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The term of patent issue

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I'm going to have to take a brief hiatus from active participation -- work calls for at least a few days, and I tend to get "caught up" here (though pleasantly so). :)

I'll try to keep tabs, and especially on this topic, because of everything, achieving an adequate understanding of the justification for IP has long been a strong source of personal interest. Before I stop typing, let me state what I want to understand of such a justification:

Rights are important to me. If I think back to "earlier times," as partially a way of simplifying matters so that I can better understand them (e.g. my example of "chairs" over "iPhones," though I'd contend that these are principally the same), I can visualize the importance of the rights that I advocate and defend.

If I were an early farmer, and someone sought to take my life, liberty, or property from me, there is no question but I would defend myself. I wouldn't need any governmental stamp of approval to feel justified in asserting my rights. If a man looked to cut off my arm, I would fight him; my arm is essential to me (is me) and to my survival. If a man tried to take my crops -- the crops in which I'd invested myself (my wealth; my time; my thought; my sweat; etc.) -- I would fight him. Those crops are essential to me and my survival (not only of themselves, as food, but of the fact that I must be allowed to reap the rewards of my investments and labors). If a man tried to keep me from doing those things that I needed in service to my crops, or hunting game for my family in a "common wood," or otherwise impinge on my liberty, I would fight him -- those activities being essential to me and my survival.

I could not allow my arm to be cut off. Or my crops to be taken. Or my liberty impeded. To allow those things is to court death.

However, if I built the first chair... and a neighbor came over, and observed my chair, and went home and built one for himself...? I cannot imagine what would drive me to fight my neighbor for so doing. If IP, such as we're discussing, is property in fact -- if this is actually a discussion of human rights -- then we must recognize that my neighbor is violating my rights. He is threatening me and my life by doing so, in as real a manner as cutting off my arm. That is how serious rights are, and why they need to be preserved and protected at all costs; it is not an intellectual game, but a matter of life and death. To violate rights are to initiate the use of force.

But if my neighbor builds himself a chair? Even if it is on the basis of seeing my chair? (And thus benefiting from my mental labors?) I do not see that as a matter of life or death. I do not feel called to fight my neighbor on that basis. I do not feel threatened by it. And I would judge my efforts to stop him from building that chair, or to take the chair from him afterwards without his consent, as an initiation of the use of force... on my part. (If I came over to take my neighbor's chair from him -- the chair that he has built -- I would fully expect him to defend himself. And I must say that I'd find him justified. Honestly... wouldn't you?)

As to patents, these are the recognition that a government may bestow upon a person and his inventions... but they do not create IP. If IP exists at all as an actual right, then it exists outside of government. The inventor of a chair owns "chairs," whether or not any government recognizes the fact. So the inventor of a chair does not need a patent on chairs to feel violated by any other man who also builds a like chair. And since force is justified in response to its initiation -- because patent law is ultimately backed by the gun -- if I were to build a chair, and my neighbor were to build his own chair afterwards... then I would be justified to take or destroy his chair, threatening physical force against my neighbor should he resist, up to death. (Just as I would threaten physical force to preserve my arm, my crops, my liberty, and all that which are actually a part of my rights.)

Right?

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The purpose of scientific and technological research is to identify needs and fill them with inventions. Once someone invented something, that need is filled: that is a blessing for everyone. Why woul

But if my neighbor builds himself a chair? Even if it is on the basis of seeing my chair? (And thus benefiting from my mental labors?) I do not see that as a matter of life or death. I do not feel called to fight my neighbor on that basis. I do not feel threatened by it.

So you're saying that as long as someone isn't threatening your life, they're not violating your rights? I don't see how you can really believe that. Is your life threatened if someone steals one of your socks?

I currently am leaning towards opposition to patents (or at least patents longer than a few weeks) on the grounds that the duration of the invention (see my previous posts) can't really be proved. But this scarcity argument ("I'm not losing anything") doesn't jibe for me. This ignores that all property is fundamentally intellectual and that a creation of an invention is fundamentally the same as someone creating a chair with their own two hands--people deserve the fruits of their effort to create something with their minds, which is how all creation occurs.

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So you're saying that as long as someone isn't threatening your life, they're not violating your rights? I don't see how you can really believe that. Is your life threatened if someone steals one of your socks?

All rights are derived from the right to life, and all rights violations are a threat to life (by being a threat to the means by which men sustain their lives).

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I currently am leaning towards opposition to patents (or at least patents longer than a few weeks) on the grounds that the duration of the invention (see my previous posts) can't really be proved. But this scarcity argument ("I'm not losing anything") doesn't jibe for me. This ignores that all property is fundamentally intellectual and that a creation of an invention is fundamentally the same as someone creating a chair with their own two hands--people deserve the fruits of their effort to create something with their minds, which is how all creation occurs.

The purpose of scientific and technological research is to identify needs and fill them with inventions. Once someone invented something, that need is filled: that is a blessing for everyone. Why would you want to reinvent something that you can buy for a fraction of what it would cost to reinvent it? Why not just say "thank you very much", and move on to the next problem you need a solution for?

You are acting as if the number of possible inventions/ year is somehow capped, and that if someone invented and patented a piece of technology, that means that other inventors are now somehow limited in the use of their mind. In fact, the opposite is true: every invention creates extra opportunities for a new invention, opportunities which weren't there before.

So, in fact, when I invent and patent a device for the length of its use, other inventors lose nothing: they gain that device for cheap, and they gain extra opportunities for using their minds and inventing something new as well. Just like with other types of property, the marketplace of inventions is not a zero sum game.

P.S. If an inventor wants to get rid of patents (which I seriously doubt any of them do, if you were to ask them), then he isn't looking to use his mind. He is looking for a shortcut. Patents don't take away anyone's opportunity to use their mind, they just make sure that those who already used it benefit from it.

The people who want to get rid of patents are not the inventors, deploring the fact that they can't solve a problem that's already been solved, all over again. It's the people who want the solution for free, under the guise of "I could've easily solved that problem too".

For people making that claim, the answer is: There are plenty of problems to solve and profit from. Don't worry about the ones that were already solved.

Edited by Nicky
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So, in fact, when I invent and patent a device for the length of its use, other inventors lose nothing

That's true. But suppose that this invention would've ( a ) been invented by someone else 1 year later ( b ) the year-later inventor would've given up the patent or charged less for its use and ( c ) the patent is longer than a year (perhaps 20 years). Now there are a lot of people who WILL lose something relative to the counter-factual.

Yes, I agree in principle with what you're saying, but the critical issue is the term of the patent and the context of the invention.

Edited by Mnrchst
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That's true. But suppose that this invention would've ( a ) been invented by someone else 1 year later ( b ) the year-later inventor would've given up the patent or charged less for its use and ( c ) the patent is longer than a year (perhaps 20 years). Now there are a lot of people who WILL lose something relative to the counter-factual.

You're just making the same point, but one removed and even less convincing. Again, the same counter-argument applies: why wouldn't this second inventor use the knowledge he gained from the first inventor (knowledge he otherwise would've had to wait an entire year for) to invent something else, sell it, and give that money to these people who have been robbed of their fictional, alternate universe handout?

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Yes, I agree in principle with what you're saying, but the critical issue is the term of the patent and the context of the invention.

I basically made two points in this thread:

1. the term of a patent should last for exactly as long as the invention is needed and available on the market.

2. I explained why it is irrelevant that "someone else would've eventually invented the thing, because that someone else now has the chance to invent something better, and, along with everyone else, have access to the original invention much earlier. Everyone who's rational wins, compared to that alternate universe in which the invention would've come along later. The only losers are the people who wanted something they couldn't invent themselves, for free.

If you agree with what I'm saying, why are you concerned about the term of the patent? What I'm saying is that as long as it expires once the invention is no longer commercially available, everyone who isn't asking for a free ride wins.

Edited by Nicky
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You're just making the same point, but one removed and even less convincing. Again, the same counter-argument applies: why wouldn't this second inventor use the knowledge he gained from the first inventor (knowledge he otherwise would've had to wait an entire year for) to invent something else, sell it, and give that money to these people who have been robbed of their fictional, alternate universe handout?

It sounds like you're just arguing straight-up utilitarianism. Why not say "But why should someone be able to keep a bunch of oil in their basement when this oil could be used to create more stuff?"

This ignores the question of *where* the invention came from.

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I basically made two points in this thread:

1. the term of a patent should last for exactly as long as the invention is needed and available on the market.

First, I'm really confused because it sounded like you were opposing patents in the previous post. Second, why is this a good standard? Also, don't you see the big problem with this: If I invent X, and X is very useful, and X there's a demand to use X for hundreds of years, then I have the ability to restrict the use of X for hundreds of years, which in turn restricts the ability of others to invent things, even if this invention would've been invented by someone else a few days later.

2. I explained why it is irrelevant that "someone else would've eventually invented the thing", because that someone else now has the chance to invent something better, and, along with everyone else, have access to the original invention much earlier. Everyone who's rational wins, compared to that alternate universe in which the invention would've come along later. The only losers are the people who wanted something they couldn't invent themselves, for free.

How is this irrelevant to the question of how long the patent should last?

I honestly have no idea what you're trying to say here. Aren't the people who wanted something they couldn't invent themselves also winners?

If you agree with what I'm saying, why are you concerned about the term of the patent?

Because I want it to be moral.

What I'm saying is that as long as it expires once the invention is no longer commercially available, everyone who isn't asking for a free ride wins.

So we have to have a point where no one makes it for everyone else to be allowed to make it? Why is that a better standard than mine?

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Thanks for the patience, y'all. Work is clearing up a bit (if temporarily :) ).

***

If IP is not actually a right, then trying to determine a "proper" length of issue for a patent is problematic. Or rather, the best length of issue will always be the shortest, because if IP is not actually a right then it is actually a violation of rights. I think that practically we've seen, in this thread and many others, how problematic it is to assess these situations. Where are the objective guidelines? Need we wait for Solomon to tell us how long is too long, how long is long enough? And it's not just the length of a patent term that is... "fuzzy." Is it? How is it meant to work at all?

Man A invents the chair, as such. Man B builds the second instance... but it's slightly taller. Is that sufficient to make it "different enough" to be of his own mental labor, and not an appropriation of Man A's? Or it's blue, not beige. Or a different grain of wood. Or it's three legged and not four (maybe Man B thus owns "stools" in perpetuity)?

Man A and Man B, he of the "slightly different chair," both show up at the marketplace to hawk their work. They see one-another's offerings and are incensed (because in this IP-friendly universe, Man B's creation of value detracts from Man A's: it's a zero-sum game). Man A moves to destroy Man B's chair (we can be in the frontier, or in an otherwise lawless place; it is up to Man A to defend "his rights"; i.e. his life). Man B resists, and they fight.

Thereafter, we arrive as officers of the law (regional sheriff on assignment?) meant to sort this matter out. Clearly, one of these men has violated the rights of the other... and the other man acted in self-defense. We'll send one of the two to jail. But which? Is there any objectivity to be found here at all, even in theory? (This is over trademark and not patents, but here's an IP story from Yahoo's headlines from today. Either this man is violating Chick-Fil-A's rights, or Chick-Fil-A is violating the man's. How to decide? "Objective criteria"... or coin flip? Can these nebulous rules, supposedly in defense of man's rights, be written down anywhere such that men can understand and apply them?)

***

So you're saying that as long as someone isn't threatening your life, they're not violating your rights? I don't see how you can really believe that. Is your life threatened if someone steals one of your socks?

Nicky answered you well and succinctly, and here are a couple of quotes taken from the Ayn Rand Lexicon on the topic of "property rights" which may help to further elucidate the matter:

Just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s rights into reality—to think, to work and to keep the results—which means: the right of property.

Man has to work and produce in order to support his life. He has to support his life by his own effort and by the guidance of his own mind. If he cannot dispose of the product of his effort, he cannot dispose of his effort; if he cannot dispose of his effort, he cannot dispose of his life. Without property rights, no other rights can be practiced.

Anyways, if I was charged to argue how and why theft of actual property (even a sock) is destructive of man's life, I believe I could do so. But I cannot do so for my ongoing chair example, and so far I'm not convinced that any such argument exists.

My neighbor builds a chair for himself based on having seen mine = a violation of "my rights"? An attack on my life? How so? Is there anything other than arbitrary assertion or circular reasoning ("well, the chair is intellectual property, thus it's necessarily a violation of rights and an attack on your life") to back up the claim that there is any "violation" here at all?

This ignores that all property is fundamentally intellectual and that a creation of an invention is fundamentally the same as someone creating a chair with their own two hands--people deserve the fruits of their effort to create something with their minds, which is how all creation occurs.

I think this is only partly true. This idea that "all property is fundamentally intellectual" is potentially dangerous, if interpreted in the fashion expressed here, I believe.

The "creation of an invention" in a person's mind (here: the invention of the chair) is not the same as someone creating a chair with their hands. In the first case, reading it as "opposed" to the second, no chair exists at all; there is no property. Nothing upon which a person may sit. Nothing to gain. Nothing to keep. No value. (I may have a million genius ideas -- and frankly, I think I come up with some good ones at times -- but that is virtually meaningless without setting out and realizing my ideas in actuality.)

"How all creation occurs" is a two-fold process, and not one-step as I take the implication of your quote. A man's mind must grasp... and then his hands must create. Both are required.

It's strange. I almost sense sort of a mind/body thing going on here... As though some men just blindly copy things "with their hands" -- acting "unthinkingly" -- and therefore usurp the "mental value" created by others. Whereas the creators and innovators do all of the "actual work" in their mental efforts, and the subsequent physical labor (on anyone's part) is just a foregone and negligible conclusion, bringing nothing to the table, so to speak.

If that's what's ultimately behind this, it's on the wrong track. It's not better to think of a chair and then not build one, than it is to build one "without thinking about it" (were that even possible). Wealth creation requires thought and action.

And the supposed villain of our tale -- the Chair Copier -- is also thinking, and acting, and creating wealth. Just as much as the Chair Innovator. The Chair Copier deserves the fruit of his labor as much as the Chair Innovator does his, and while the Chair Copier's path may in some senses have been "easier" than that of the Chair Innovator (in that innovation may be considered more difficult than understanding another's innovation, all else being equal) -- and while this means that the Chair Copier certainly benefits from the Chair Innovator, and his efforts -- that does not mean that the Chair Innovator owns the product of the Chair Copier's efforts, mental and physical. Seeing my smile as we pass on the street may well benefit your life, but that doesn't mean I own any part of you, or your later successes.

Edited by DonAthos
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Part of what makes capitalism a good system is that people are compensated and rewarded for their efforts without you tracking down each and every person involved in the production process. A command economy in contrast is bad because it's near impossible to justly compensate/reward each and every person involved. Property rights makes justice that much more practical, and also applies to intellectual property. How would you propose that people are justly rewarded for say, special furniture designs, without tracking people down, one by one?

Really what makes anything property is your ability to conceive of how to use materials. There isn't that much of a struggle, for instance, to say that when you write a book, it is your idea. You could objectively point out that you wrote it down before anyone else. The materials you used to write a book are incidental, and anyone who buys "your book" is buying the pages, but not buying any right to claim it is their idea and creation. So, in one sense you are right: just because a person can type up all the words in your book the book becomes yours. The other person still owns the book as it is. But they should not profit from distributing the book, or otherwise benefit from writing up the story (unless you gave permission, of course). The way the actual story is used is up to the author. And if the author dies, the rights go away, too; it's not possible to hand over a story. Or a chair design. I do not see why transferability matters in determining what is property, though. I doubt you want to argue for strong materialism.

Patents only enter the picture to determine in what way intellectual property can be protected. However, I should add that I think Nicky is going too far in saying that patents should last as long as the invention is available on the market.

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Part of what makes capitalism a good system is that people are compensated and rewarded for their efforts without you tracking down each and every person involved in the production process. A command economy in contrast is bad because it's near impossible to justly compensate/reward each and every person involved. Property rights makes justice that much more practical, and also applies to intellectual property. How would you propose that people are justly rewarded for say, special furniture designs, without tracking people down, one by one?

In the first place we must ask how we'd determine a person's "just reward" for a special furniture design... Do you see their "just reward" as standing apart from their ownership of that special furniture which they've designed (and built). If so, how so? They have a piece of property which they may use or sell as they see fit. (Or destroy, or bequeath, or etc.) The more special their design, the more special their property, I suppose.

If I build a chair, I have a chair. That is my just reward. If I sell it for $1.50, that is my just reward. If I sell it for a million dollars, that is my just reward. (All of this is assuming I do not defraud, trading value for value, etc.) Building a chair does not carry with it the special social ability to dictate to others what they may or may not build on their own time, with their own materials, in their own homes, and so on. That is not the "just reward" of doing something; not even of doing it first.

Really what makes anything property is your ability to conceive of how to use materials.

As I believe I've demonstrated, this is false, strictly. I may "conceive" of how to use a great many things, and have no property to show for it -- no wealth. A person must conceive... and then put that conception into practice by shaping the wealth, physically. They must bend whatever materials to their purpose... and then they have wealth. Then they have property. Specifically, they have the property -- the wealth -- that they have brought into existence through their efforts.

There isn't that much of a struggle, for instance, to say that when you write a book, it is your idea.

Now maybe this will strike you as picky, but I do want to point out that, "yes," it is "your idea"... but not in an exclusive sense. Whatever we conclude about IP -- whether these are rights in fact, or violations of rights -- we do not own ideas.

Euclid had certain ideas about geometry, and perhaps was the first to hold those ideas, but he never had any ownership over them. They were his ideas, and insofar as anyone else held them (though subsequently, though through Euclid's example), they also possessed those same ideas.

You could objectively point out that you wrote it down before anyone else. The materials you used to write a book are incidental, and anyone who buys "your book" is buying the pages, but not buying any right to claim it is their idea and creation. So, in one sense you are right: just because a person can type up all the words in your book the book becomes yours. The other person still owns the book as it is. But they should not profit from distributing the book, or otherwise benefit from writing up the story (unless you gave permission, of course). The way the actual story is used is up to the author. And if the author dies, the rights go away, too; it's not possible to hand over a story. Or a chair design. I do not see why transferability matters in determining what is property, though. I doubt you want to argue for strong materialism.

I'm not clear as to what you mean by "strong materialism," so I don't know whether I want to argue for it or not. (In general, if it's true, I want to argue for it; if not, then not. ;) )

But okay. Suppose I invent "a chair design" (as opposed to "the chair"? why?). Given IP -- given that this design is "my property" -- why isn't it transferable? Isn't transferability a feature of property? Why oughtn't I be allowed to use this... "thing" that I own (the "thing" itself being nebulous... not the "idea," itself, but certain instances of subsequent production which someone, somewhere, somehow judges to be "too similar") to benefit my descendants in the same way that I would be allowed were we discussing the actual physical property I had built?

As for the inherent inability "to hand over a story"? I don't know. I certainly could sell "all rights" of a story I'd written, if someone wanted to buy them. Then they'd have every right I would have had, as original author, to the extent that current IP law allows. Now... they still couldn't claim to have authored the story originally, except that they could lie. But that's not what's at issue. I'm not talking about whether the second man to build a chair should be able to lie and claim that he's the first to build one, and that he took no inspiration from any source. I'm talking about his right to take inspiration as he finds it and build a chair, as such.

Anyway, those rights I'd sold of my story would expire eventually, of course, according to current law. The seeming criterion that our society uses at present to determine the length of those rights is the Congressional influence of Disney's legal team. But if I can sell these rights, why should they expire at, uh, my expiration, and not the expiration of the person who's purchased them? They're wealth, right? They're "real," right? So why should they expire at all? And why can't I will them to my children, again?

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A few thoughts I've had over the last several days, as I've worked this topic over in my mind... (these maybe too "fanciful" for some; I hope that they are still meaningful observations)

1) Humans rights are the same with or without government (not being "granted" by any agency, but objective facts of man's survival requirements), and in any kind of society. They are as true on a "desert island" as anywhere else. Two men stranded on such an island would each have a right to life, and to liberty, and to property. If either owned a chair, that chair certainly would be his. If either tried to take his neighbor's life, liberty, or property, he should expect a fight. The struggle might quickly be one of literal life or death.

But what of "intellectual property"? Does that follow our men to this new society, sans patent office and organized marketplace? If one man invented the chair, and then his neighbor built one for himself... should he expect a fight? Do we recognize building a chair in similar fashion as a struggle for life and death between these two? Or is there nothing apparently destructive in the copying of this chair, either to "man's life as such" or to any of these specific men, in reality? Where is the reality of IP here?

2) Human rights, so far as I understand them, recognize neither spatial limits nor governmental jurisdiction. If aliens exist and possess a Death Star, say, they could violate my rights though from very far away, by virtue of their weaponry through the destruction of my life or actual, physical property. They theoretically could be on a distant planet in some other galaxy, and violate my rights, given sufficient technology and malice.

But if I built a chair (or whatever), and aliens observe me (through their great technology), and "copy" me, building chairs (in my special design) on their own distant world... have my rights thus been violated?

3) Human rights are eternal in that, so long as there has been or will be humanity, we will have these rights and they will be the same. The level of technology under discussion does not matter. The world of Star Trek presents a piece of technology called a "replicator." Not to comment on the feasibility of such a device, but suppose it is possible and were invented. Would we regard this as a great boon to humanity, in making possible a vast increase of wealth? Or a horrible destruction of wealth?

I ask because this appears to be the very height of the kind of "mindless copying" that we decry, and account as not being the "true" source of any value (though in truth there would be nothing "mindless" in developing the incredible technology such a replicator represents, and neither in using that technology for purposeful ends). Imagine that replicator technology suffuses across the world such that material poverty is effectively ended: whatever is wanted materially is nearly a push of the button away (provided that "what is wanted" has previously been innovated). Do we fear that this technology would end innovation, as such? Deny justice to those who innovate (and prevent them from their "just rewards")? What material reward would any innovator hope to achieve by preserving his patent, that would be unavailable to him through the ordinary use of the replicator? Would there be any sense whatever to limit peoples' use of this replicator technology?

In short, would IP -- and patents specifically -- make any sense in a world that had such technology? What possible good would patents serve in this case -- to whom and how?

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As to patents, these are the recognition that a government may bestow upon a person and his inventions... but they do not create IP. If IP exists at all as an actual right, then it exists outside of government.

Morality exists without government. Rights are a moral principle. Yes, stealing someone's inventions would still be immoral, even in anarchy.

The inventor of a chair owns "chairs," whether or not any government recognizes the fact. So the inventor of a chair does not need a patent on chairs to feel violated by any other man who also builds a like chair. And since force is justified in response to its initiation -- because patent law is ultimately backed by the gun -- if I were to build a chair, and my neighbor were to build his own chair afterwards... then I would be justified to take or destroy his chair, threatening physical force against my neighbor should he resist, up to death. (Just as I would threaten physical force to preserve my arm, my crops, my liberty, and all that which are actually a part of my rights.)

Right?

No. First off, it wouldn't be moral to kill someone over a relatively minor violation of your rights.

Second, if you are in a position to threaten force to preserve your IP, then you should instead use your power to establish a government, and end the anarchy.

Anarchy is an awful thing. It is impossible to fully exercise your rights, and live as a civilized human being, in anarchy. I can't imagine a context in which IP rights would be something one should try to protect through the threat of force, in anarchy. If you are in such a situation, and the people around you are so savage that it's impossible to establish a civilized government, then you should keep interactions to a minimum with them.

The means by which you could (and should, the last thing you need is savages with access to your technology around you) protect your IP rights is secrecy, not force.

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Morality exists without government. Rights are a moral principle. Yes, stealing someone's inventions would still be immoral, even in anarchy.

We're agreed nigh-completely.

The one quibble being whether it's possible to "steal someone's invention" in the manner in which I take your meaning. That is, after all, the matter under consideration.

No. First off, it wouldn't be moral to kill someone over a relatively minor violation of your rights.

Ah, well, I'm not sure why this particular violation of my rights would be "minor." What's the basis for that determination? But I wasn't suggesting that you simply opt to "kill someone," anyways. What I *am* saying is that a violation of rights is an initiation of the use of force. It is moral (and some argue "required") to act in self-defense, returning force for force.

And whenever you engage in force, things can quickly escalate. If I move to attack you -- to destroy what you believe to be your property or whatever -- and you attempt to resist, then we're engaged in combat (each perhaps believing in this case that we are the one in the right). There easily may be more damage wrought than originally intended. The phrase that laws are "backed by the gun" is more than simply rhetoric -- it represents the length you must ultimately be willing to go, to defend yourself and your rights. It is a matter of life and death, even when we're dealing with an example like IP. That's why we take these matters seriously. (If IP isn't that big of a deal -- nothing to fight over, really -- then that tells me something about how seriously to take the claim that we're discussing actual rights.)

Second, if you are in a position to threaten force to preserve your IP, then you should instead use your power to establish a government, and end the anarchy.

You don't need wholesale "anarchy" to be caught in a situation where you have to administer your own justice, or in this case, act in your own self-defense. If I were living in a state where a certain amount of lawlessness would allow someone to steal my actual, physical property, I wouldn't just stand by and let it happen. Nor would I feel required to "use my power to clean up the state" as opposed to fighting back against the personal injustices I was confronted with. I wouldn't shout at the robbers as they were running away, "You're lucky that there's no police here to stop you... but I'm going to run for City Council, and one day people like you won't be able to get away with things like this!" Instead, I'd try to stop the robbers.

And even if it were "anarchy," the idea that it would be incumbent upon every individual, without regard to his specific context, to "establish a government, and end the anarchy" in order to fight for his rights, as such, seems completely wrong to me. I don't need to be George Washington to fight for my life, liberty or property.

Anarchy is an awful thing. It is impossible to fully exercise your rights, and live as a civilized human being, in anarchy.

Nobody likes anarchy. Except, perhaps, for anarchists, but I don't think anyone here is one of those.

I can't imagine a context in which IP rights would be something one should try to protect through the threat of force, in anarchy.

It is through the threat of force (and only through the threat of force) that IP is protected under any government. If you believe that IP is an actual right, then you must hold that a good/just/moral government would do so. So if it's good/just/moral for a government to protect IP through the threat of force... why can't I do it personally, for preservation of my own rights? You wish me to just lay down and submit to those who would violate my rights, because "society" doesn't have its act together? I doubt you'd agree to that as stated, but that seems to be the substance of your reply.

This would take us off topic, so I'd like to tread lightly on this digression, but I wonder a bit about the nature of governance, and when we would recognize a "government" as being established. If we were living in some sort of frontier society (which is not quite "anarchy" necessarily, but... is not fully lawful either, as we know it), and you and I and a few of our friends decided that we would take it upon ourselves to enforce IP -- call us a patent-oriented vigilante gang, if you must, or a Neighborhood Watch of the Mind, or whatever. Well, are we not in some senses a government?

If you are in such a situation, and the people around you are so savage that it's impossible to establish a civilized government, then you should keep interactions to a minimum with them.

Well, perhaps. I get the feeling like specific context is crucial here, and that a lot turns on the word "minimum." Meeting at a marketplace to trade may well be part of the "minimum," and insofar as I cannot keep my chair secret from the world if I am to offer it for sale, I guess I'd be bound to run into this sort of problem, even among "savages."

The means by which you could (and should, the last thing you need is savages with access to your technology around you) protect your IP rights is secrecy, not force.

IP doesn't work to prevent "savages" from accessing technology, as such. Unless you would hold every technology which currently exists to "belong" to some individual, I'd guess that our current system wouldn't prevent these "savages" from getting rifles, bombs, computers, etc., etc., etc., if they wanted them, as none of that would be prevented to them under current patent law.

But as to "secrecy" being the key protection of IP "rights," and not force? You may be onto something there. A person may keep a thing a secret all they want. But when it's no longer a secret, my contention is that an innovator has no "right" to dictate to others that they may not act upon that new-found knowledge in cases like "building a chair."

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But as to "secrecy" being the key protection of IP "rights," and not force? You may be onto something there.

I said the complete opposite: secrecy should be your tool only in the absence of an objective legal system.

But when it's no longer a secret, my contention is that an innovator has no "right" to dictate to others that they may not act upon that new-found knowledge in cases like "building a chair."

By insisting on using a chair as an example, you are arguing against a straw man. I don't think anyone is suggesting that the chair (or things like the chair: the house, the car, the computer, the microprocessor, the shampoo, the plane, etc. ) should be patented.

As for patentable designs and inventions, my argument (well, Ayn Rand's argument, which I quoted) was that they are the product of an individual's intellectual efforts, therefor he is entitled to them in physical form. I may have missed it, but I haven't seen you refute that.

Edited by Nicky
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By insisting on using a chair as an example, you are arguing against a straw man. I don't think anyone is suggesting that the chair (or things like the chair: the house, the car, the computer, the microprocessor, the shampoo, the plane, etc. ) should be patented.

No, no one is suggesting that. I don't think anyone is suggesting any objective criteria at all by which patents may be morally and consistently understood and enforced. I don't think any such objective criteria exist. I don't think any such objective criteria are possible.

Using a chair as an example is not a "straw man," or at least it is not intended to be. Rather it is part of my criticism. If you can explain why a chair or a microprocessor is not "the product of an individual's intellectual efforts" in the same way that you hold for what you believe to be patentable inventions, I would be open to hearing it.

In the lecture that Mnrchst linked, examples of an individual's intellectual efforts, and thus the seeming basis for the speaker's claim that there ought to be such things as patents, included "clothing," and "the division of labor." Was he suggesting that "division of labor" ought to be patentable? Of course not. (His choice of examples perhaps speaks to the confusion which, if I'm right, is generated from trying to assert what is fundamentally a contradiction.) But I also don't think there's any good argument as to "why not," or why some things count but others don't, or for how long. Or at least, no argument that I would consider good; Utilitarians, I'm sure, would have something to say on the subject.

As for patentable designs and inventions, my argument (well, Ayn Rand's argument, which I quoted) was that they are the product of an individual's intellectual efforts, therefor he is entitled to them in physical form. I may have missed it, but I haven't seen you refute that.

What is there to refute?

If I see your chair and understand it and build one for myself, then that chair is also the product of an individual's intellectual efforts. In this case, my intellectual efforts. You may insist that I've made no intellectual effort in understanding your design, but you would be just as wrong as if you insisted that the student who learns calculus, and then applies it for himself, makes no intellectual effort; that it is actually somehow Sir Issac Newton working through the body of this "unthinking" student.

And what entitles us to "intellectual efforts in physical form" is nothing less than the actual work of realizing one's idea in physical form. The physical aspect is just as necessary as the mental labor, or else there is no wealth at all. That is why the chair you build is yours and the chair I build is mine.

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As I believe I've demonstrated, this is false, strictly. I may "conceive" of how to use a great many things, and have no property to show for it -- no wealth. A person must conceive... and then put that conception into practice by shaping the wealth, physically. They must bend whatever materials to their purpose... and then they have wealth. Then they have property. Specifically, they have the property -- the wealth -- that they have brought into existence through their efforts.

I should add "and be able to physically instantiate." If *all* property is not the conception of a specific method for using materials, whether it be a house, a car, or the patent for a type of transistor radio, then what is property?

By the way, what I meant by "strong materialism" (I don't know what the correct philosophical term is) is the idea that all the stuff in the world are atoms, and that concepts are more like an illusion/social construct that aren't real. So property only makes sense as "might makes right", which is basically that property is built on violence. "Might makes right" is a clear sign that property is altogether a violation of rights. The thrust of that point is that if IP isn't legitimate, *no* property is legitimate. The only sensible way to talk about IP is how all property is related to concepts, even tangible property, rather than primarily labor or work you do.

I'll get to your other points later (and you can just respond to the thread I linked in the page before since this is becoming a tangent), but I'm posting this here to point out that if we define IP properly, its protection can be codified.

Edited by Eiuol
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I should add "and be able to physically instantiate." If *all* property is not the conception of a specific method for using materials, whether it be a house, a car, or the patent for a type of transistor radio, then what is property?

Well... I think it's more than the "ability" to physically instantiate a thing, but the instance itself. That is, property is not the conception of a specific method for using materials alone, but also the specific execution of this method. When we speak of property, I believe we're speaking of a relationship between a man and some item or group of items (again, specific) borne of this process.

Every idea was thought of, initially, by someone. Every instance and category of conversion from raw material to property -- "stuff" to wealth -- reflects the hard work, both mental and physical, of some innovator originally.

As an example, at first there were bananas in the trees. That is not wealth. That does no man any good. That is nobody's property. Perhaps someone conceives of how to get the bananas from the trees, for the purpose of eating the bananas. Wonderful, but.... Do we have wealth yet? Property yet? We do not. At that point, the someone who has conceived of getting the bananas from the trees must take the vital step of actually getting the bananas from the trees.

When this has been done... now we have wealth. Now we have property. Whose property? The man who thought to get the bananas and did, in fact, get them.

With regard to the arguments that have been developed for IP in this thread, what does this man own of his "mental labor" apart from his (apparently devalued) physical labor? Does he own all the bananas in the world, or their use as food? Does he own the process by which a man gets fruit from trees? Of course not. He may well be the innovator of those things, but innovation does not of itself create either wealth or property.

Should any other man observe our innovator, and learn for himself how to get his own bananas down from the trees, and then get some? Then those will be his bananas. I'm sorry if this sounds simplistic, but I don't think anything else we could be discussing, from chairs to the iPhone, is at heart any more complicated than this. The process by which wealth is created, and wealth's reliance on both types of effort (mental and physical), remains the same.

But what of our banana-getting innovator? What does he own on account of his efforts? The bananas that he's acquired. And that's it.

By the way, what I meant by "strong materialism" (I don't know what the correct philosophical term is) is the idea that all the stuff in the world are atoms, and that concepts are more like an illusion/social construct that aren't real.

Of course I don't believe this. :) Has what I've said truly suggested this to you?

Property is real. Not just the "atoms," but the concept, and the life-and-death relationship of property rights to human life. That's why I take this idea of "intellectual property" very seriously.

However I do believe that the concept of property is inextricably bound with material; I do not believe that ideas are, or can be, property. You can own some specific material instance of a concept, but not the concept itself. You can own a car, or several, but not the "idea" of cars.

The real question before us is: by what means does some instance become a person's property? Is it enough that a person has innovated the concept? Does that entitle that person to every subsequent instance (or actually, any instance at all)? I think that this is a way of smuggling in the idea of "owning the concept," whether we admit to it or not. And I also think that it's wrong. Because the creation of wealth requires more than devising the concept. I mean, sure, if you can manage to pick all of the bananas yourself... then they're all yours. But to come up with the idea, and then claim that you have dibs on all of them without needing to do any of the work involved? Nope, sorry, that's laying claim to wealth you haven't earned.

From the Lexicon (again "property rights"), emphasis added:

Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.

Not the non-material. Not requiring knowledge alone. Not "those who innovate" the knowledge. Not those who first apply the effort. But those who apply the knowledge and effort. Those who gather the bananas. Build the chairs. They are those who own this property.

So property only makes sense as "might makes right", which is basically that property is built on violence. "Might makes right" is a clear sign that property is altogether a violation of rights.

And of course I don't believe any of this either. If you truly believe that I'm arguing that "might makes right," and that "property is altogether a violation of rights," and if you can show to me how that follows from what I've argued, I will immediately disavow all of my previous argument.

I do not believe that property is a violation of rights, but I am arguing that "intellectual property" is not property at all. And I think it's time we questioned why we assert that it is so. We don't treat it as we do property. We argue that it cannot be transferred and etc. We assign it time limits and an expiration date, upon which we give it to "the people"... why? I suspect that "intellectual property" is as much property as "social justice" is justice. There is a scam afoot.

The thrust of that point is that if IP isn't legitimate, *no* property is legitimate. The only sensible way to talk about IP is how all property is related to concepts, even tangible property, rather than primarily labor or work you do.

The concept of property, at least as I conceptualize it, is bound in the work that you do. To get, you must work. You don't accrue property simply by laying idle claim. You don't get it by gazing out at the wilderness from an ivory tower. The man who first set eyes on the stars did not thus own them. Work -- physical work -- is required. Absent this work, there is no wealth created.

If I were claiming that property, and wealth, were solely functions of physical labor, then I would be dead wrong. Dead wrong to discount the vital role that the mind plays in the creation of wealth. But the concept of IP that we've been discussing is equally wrong in the other direction, in discounting the equally vital role that the body plays in the creation of wealth.

In a way, it's exciting, because I really feel as though I've stumbled onto an interesting application of the mind/body split. A step-too-far homage to innovators as these overarching spirits that guide the rest of an unthinking, zombie humanity -- who own (and not simply in some metaphorical/poetical sense, but literally) all of the subsequent efforts of these mindless grunts who come afterwards, and live only by appropriating the vast wealth that their genius minds have created in the long ago. A reduction of physical labor to a mere formality, because once the idea has been conceived, all of the "heavy lifting" has been done.

But no, the "heavy lifting," as the phrase suggests, has not been done when the idea has been conceived. The wealth has not been created. It belongs to no one, and does not in fact yet exist as property, but waits to be created, and will then belong to he that creates it, in actuality. And what is more, an idea having been conceived by someone else does not do us any good if we do not learn that idea for ourselves. We are not passive recipients of the fruits of knowledge from sources on high; we are not zombies; we must learn, understand, grasp these ideas for ourselves. Which means: we must perform our own mental labor. And when we have done so, then we own these ideas as surely as anyone else ever has, including the innovators of these ideas.

(By the by, if possible I'd prefer to keep my response here, tangent or not, because I think it's in keeping with the conversation we've been having. If you'd like to split this discussion off entirely at the point where it first diverged, I have no objections, but I'd like to keep all of my thoughts on the matter together as much as possible, and in the context of our ongoing discussion with yourself, Nicky, and Mnrchst.)

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  • 4 months later...

I would like to necro this topic with some helpful insights from Murray Rothbard who I believed solved the IP problem.

To Rothbard, patents were invalid, but copyrights could exist in a completely free market (even his an-cap version) and do the work of patents effectively. Let's say an inventor creates a new machine and wishes to sell it on the open market but does not want someone t come along and imitate his product. This inventor can put a "copyright" stamp on every machine he sells which explicitly (or implicitly eventually if a lot of machines are sold in an ordinary store setting) and legally prevents the purchaser from copying the machine for sale. This function would be a simple "term of contract." In the same way that I can rent a car out to someone with the condition that he not crash it lest he pay me a penalty, I can sell an item with the condition that he not copy it lest he relieves a similar punishment.

The key difference between this solution and a patent is that it does not prevent the creation of similar products. If another person manages to create a similar, or even identical invention without purchasing the copyrighted product, then he has every right to do so and will not be legally restrained. If a third party purchases the copyrighted item and shares it with the second inventor, thereby assisting with the invention, then the copyright has been violated with both individuals being complicit in fraud.

Any problems with Rothbard's proposal?

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Any problems with Rothbard's proposal?

It fails to protect the value of an invention by refusing to protect a type or class but only exact and near exact copies as in copyright. It permits property right violations and as a half measure would be completely useless because it would be so easy to work around. The copying that occurs in a copyright violation and the copying that occurs in an unauthorized reproduction of an invention is in both instances an appropriation of the value of the work without the consent of the owner.

Note how Rothbard, an author, will entertain the idea of copyrights but as he has not invented anything he finds patents indefensible. What petty hypocrisy.

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This inventor can put a "copyright" stamp on every machine he sells which explicitly (or implicitly eventually if a lot of machines are sold in an ordinary store setting) and legally prevents the purchaser from copying the machine for sale. This function would be a simple "term of contract."

Which is it? A copyright, or a contract? Copyright laws aren't contract enforcement laws. Not by a long shot.

There are crucial distinctions: if it's a contract, then people who come into possession of a device through other means than buying them (finding a discarded item, being gifted one, etc.) have no legal obligations, because they have agreed to no contract. They can in fact do whatever they want, including copy and sell the device. Furthermore, detailed descriptions of a device would be freely shared on the Internet, by people who have not agreed to any contracts stating otherwise, and anyone (except the people who actually bought the device and agreed to some contract) would be 100% free to make the device based on those descriptions, and sell it.

On the other hand, if it's a copyright, then it's not only ineffective (the notion that any government could stop information from being shared, or keep track of everyone who has access to it, is childish), but also an expansion of copyright laws which violates freedom of speech. By expanding copyright laws from a ban on the sharing of exact text, audio and video produced by copyright holders to a ban on people's own descriptions of things produced by copyright holders, you would be infringing on the right to critique, analyze, discuss etc these devices freely (as we critique, analyze and discuss them today).

Sorry, but I have every right to take apart an Iphone someone gave me, produce a full description of every single detail of it, and share or even sell that description to anyone I wish. That, unlike stealing, is speech, and it is my right. If you want to copyright the IPhone, what you want to do is allow its theft (by virtue of an ineffective system of fighting theft) but ban any speech that involves detailed descriptions of how it's made, including criticism, teaching, etc.

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Which is it? A copyright, or a contract? Copyright laws aren't contract enforcement laws. Not by a long shot.

There are crucial distinctions: if it's a contract, then people who come into possession of a device through other means than buying them (finding a discarded item, being gifted one, etc.) have no legal obligations, because they have agreed to no contract.

When the original inventor first sells the good, part of the copyright could require the recipient and all future recipients (via sales contract with the first recipient) whether through sales or gift to abide by the the original copyright protection. I imagine there could also be a provision requiring the "destruction" of the invention upon disposal so that it cannot be found and copied.

They can in fact do whatever they want, including copy and sell the device. Furthermore, detailed descriptions of a device would be freely shared on the Internet, by people who have not agreed to any contracts stating otherwise, and anyone (except the people who actually bought the device and agreed to some contract) would be 100% free to make the device based on those descriptions, and sell it.

The contract provision could also prohibit the "detailed" publications of the nature of the invention, though I agree this provision would be difficult to enforce.

On the other hand, if it's a copyright, then it's not only ineffective (the notion that any government could stop information from being shared, or keep track of everyone who has access to it, is childish),

The same could be said for modern music copyright laws which are utterly unenforceable. Edit - while I agree that Rothbard's proposal seems difficult to enforce (especially with the "destruction" provision), I don't see how it is is any less enforceable than modern day IP law, which is a twisted nightmare of never ending litigation. As said, music copyright protection has pretty much been abandoned, and big patents tend to get lost in never ending chains of fights against "similar" products.

but also an expansion of copyright laws which violates freedom of speech. By expanding copyright laws from a ban on the sharing of exact text, audio and video produced by copyright holders to a ban on people's own descriptions of things produced by copyright holders, you would be infringing on the right to critique, analyze, discuss etc these devices freely (as we critique, analyze and discuss them today).

With the previosuly contract provision, there is no violation of freedom speech. It would be no different from taking a job in which your employment contract stipulates that you may not share corporate secrets with competitors.

Edited by Dormin111
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It fails to protect the value of an invention...

The copying that occurs in a copyright violation and the copying that occurs in an unauthorized reproduction of an invention is in both instances an appropriation of the value of the work without the consent of the owner.

I've explained at length, here and elsewhere, the source of my ambivalence (and increasing hostility) to IP. I do not yet believe that ideas can be owned, for the reasons I've given. In reading your reply, however, I've given a little thought to this idea of "value," which I take to be tangential. I suspect that there is correspondingly a problem here. Please forgive the rambling nature of what is bound to follow; I plan on just sort of spitballing...

I own property and that property has some value. We could say that I own not simply the property, but also its value. And yet... whence this idea of the value of the property? By what means is such a thing calculated?

Value requires a valuer, yes? So let's say that I possess some object and that object has some value to me. For the purpose of discussion, let the object be a matchbook. And suppose that it is an ordinary matchbook taken from a bar many years ago. I value the matchbook (I will take action to keep it) because... I gained it on my first date with my wife, who has subsequently died. Accordingly, I value it highly.

Could I assign some monetary equivalent to the matchbook? Perhaps I could. If I took the trouble to do so, it seems likely to me that this monetary equivalent would be far higher than that which anyone else would assign to the same matchbox. So what of that? Does my assessment of the matchbook not reflect its "real value"? Must I poll other people to determine the value of an object?

Suppose that years later, some substantial segment of society develops a passion for matchbook collecting. It's determined by experts that my matchbook is a rare misprint, and that there are only a handful available on the market. Suddenly, many people are willing to pay vast sums for my matchbook. Has the matchbook's "real value" now increased? Do I now own more than I did before?

Some time after that suppose that a man goes into his attic and discovers that he owns thousands of the supposedly rare matchbook, and he floods the market with them, crashing the price of every instance. Whereas before I had a very valuable matchbook (in the eyes of "society")... now that value is gone. Did the man who flooded the market do me some damage?

It seems to me that in every case what I really own is: a matchbook. Whatever value the matchbook may or may not have depends on the valuer (i.e. there is no free-floating "value" apart from some person doing the valuing). So to suggest that a person may appropriate or dispossess the value of some property without taking the property in fact seems... wrong to me. We do not own "value," we own things. Things which we may or may not find more or less valuable.

And of course, IP, which is not even "things," is not sensible to discuss in this context. A man who picks a banana does not therefore own the "value" of every banana subsequently picked in that fashion. A man who builds a chair (or an iPhone) does not therefore own the "value" of all chairs, let alone the actual physical chairs built by others. What, then, is the "value" of an invention apart from the physical instance (i.e. the actual property, the "thing") of that invention? Why, the ability to create that physical instance and others, which is a capacity that is not diminished by others gaining likewise ability.

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.. I've given a little thought to this idea of "value," which I take to be tangential. I suspect that there is correspondingly a problem here.

Assigned value of a thing can change over time for the same person, different people can assign a different value to the same object at the same time, the value assigned to an object by a crowd of people (the "market") can change over time.

Therefore.... what? What conclusion do you wish to draw from these facts? That value is hopelessly non-objective so can't be protected by objective law?

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