the lost knife problem and perpetual IP. Before we get there, though, we need to sort out the question of Rand's possible "pragmatism", and what rights are about. I assume (and presume that you do too) that rights are principles about moral social interaction. Being a species of moral principle, and morality generally being the principle of chosing that action which supports man's life qua man, then rights too must support man's life qua man. This means that rights are not themselves an end, but are a means to an end (rational life). Then if there is an apparent conflict, it has to be resolved with reference to the ultimate goal -- life. All this is by way of saying that (1) if you're saying that it's "pragmatism" to adhere to a moral code that holds existence according to nature to be a primary principle, so be it; (2) consistent adherence to the sanctity of property is a consistent position (obviously), but not necessarily a correct one -- in other words, consistency is not a primary virtue either; (3) on a more mundane front, if a political construct -- a particular property right -- makes rational life impossible for man, then you've got the wrong right. Moving on...

I'm nothing if not consistent, so if I'm proposing that ownership of physical property (say a table that I constructed myself) is perpetual, then I will also include intellectual property, property is property.  I was thinking about it, but by the end of this post I have decided, I am in fact saying that all property rights are perpetual (including IP) until shown otherwise....

patent expiry (which I guess was in CUI), specifically on the arbitrariness of the chosen timeframe (from memory, 50 years after the death of the patent owner).  Any arbitrary choice like that raises alarm bells in my head.

A small correction: she spoke approvingly of the life+50 figure for copyrights, which corresponds to the British law of 1911, and was noncomittal about patents other than to say that a lifetime patent would be an unjustified barrier on developing knowledge. The current copyright law, "death plus 70", was arrived as so as to guarantee an ordinary life's worth of profit from the creation of your mental efforts, so that an author who creates a masterpiece at the end of their life would still "profit" (albeit not personally) from their work. Yes, the number could be "death plus 69" or "death plus 68". We could have a whole huge subforum on the arbitrary number problem of law, and there is nothing special about IP law and the particular value of N in the "death plus N" equation.

The argument against perpetual IP is rather simple: having a perpetual exclusive right to an intangible contradicts the motivating principle behind recognizing IP, and is at odds with the fact that man's means of survival is reason. Perpetual IP would displace "reason" with "hereditary entitlement" as man's means of survival, and with the progression of time would lead to an halt in the growth of knowledge. The licensing requirements for manufacturing a car would be enormous. Simple tools like "the saw", "the wheel", "the axle", "the urn", "the ball-bearing" ad infinitum would be someone's property, and you could not morally manufacture a simple ox-cart from wood that you chopped down yourself -- using someone else's property -- because somebody else owns the idea "the wheel". It's not just a small annoyance that you have to pay a penny per wheel to the billion descendants of Thag (the original wheel-maker), it's that you can actually be prevented from making a wheel if the owner dows not grant you permission to use his property. It does not matter that you could have come up with the idea of the wheel on your own, because Thag did come up with the idea millenia ago, and that defines a fundamental restriction on what man may rightly do with his mind, subsequently.

Thus taking "property as a perpetual right" to be a moral primary contradicts the conclusion that man has a right to survive by using reason. Something has to give here.

One cannot happen upon unpossessed property and uniformly conclude anything about it other than that it is property (ie. it has or had an owner) and that it is presently unpossessed.

I think that the actions of the Objectivist in such a situation would be to use reason to acertain the most likely situation and then act accordingly...

If, however, you discover a rusty old tree saw in the charcoal remnants of a campfire in the middle of the bush, then you could properly conclude that it had been abandoned by the owner, and (if you wish) you could properly take ownership of it.

This is really a key statement, so I want to make sure I understand you correctly. You're saying that in this context, even though the saw is someone else's property (at least historically), you can properly take ownership of it because you do not have any reason at all to conclude that the saw is owned by someone else. We have the following two cases:

1: Smith owns the saw, gets mad at it while camping in 1950, pitches it in the fire and declares "I abjure thee, Saw of Satan, I cast thee into the campfire to burn in hell along with the wood which though art ineffective at cutting, and I declare that I no longer own thee". (I've had saws like that)

2: Smith accidentally drops the saw at the camp in 1950 and it ends up in the fire (raccoons, I suppose). Smith posts reward signs and hunts for his beloved saw for 10 years, to no avail.

Now we're at the saw-discovery stage in 2005 where you happen upon the saw, in the condition you described. You cannot possibly know whether scenario 1 vs. scenario 2 describes the previous history of the saw. Would you claim that you can properly take ownership of the saw, regardless of whether 1 vs. 2 is the history of the saw? Or would you say that you may only properly take ownership of the saw if 1 is the history, but not if 2 is? I hope it's obvious that if you say "yes" to the latter, then you contradicted yourself (in saying that in this context you could rightfully take ownership of the saw), and you could only say "yes" to that proposition if you held that context didn't matter. If you do claim that a person may properly take ownership of the saw in this context, regardless of whether the history is 1 vs. 2, then you cannot hold that property rights are absolute and perpetual: there is a context where a person's claim to property must give way to an another person's claim to the property, and there has been no "official" transfer of ownership.

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Grr, I just hit Escape accidentally, and it undid all the changes I had made to this post!!

I don't have time to redo all the replies I made to the individual points, so here's a summary.

What I'm calling pragmaticism is the process whereby you are identifying a complicated area of reality where a principle seems to be in conflict with reality, and therefore you're introducing an exception to that principle that has no grounding (at least none that has been demonstrated) in philosophical axioms.

Sure, man's life is the standard, but you can't point at an event in man's life (especially one as complex as the perpetuality of property rights as they pertain to intellectual property) and declare (without tracing it back to philosophical axioms and demonstrating that it is non-contradictory) that it is an exception to an otherwise sound principle.

I agree that without further work, the implications seem to be contrary to an abundant life of man, and of progress and development. What I declare is pragmaticism is taking those implications and creating an exception to the principle of property rights in order to resolve the complications without even attempting to produce a principle that's grounded in philosophical axioms.

It's like saying, "It's too hard to work out which tree the coconuts that have fallen on the beach have come from, so we will declare that property rights to not apply to fallen coconuts." Yes, intellectual property is a difficult subject, no I'm not prepared to introduce an exception to make resolving the apparent contradicitions simpler.

The argument against perpetual IP is rather simple: having a perpetual exclusive right to an intangible contradicts the motivating principle behind recognizing IP, and is at odds with the fact that man's means of survival is reason.

You recognise property rights because a man must have the rights to the results of his efforts. Nothing in that is contradicted by perpetuality of his rights to intellectual property. The only thing that suffers in perpetuality is the progress of his fellow men.

Perpetual IP would displace "reason" with "hereditary entitlement" as man's means of survival, and with the progression of time would lead to an halt in the growth of knowledge.

Yes, I remember that argument from Rand. I think it's flawed.

The licensing requirements for manufacturing a car would be enormous.

You assume that the current licensing model is correct, and founded in correct principles. I do not concede this.

Thus taking "property as a perpetual right" to be a moral primary contradicts the conclusion that man has a right to survive by using reason. Something has to give here.

Agreed. Perhaps what has to give is the licensing model that you (and apparently Rand) take for granted.

Take this, off the top of my head, as an example. Perhaps a new patent (say an engine patent) could be registered that paid a single license fee to to the holders of the wheel, ballbearing, gear, etc. patents, because the patent designer of the engine only 'uses' those patents during the development of his design. Subsequently manufacturers of vehicles would pay the engine patent holder, not the wheel, ballbearing, etc. patent holders, because they are using the engine, not the individual components of the engine.

In that way patents, like knowledge (which they are meant to represent) would be hierarchical. The user of an engine does not use "wheels", "ballbearings", etc. he uses the engine, and the patent costs should reflect that. The engine patent developer was the one that used the 'antecedent' patents of wheel, gear, ballbearing, etc.. So he pays for their use in developing his idea. But those that wish to use his patent pay only him (or his heirs, or those that he dealt with).

Such would resolve all the problems that you have identified with patents. It would also more correctly reward "simple patent" holders a smaller fee for their patents than it would "complex patent" holders for their contributions (rather than the holder of the "nut and bolt" patent earning billions of dollars a day where the patent holder of "the cold fusion machine" earns comparitively little). It also more correctly maps the patent hierarchy over to the hierarchy of human knowledge and concepts.

Now, I've only just happened upon this idea now, in the few minutes of writing this response, but already it seems to be both consistent and logical, and in keeping with the principles of property rights. Also, as a corollary, it is pragmatic. There is never, and will never, be a situation where an exception to a principle must be introduced in order to achieve a desirable end, ie. in which to satisfy a pragmatic complexity. These are proper principles, don't make excuses for them, and don't abandon them so easily (although here, since Rand herself abandoned this particular one, I suppose it's understandable).

This is really a key statement, so I want to make sure I understand you correctly. You're saying that in this context, even though the saw is someone else's property (at least historically), you can properly take ownership of it because you do not have any reason at all to conclude that the saw is owned by someone else. We have the following two cases:

1: Smith owns the saw, gets mad at it while camping in 1950, pitches it in the fire and declares "I abjure thee, Saw of Satan, I cast thee into the campfire to burn in hell along with the wood which though art ineffective at cutting, and I declare that I no longer own thee". (I've had saws like that)

2: Smith accidentally drops the saw at the camp in 1950 and it ends up in the fire (raccoons, I suppose). Smith posts reward signs and hunts for his beloved saw for 10 years, to no avail.

Now we're at the saw-discovery stage in 2005 where you happen upon the saw, in the condition you described. You cannot possibly know whether scenario 1 vs. scenario 2 describes the previous history of the saw. Would you claim that you can properly take ownership of the saw, regardless of whether 1 vs. 2 is the history of the saw? Or would you say that you may only properly take ownership of the saw if 1 is the history, but not if 2 is?

I think your trying to ask a question that relies on information not in evidence. If you know that the scenario is 1 or 2, then you may only take ownership of the saw in (1). If you know only what you perceive (that there's a saw in the fire that appears rusted and abandoned) then that is the context. The context isn't what's actually the case for some omniscient consciousness, the context is what's perceived as the case by your consciousness.

Moreover, if you learn more information about it later, eg. that you find the original owner who declares that he never abandoned the saw, then the context changes, and your conclusion may (and does in that case) change accordingly.

I hope it's obvious that if you say "yes" to the latter, then you contradicted yourself (in saying that in this context you could rightfully take ownership of the saw), and you could only say "yes" to that proposition if you held that context didn't matter. If you do claim that a person may properly take ownership of the saw in this context, regardless of whether the history is 1 vs. 2, then you cannot hold that property rights are absolute and perpetual: there is a context where a person's claim to property must give way to an another person's claim to the property, and there has been no "official" transfer of ownership.

I think that you think that context means "the actual reality of the situation as known by an omniscient consciousness" that's not what it means. What context means is the situation as perceived by a consciousness. As such, it is right and proper for an uncivilised savage who has never seen an aeroplane to conclude that such a thing is some sort of conscious flying creature despite the fact that it is not in fact that at all. As his experience expands, and he becomes aware that things such as planes exist and are the creation of men, then it is wrong for him to continue to conclude such things when he sees a plane overhead. He was not wrong before, and right now. He was right before, and right now. The two conclusions do not contradict each other, because knowledge is contextual.

Likewise, I am right when I conclude that the saw is abandoned and take ownership of it. Then, when the owner appears later and declares that he did not abandon the saw at all, I am right (under the new context) to conclude that actually the saw is not my property, but his, and so I am morally obliged to return it to him.

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Take this, off the top of my head, as an example.  Perhaps a new patent (say an engine patent) could be registered that paid a single license fee to to the holders of the wheel, ballbearing, gear, etc. patents, because the patent designer of the engine only 'uses' those patents during the development of his design.  Subsequently manufacturers of vehicles would pay the engine patent holder, not the wheel, ballbearing, etc. patent holders, because they are using the engine, not the individual components of the engine.

I do not understand your proposal. Are you saying that the holders of the wheel, ballbearing and gear patents would be forced by law to collect only one fee, that from the engine designer, and then accept subsequent fees from the designer only? What if one of these patent holders disagrees with this scheme?

What if a patent holder wanted to negotiate his own licensing arrangement with each individual user of his design?

Or, what if the patent holder prefers to be the sole supplier of the item and does not wish to collect license fees from any other manufacturer?

Or, what if the patent holder wishes to supply some manufacturers directly while licensing other manufacturers to make their own items?

In that way patents, like knowledge (which they are meant to represent) would be hierarchical.  The user of an engine does not use "wheels", "ballbearings", etc.  he uses the engine, and the patent costs should reflect that.  The engine patent developer was the one that used the 'antecedent' patents of wheel, gear, ballbearing, etc..  So he pays for their use in developing his idea.  But those that wish to use his patent pay only him (or his heirs, or those that he dealt with).

Such would resolve all the problems that you have identified with patents.  It would also more correctly reward "simple patent" holders a smaller fee for their patents than it would "complex patent" holders for their contributions (rather than the holder of the "nut and bolt" patent earning billions of dollars a day where the patent holder of "the cold fusion machine" earns comparitively little).

This sounds like the intrinsic theory of value -- like you think the value of an invention can be determined by its inherent simplicity or complexity -- as opposed to its value being determined objectively through negotiation between seller and buyer. .

Now, I've only just happened upon this idea now, in the few minutes of writing this response, but already it seems to be both consistent and logical, and in keeping with the principles of property rights.  Also, as a corollary, it is pragmatic.  There is never, and will never, be a situation where an exception to a principle must be introduced in order to achieve a desirable end, ie. in which to satisfy a pragmatic complexity.
This seems to be contradictory. You describe your proposal as consistent with property rights, yet it is also “pragmatic”. I do not understand.

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Back to the issue of IP and its implications for tangible property.

Take this, off the top of my head, as an example.  Perhaps a new patent (say an engine patent) could be registered that paid a single license fee to to the holders of the wheel, ballbearing, gear, etc. patents, because the patent designer of the engine only 'uses' those patents during the development of his design.  Subsequently manufacturers of vehicles would pay the engine patent holder, not the wheel, ballbearing, etc. patent holders, because they are using the engine, not the individual components of the engine.
There are problems with this model: I am assuming that you still consider IP to be property, and the part that I'm trying to figure out is how your model gets around the perpetual nature of property. First, the holder of the patent has the right to refuse the license, since the invention is his property. If the patent hold allows his invention to be used as a component of a secondary invention, then he has abandoned all claims to licensing fees deriving from the secondary device. It would not be in my self-interest to allow others to use my invention freely with no obligation to compensate me, so it's hard to imagine what incentive I would have to abandon my property claim. This would impede progress even worse than a perpetual patent, because at least with a perpetual patent, people have an incentive to allow licensing and development of their ideas into other products (namely, the royalties). If you are effectively forced to abandon your property claims on your invention by licensing it once, you should not allow any incorporation of your invention into other inventions.

Just to anticipate a counter argument -- that you only abandon your property claim with respect to the derived invention, not the original invention -- this scheme that you propose probably also leads to contradictory claims for the same object. Suppose A creates X and B buys the right to use X in a new product Y, which adds P to X. Now B owns Y which means he can sell use of Y to C in yet another a new product, Z -- which is a simplified Y, minus the P. In other words, C has just reinvented the wheel, and he now has the same property right to the wheel as the actual inventor. This renders the concept of IP virtually incoherent, and leads to the situation that the inventor can only retain their ownership of their invention of they refuse to allow it to be incorporated into any new products. So rather than solving the problem inherent in perennial ownership of IP, this new scheme replaces those problems with ones that are even worse

I think your trying to ask a question that relies on information not in evidence.  If you know that the scenario is 1 or 2, then you may only take ownership of the saw in (1).  If you know only what you perceive (that there's a saw in the fire that appears rusted and abandoned) then that is the context.  The context isn't what's actually the case for some omniscient consciousness, the context is what's perceived as the case by your consciousness.
Of course I assume you don't know whether the saw was actually abandoned, or just misplaced. That's really the point: in this thread, a fundamental assumption is that the person have no knowledge that the holding is metaphysically "tainted". But I think you give your answer here:
Then, when the owner appears later and declares that he did not abandon the saw at all, I am right (under the new context) to conclude that actually the saw is not my property, but his, and so I am morally obliged to return it to him.
Do you base your recognition of moral obligation exclusively on the declaration, and if so, why? There has been a long-term struggle for possession of land in the Middle East based on the contradictory declarations of Palestinians and Jews that the land belongs to them; similar claims are made in the US, involving white men of different kinds and Indians (including e.g. conflicting declarations about property rights of Hopis and Navajos). If Microsoft were moral, it would immediately abandon Windows, because Apple claims that the GUI is their property; also, Apple should abandon the Mac interface in light of the declaration by Xerox that the GUI is their property. I have a hard time believing that you really think that a declaration is sufficient grounds for abandoning your property.

A further consequence of your answer is that property becomes highly insecure: anything that you believe is your property could "really" be the property of another person, which would be subject to confiscation under a system of government that enforced property rights. The old adage "possession of 9/10's of the law" would have to give way to the principle "you can never be sure that you own anything". The distinction between mere usage and ownership would all but evaporate. Ownership would, in reality, be an abstraction that has no relationship to man's survival. Since under immutability of ownership you cannot know if you own an object (someone else might actually own it, unbeknownst to you), the concept of ownership would have zero value for man's survival. This is one of the consequences of the "property as an absolute value" perspective.

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I am new to Objectivism so take the following with a grain of salt.

I think that is a mistake to argue that consistency demands that all forms of "property" be treated the same regardless of the nature of that property. Personal Property is an object that survives the owner in many cases. IP is intangible - an idea or knowledge - to which certain rights are afforded to that person who has created the idea. Real Property as another alternative is land.

We do not treat Real property and Personal property the same in terms of ownership rights and it is not necessary that we treat Personal property and IP the same, although for different reasons.

As noted, Personal Property survives the creator of that property in many cases. Ownership in that type of property can be transferred in a will or by law if there is an intestacy.

Intellectual Property is not tangible. It is questionable whether an idea can be considered "property" at all, but assuming that it meets that definition that type of property, or more accurately, the right to make use of the idea or the knowledge is protected by way of patent or copyright laws. A Patent is not property, it is evidence of whose right to use an idea is being protected. One can only restrict others who have that knowledge from using it. One cannot easily restrict others from having it. The creator may allow someone else to use his idea if it is patented for a price or for free if he desires. Or the creator is free to keep that idea to himself.

But to discuss property in an idea or property in knowledge of one kind or another as if it can survive the creator makes no sense to me. The only thing that can survive is the legal restriction on other people who would make use of that knowledge. It is that legal restriction that ought to be justified and I do not see how that restriction can be analysed on the basis of property rights.

I see no reason that property in an idea or property in knowledge should survive the creator.

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Since Michael's post I've been thinking more about this, I've yet to arrive at a conclusion, but I will. I still maintain that the difficultly involved in creating proper politics around the concept of intellectual property should not lead us to treat it differently than tangible property, and certainly I still maintain that except for the existing concession regarding perpetuality of intellectual property there is no rational argument for non-perpetuality of property.

Just quickly to Dave, no, I didn't mean to imply that a declaration was all that is required, I really meant that demonstrable ownership must be shown within the existing context, as perceived by the Oist. In the case of a rusty bush saw, this might consist of a mere declaration, one might perceive that such is said with earnestness and that no apparent contradictions exist, and so you take the declarers word for it. In the case of lands in the middle east, something very much more is required to demonstrate ownership. In fact, in land disputes between nations (ie. in the absence of a jurisdiction) then it's a very complex scenario indeed.

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Just quickly to Dave, no, I didn't mean to imply that a declaration was all that is required, I really meant that demonstrable ownership must be shown within the existing context, as perceived by the Oist.
Okay, but while you're thinking about this, here's a problem: how do you prove current ownership? I can provide you with iron-clad proof of ownership of certain objects, which I no longer own. I'll leave it to you to find the evidence that I sold them at some point. What this comes down to, then, is whether you know the claimant well enough to say without hesitation that he could not be a liar or mistaken.

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Okay, but while you're thinking about this, here's a problem: how do you prove current ownership? I can provide you with iron-clad proof of ownership of certain objects, which I no longer own. I'll leave it to you to find the evidence that I sold them at some point. What this comes down to, then, is whether you know the claimant well enough to say without hesitation that he could not be a liar or mistaken.

I can assure you that if you sold any of those objects that you think you can provide iron-clad proof of ownership of to me then in the simplest case my receipt from you demonstrating that I had paid you for them would demonstrate that you had transferred ownership to me. In the more significant cases (certainly anything of enough value to make it worthwhile) there would be a judicial ownership registration with evidence of transfer (eg. cars, real estate, expensive gems).

These mechanisms (receipts and ownership registries) exist specifically for this purpose, of demonstrating transfer of ownership. If you have traded with people who did not demand these mechanisms of transfer, then shame on them. I certainly can produce demonstrable ownership for everything I, my family and my companies own that's not a commodity item. I wasn't aware that people existed who would attempt to operate their lives without utilising such mechanisms, if for no other reason that to ensure valid warranty and tax refund claims (both of which actually just require the same evidence of transfer of ownership on a certain date).

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I can assure you that if you sold any of those objects that you think you can provide iron-clad proof of ownership of to me then in the simplest case my receipt from you demonstrating that I had paid you for them would demonstrate that you had transferred ownership to me.
I gotta buzz off in 3 minutes, but here is a quick response. You buy from X, demand to see his title from Y which he produces and it looks valid. But Y, alas, unknowingly bought the object from a thief and was incautious about obtaining proof of ownership. You have no inherited the error committed by Y. A title search and insurance is a good idea, but it still runs into the problem of the dumpster-diver, who can rightly claim ownership of abandoned property. Indeed, antique dealers in my neighborhood do cruise the alleys looking for cast-off furniture to refurbish and resell. They obviously cannot provide the continuous title from manufacturer that would be required under your approach.

Do you really keep all of your receipts, at least for durable goods? Or only those which cost a lot of money.

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As I’m sure most of you know, Miss Rand’s argument is that perpetual intellectual property rights would essentially grant an unlimited number of future individuals the right to exist without effort, i.e. it would lead to the support of parasitism. Furthermore, a handful of permanent, basic patents could stymie future innovations and creations.

Let me make one more point in support of time-limited intellectual property.

The only way to recognize an intellectual creation (an idea or a design) as property is to give its creator a legal monopoly on the manufacture and use of that creation. Thus, by its very nature, intellectual property enjoys a fundamentally different form of protection under the law versus other types of property – the protection consists of restricting the productive activities of others.

Justice demands such a restriction to insure that the benefits of an intellectual creation (if there are any) accrue to the creator and not to the parasite-copiers that appear the moment a product hits the market.

However, that restriction applies not only to would-be parasites; it also applies to honest and creative individuals who conceive of improvements to the original creation or who conceive of superior methods of producing it (both are very common occurrences, by the way). They are barred from bringing their creations into existence (without the patent holder’s permission) because doing so makes use of all or some portion of the original idea.

In addition to avoiding the two problems Miss Rand mentions, a time-limited intellectual property right insures that the great bulk of any profits from an idea goes to its creator, but does not permanently penalize other creative people who wish to benefit from their own intellectual achievements.

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I've read this whole thread this morning. The issue of perpetual IP is quite a perplexing and interesting. I think Dave's made the best arguments and that IP should definitely not be perpetual.

What I have to say is basically an elaboration on what Dave said here:

The argument against perpetual IP is rather simple: having a perpetual exclusive right to an intangible contradicts the motivating principle behind recognizing IP, and is at odds with the fact that man's means of survival is reason. Perpetual IP would displace "reason" with "hereditary entitlement" as man's means of survival, and with the progression of time would lead to an halt in the growth of knowledge.

Intellectual property, especially patents, enable men to pursue the use of their minds and to pursue greater achievements and happiness would not be possible. If someone creates an idea or metal or device (IP of such value) it seems they should rightly benefit from the product of their mind. But, who is to prove that I would not have come up with it a year later? Moreover what if somebody creates the same idea, metal, or device a day after the original creator applies for his patent, without any knowledge of the original creator’s achievement? Are they not entitled do benefit from the product of their mind?

These dilemma's, I think, make the issue of IP (especially in the form of patents not so much in copyrights) questionable in terms of someone having based purely on the principle of the right to own the non material creations of ones mind (owning the idea of the wheel really puts into perspective). And that really the right to such ownership ironically would have to be based on its pragmatic effects on another principle. The principle that man should be able to live by and receive benefits from the creations of his mind. If this reasoning is followed then it becomes a question of what policy best promotes this principle.

There are several options I could think of.

1. The patent exists for an amount of time after its creation which could be cut short by the creator’s death.

2. It exists for the span of the creator’s lifetime.

3. It exists for an amount of time after its creation regardless of the creator’s death.

4. It exists for an amount of time after the creator’s death.

Dave,

Do you have any opinions on what the patent policy should be?

Edited by Gweg

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There are several options I could think of.

1. The patent exists for an amount of time after its creation which could be cut short by the creator’s death.

2. It exists for the span of the creator’s lifetime.

3. It exists for an amount of time after its creation regardless of the creator’s death.

4. It exists for an amount of time after the creator’s death.

I'm not strongly in favor of very long duration patents, so an analog to the copyright death-plus-70 rule is too long. The creator does not have to be a single person, so anything related to the creator's death can get tricky. I think that the invention of a Galt engine would be highly significant and quite deserving of patent protection, whereas re-patenting a pill whose patent had expired based on a trivial tweak defeats the purpose of time limits. My (amateur) opinion is that the PTO is swamped with incomprehensible applications (the incomprehensibility claim is a professional opinion), so they tend to err on the side of over-granting patents for not so significant inventions. The current duration of patents (20/14 years, depending on type) is probably about right as a 1-size fits all figure. Ideally, a system that recognised objective merit would be best, to allow the Galt engine to have a longer patent duration than the wrench with rubber shank would get. But this is the kind of thing that would just bog down in lawsuits over arbitrary decisions, so I'd say, 20 years and be done with it.

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Intellectual Property is not tangible. It is questionable whether an idea can be considered "property" at all, but assuming that it meets that definition that type of property, or more accurately, the right to make use of the idea or the knowledge is protected by way of patent or copyright laws. A Patent is not property, it is evidence of whose right to use an idea is being protected. One can only restrict others who have that knowledge from using it. One cannot easily restrict others from having it. The creator may allow someone else to use his idea if it is patented for a price or for free if he desires. Or the creator is free to keep that idea to himself.

Colin, How would you define "property right"? Would it be the recognition of a person's ownership of something, which -- in turn -- means the recognition of the owners legal right to control/dispose of that "thing". While property may have one meaning that means "tangible asset", surely in the context of "property rights" it means "that to which one has the right of ownership and control".

However, if you don't want to use the term "property" for patents and copyrights, that is fine with me. I'm really interested in the more substantial question you raised:

The only thing that can survive is the legal restriction on other people who would make use of that knowledge. It is that legal restriction that ought to be justified and I do not see how that restriction can be analysed on the basis of property rights.

I see no reason that property in an idea or property in knowledge should survive the creator.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that "the legal restriction" is not justified after an author's death. However, on what basis would you justify such a legal restriction while an author is alive?

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While property may have one meaning that means "tangible asset", surely in the context of "property rights" it means "that to which one has the right of ownership and control".
I agree. I would add "possession" to "ownership and control". I think that the very definition of property is what makes ideas so difficult for me to conceptualize as "property". The nature of an idea, or knowledge, does not easily allow one to even consider that "control" or "possession" or even "ownership" is possible let alone recognizable as a right.

For example, if I come up with the idea of the wheel and attach that to a cart such that I have a wagon, it will not be long before others see that wheel and understand what it is and how it works. All of a sudden, that other person has possession and control of that idea. How does one restrict possession or control of an idea? I am left with the impression that IP, although containing the word property, is not property at all. For if by definition, "property" is something, tangible or intangible, which someone has the exclusive right to possession of and control of, how can we call something that, by its nature, is impossible to exclusively possess or control, property?

For the sake of argument, let's assume that "the legal restriction" is not justified after an author's death. However, on what basis would you justify such a legal restriction while an author is alive?

A very good question and one that I am not sure that I can answer. My initial reaction, based only on emotion I confess, is that it only seems fair that the creator of an idea that has value should benefit by the creation of that idea. At second glance, I see that this may not necessarily be just. The creation of an idea does not necessarily create a value to anyone but the creator. It is not until that idea is put into action, or production, that the idea may become of some value to anyone else.

A patent, or copyright, can be viewed as analogous to a contract that has been entered into as between the inventor and the people who might use the creator's idea for their own purposes. The creator, if he is smart, will keep the idea a secret until the contract has been "signed". He then has agreed to "trade" the new knowledge that he has discovered to everyone who wants it, for the condition that he receives payment by anyone who actually puts the knowledge to use.

Therefore the right to control one's created knowledge does not need to derive from property rights but can be considered on the basis of contract. As an aside, that may allow the survival of that type of protection beyond the death of the creator, but I have not really considered that.

I have some concern in posting this that I am infringing on the rule against arguing non-Objectivist positions. If I have done that, then I apologize. I am really trying to understand this issue myself as I find it a difficult one.

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A patent, or copyright, can be viewed as analogous to a contract that has been entered into as between the inventor and the people who might use the creator's idea for their own purposes. The creator, if he is smart, will keep the idea a secret until the contract has been "signed". He then has agreed to "trade" the new knowledge that he has discovered to everyone who wants it, for the condition that he receives payment by anyone who actually puts the knowledge to use.
This runs into a problem which was, for me, fatal to the contractual version of copyright. The contract can only bind the inventor and the person who he sells to (whether directly or through agents). The problem is you cannot contractually obligate a person to not lose his property (you can rent property to a person which results an an obligation to return the property at the end of the contract, which is not the same thing). And you cannot also generally obligate people not to pick up lost objects and dispose of them as they wish, given reasonable attempts to locate the owner. So the contractual obligation between inventor and a buyer cannot be automatically transferred to a third party. And thus the third party has no obligation to respect the patent. This is a sufficiently large loophole that I think it effectively precludes any protection of intellectual property, except by explicit statute.

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And you cannot also generally obligate people not to pick up lost objects and dispose of them as they wish, given reasonable attempts to locate the owner. So the contractual obligation between inventor and a buyer cannot be automatically transferred to a third party. And thus the third party has no obligation to respect the patent.

If the third party who has found property is obligated to return that property to the owner, assuming he can be found, then doesn't that contradict the second part of the paragraph? The third party certainly does have an obligation to return the property to the actual owner if he can be found. The third party likewise does have an obligation to respect the patent if he is aware of it.

If your point is that, in order to prevent a third party from using knowledge that he has not contracted for, the right of the inventor must be in the nature of property, since there is no other type of right that would disentitle the third party from using the knowledge that he has obtained, then that makes sense to me.

I still have some difficulty with the concept that knowledge can be property. It seems to me that there is a danger that we are engaging a legal fiction for the purpose of creating rights that appear just.

Is there a more detailed discussion of IP that can help me get my head around this issue better?

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