Intellectual Property is Forced Negative Servitude

Patents are a lot like Net Neutrality.  Everybody seems to think they’re a good idea, but the reality is this:  both are about government control.

It’s essentially a race to the patent office to get the government to prevent anyone from competing so the patent seeker can gain monopoly rents.

The patent seeker wants the violence of government to FORCE consumers to have worse products to protect one producer?

Net Neutrality is Newspeak for Cronyism

And how is this going to be enforced without government?  IP requires a government to enforce it.  Enforcement prevents someone not a party to the arrangement of the patent from using their own materials or ideas.

This is roughly equivalent to theft.

[IP is more precisely a form of negative servitude, not theft. It restricts people from doing certain things with their property. There’s nothing wrong with voluntary negative servitudes, such as restrictive covenant agreements. The problem with IP is that it attempts to create rights that are good against the world and at odds with pre-existing property rights in physical things.] – Freedom Juice

F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (U. Chicago Press, 1989), p. 36:

The difference between [copyrights and patents] and other kinds of property rights is this: while ownership of material goods guides the use of scarce means to their most important uses, in the case of immaterial goods such as literary productions and technological inventions the ability to produce them is also limited, yet once they have come into existence, they can be indefinitely multiplied and can be made scarce only by law in order to create an inducement to produce such ideas. Yet it is not obvious that such forced scarcity is the most effective way to stimulate the human creative process. I doubt whether there exists a single great work of literature which we would not possess had the author been unable to obtain an exclusive copyright for it; it seems to me that the case for copyright must rest almost entirely on the circumstance that such exceedingly useful works as encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, and other works of reference could not be produced if, once they existed, they could freely be reproduced. … Similarly, recurrent re-examinations of the problem have not demonstrated that the obtainability of patents of invention actually enhances the flow of new technical knowledge rather than leading to wasteful concentration of research on problems whose solution in the near future can be foreseen and where, in consequence of the law, anyone who hits upon a solution a moment before the next gains the right to its exclusive use for a prolonged period. [citing Fritz Machlup, The Production and Distribution of Knowledge (1962)]


Patents and “intellectual property” more generally are, by definition, aimed at blocking competition, as their main aim is to prevent others from competing with the innovator by producing the same thing either a little more cheaply or of a little better quality.

Part of the enormous increase in the number of patents is because patents beget yet other patents to defend against existing patents… Pundits and lawyers call this navigating the patent thickets.

Costing THOUSANDS of dollars.  So…now ONLY the rich can even get a FUCKING patent.

Damn the Torpedo

Although the patent term was measured from the date of award, … the validity of the patent [is] … measured from the day of submission. Hence, the submarine patent — the filing of a useless patent on a broad idea that might, one day, be useful. The existence of the filing is secret … and the application process is dragged out until some actual innovator invests the time and effort to make the idea useful. At that time, the amendment filing stops, the patent is awarded, and the submarine surfaces to demand license fees.


Imitation is a great thing. It is among the most powerful technologies humans have ever developed … imitation is a technology that allows us to increase productive capacity. Innovators increase productive capacity directly, while imitators increase productive capacity by purchasing one or more copies of the idea and then imitating it … The output of the imitation process is additional productive capacity … imitation is also a technology that allows further innovation … making your copy of the idea a bit better, or cheaper, than the one the original innovators are selling is one way to increase your [competitive] rents… Intellectual monopoly greatly discourages imitation… If an imitator improves upon the product or learns how to produce it at a cheaper cost … your competitor now has the upper hand and is a threat to your monopoly. It is far more sensible simply to prevent imitation in the first place, by aggressive legal enforcement of patents and other forms of intellectual monopoly.


A number of scientific studies have attempted to examine whether introducing or strengthening patent protection leads to greater innovation by using data from post–Second World War advanced economies… The executive summary: these studies find weak or no evidence that strengthening patent regimes increases innovation.

Protecting the Little Guy?

Which begets even more patents.

In fact….it springs forth a cottage industry of patent creation for the sake of creating them.

How is that better?

The thicket of patents are such a waste of resources.  Intellectual property lawyer Stephan Kinsella points out,

“…maybe more money for R&D would be available if it were not being spent on patents and lawsuits.”

Only the large players, or those with money or backing can even get a seat at the table.  So, if you remember our sob story from the beginning about the poor little inventor with a brilliant idea, no money and a dream!  Think about what this system does to him.

Rather than focusing on inventing shit, improving people’s lives….all this effort, time, and money is being thrown into a giant shit hole to create a web of patents.

That’s really HELPING the little guy.

Yeah, that seems more efficient than “hey, I made this thing….wanna buy it”?

I’m sure it’s much better to navigate the thousands of existing patents, pay thousands of dollars for lawyers and patent application fees, etc…before you invent your invention.

And then what…can’t the rich just buy it from you?

Wouldn’t that make you wealthy?

Imposing Tolls

Patents allow a claim for “royalties” when a third-party attempts to use a feature or technology that may have a kernel of truth to the origin by some party.

Never mind that this is the fear-mongering related to Net Neutrality.  Yet, here it is lauded.

Back in 2009:

British Telecom announced a couple of weeks ago that they have a patent on hyperlinks, and that they mean to begin enforcing it. Apparently, in 1989, someone at BT succeeded in registering this patent, despite several decades of “prior art.” After doing nothing with it for over a decade, BT suddenly woke up to the fact that they had the opportunity to collect tolls on the Information Superhighway.

However, if somebody styles their hair a certain way, or grows a ridiculous looking beard-patter (think of Apolo Ohno’s “soul patch”), and other people copy them and do the same – does that prevent the originator from continuing to use their property as they see fit?  Just imagine if such a thing could be patented.  You would then be preventing another person from using their own property at your behest.

Hindering Innovation

It is by no means self-evident that patents encourage an increased absolute quantity of research expenditures. But certainly patents distort the type of research expenditure being conducted. For while it is true that the first discoverer benefits from the privilege, it is also true that competitors are excluded from production in the area of the patent for many years… Moreover, the patentee is himself discouraged from engaging in further research in this field, for the privilege permits him to rest on his laurels….

That Rothbard quote is killer.  You get the patent…and you can STOP innovating.  Hence….higher prices for worse goods and services. So we all lose.

And…of COURSE it serves the seeker well.  That’s the point. The bank robber is  too, SERVED WELL by the money he steals.

Somebody Gets it Right

As much as Elon Musk is terrible on many things related to government subsidies and favoritism (cronyism); he does rightly see patents for what they are:

All Our Patent Are Belong To You

Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.

Tesla Motors was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles, but then lay intellectual property landmines behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a manner contrary to that goal. Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology.

When I started out with my first company, Zip2, I thought patents were a good thing and worked hard to obtain them. And maybe they were good long ago, but too often these days they serve merely to stifle progress, entrench the positions of giant corporations and enrich those in the legal profession, rather than the actual inventors. After Zip2, when I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit, I avoided them whenever possible.

So that’s my rant on patents.  It’s really built on the scholarly efforts of those cited and referenced.  But when you break it down as an anarchist where this is no role for government, it really simplifies matters.


References and Further Reading:

https://mises.org/library/patents-and-copyrights-do-benefits-exceed-costs-0

https://mises.org/blog/yet-another-study-finds-patents-do-not-encourage-innovation

https://mises.org/library/patents-and-copyrights-should-be-repealed

https://mises.org/library/rethinking-patent-law

https://www.tesla.com/blog/all-our-patent-are-belong-you


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