The tech world has become a patent war with innovation taking a back seat. Eduardo Porter writes in today’s New York Times business section,
High-tech behemoths in a range of businesses like mobile computing and search and social networking have been suing one another to protect their intellectual property from what they see as the blatant copying and cloning by their rivals. Regardless of the legitimacy of their claims, the aggressive litigation could have a devastating effect on society as a whole, short-circuiting innovation.
Patents are supposed to encourage innovation, writes Porter, but, “The belief that stronger intellectual property protection inevitably leads to more innovation appears to be broadly wrong.”
Porter goes on to write that IP hinders innovation.
One study found that the number of new rose varieties registered by American nurseries fell after the passage of the Plant Patent Act of 1930, which allowed for the patenting of new rose hybrids. Another study concluded that copyrighting new gene sequences sharply reduced scientists’ subsequent experimentation with the decoded genes, even if they were later placed in the public domain. Surveys have found that the risk of patent litigation deters firms from pursuing innovations.
Porter stops way short of calling for an end to Intellectual Property laws. But he does seem at least a bit skeptical of the purported benefits of IP laws, concluding,
Intellectual property, meanwhile, keeps growing. The United States patent office awarded 248,000 patents last year, 35 percent more than a decade ago. Some will spur innovation. But others are more likely to stop it in its tracks.
Hume recognized that Locke’s use of “labor” in his homesteading argument was really just figurative and that no assumption of labor-ownership is needed for Locke’s homesteading argument to work. Without the Lockean labor confusion, much of the intellectual case for IP evaporates (and we might have avoided the spread of the labor theory of value that infects Smithian economics and Marxism). (See my post Hume on Intellectual Property and the Problematic “Labor” Metaphor.)
His recognition of the is-ought gap. Writes Hans-Hermann Hoppe: “one can readily subscribe to the almost generally accepted view that the gulf between ‘ought’ and ‘is’ is logically unbridgeable.” (A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, p. 163.)