Re: IP Protection ...

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From: Matt Jensen (
Date: Fri May 11 2001 - 10:05:50 PDT

John, you seem very intent on judging the rightness of situations by how
much money changes hands. Specifically,

On Thu, 10 May 2001, John Hall wrote:

> Michael McLay wrote:
> BY DEFINITION anyone paying for IP is better off than they would have been
> otherwise. Nobody buts a gun to their head and demands they buy a piece of
> software.

This is the most common economic tautology of all. "If someone does X, X
is what they want to do, or they wouldn't have done it." It's a
tautological definition of "want".

Thanks for suggesting a gun analogy. If someone places a gun to your head
demanding money, and you give them money, then clearly both parties are
better off, and you chose what you wanted (you wanted to live). Never
mind that you might have wanted more choices than those.

So your statement's also an example of the Excluded Middle fallacy. Assume
Microsoft acquires a patent on something that prevents an open source
alternative from being made. In that case, you either buy Microsoft's
software, or you use nothing. But if you disallowed such patents, a
person would have three choices: buy Microsoft's product, use nothing, or
use competing products from other vendors or from Open Source. *That* is
what the person really wants, and if the artificiality of IP law didn't
prevent it, users would be free to get what they really want.

> > > Protecting property increases the value of all property, and results in
> > > more of it, for another group of individuals (the human race).
> >
> > That's bullshit. Especially in the context of so-called "intellectual
> > property".
> It is just Econ 101. You ought to try taking it sometime.

I've taken Econ 101 from the best. Econ 101 is the biggest pile of
bullshit you'll ever experience in school.

+ At least in Comparative Religion, they tell you it's based on faith.

+ At least in Sociology, you can do experiments to challenge theories.

+ At least in Philosophy, there is wide acknowledgement that there are
many different vantage points, and that we generally don't have tools for
declaring one truer than all others.

+ At least in Mathematics, you are given axioms to assume, but they are
small, contained axioms. You aren't given broad axioms and expected to
ignore all the cases where the axioms are clearly wrong, just "for the
sake of argument".

Only Economics, in my experience, do professors give you tautological
definitions, absurdly simplified assumptions, and a highly restricted view
of the main actors, in every chapter of the book, and then tell you this
is precisely how the world works, as confidently as if they were teaching

Freudian psychology and Marxist history come close, but in my book nothing
beats Economics when it comes to rationalizing away the various threats to
the central dogma.

Furthermore John, your answer was nonresponsive. Linus says Newton, the
IETF, etc, have enabled more progress by sharing rather than hoarding, and
all you can say is "bullshit", as you send your SMTP mail after reading an
HTML article over HTTP, found via DNS. Or am I wrong, and you really are
using Microsoft Mail, after using an old Blackbird beta? Maybe you
haven't moved off of the original Prodigy system, in which case I
apologize for writing so much, since I don't think they have 56k dialup

> Knowledge is IP. And with the protection of IP you get more IP (knowledge)
> than you otherwise would. Far more.

Right. Blackbird. Any other examples? And are you subtracting the
contributions of all the small companies whose innovative new products
have been litigated off the market due to patents?

> > There have been many very important contributions to the world made by
> people
> > who gained no compensation for the knowledge they created. Is that fair?
> Yes, though not material. Yes.

It's only immaterial if, as I stated at the beginning, you view all of
life through a prism that only transmits monetary transactions. The point
of Linus' article was, what approach to product development would make
society better off? If you find the open source contributions immaterial,
I encourage you to state what you think the point of the discussion is.

> Yes, [the drug companies] are being fair. I see no moral problem in not
> selling drugs to people who can't afford to pay for them.

There is no *economic* problem, in Econ 101 theory. If you see no *moral*
problem, even if your solution to the moral problem is to take no action,
I suggest Ethics 101. (I'm not saying you're immoral, just undereducated.)

(I shouldn't digress here, but I want to add that a number of researchers
believe AIDS started in the 50s as a side effect of developing the Salk
polio vaccine, if I remember correctly. That would seem to cause an even
bigger moral problem for drug companies. But let's just call it an
"externality", and ignore it.)

> Nothing was stopping an African from creating the drug therapies and giving
> the discovery away. But that didn't happen.

That's pretty disingenuous, isn't it? Given the very limited resources
for research in Africa? Oh wait, you mean there were no *patents*
stopping the Africans. Well in that case, the world's conscience can be
clear, eh?

> >The profit motive is not the only motive for humans.
> No, but it is a major one. And it while it doesn't prevent love from
> working, it works when love doesn't. The larger the social unit, the more
> the profit motive is the dominant motive.

Nice of you to toss a sop to something other than money. I agree that
sometimes moeny incents best, sometimes love, sometimes fame, sometimes
nothing. We need all the tools in our toolkit.

I think Linus' point was that IP keeps open source from working, but open
source doesn't keep IP from working. Now if you threw away these software
patents, open source could do more, and you haven't proven that
money-driven developers would do less. In fact, I've worked at a number
of high-tech companies, and so far none of them have waited for patents
before building or releasing products. If I were a pharma thinking
about investing $200 million in speculative drug research with no patent
protection, I'd be scared. But that doesn't mean that patents are
required to encourage software development. The college kids who start
new businesses all the time prove my point.

> Note the different lifespans in wealthy countries vs. poor ones, despite the
> same knowledge base and potential for government actions.

All things being equal (to use that best-loved phrase of economists),
being wealthy is better than being poor.

But all things aren't equal. Note the different lifespans in modern
countries with socialized medicine vs. the United States, despite the same
knowledge base and potential for government actions.[1]

But why are we talking about wealthy vs. poor countries? That's your
straw man, that an IP-focused economy produces more wealth than one that
embraces open source. It's a straw man because the proprietary online
world sputtered to a halt, and the IETF-led, open source online world grew
exponentially, creating a platform for thousands of companies, some open
and some proprietary, and pulling in hundreds of times as many customers.
It fueled much of the economic growth of the 90s, and patents had almost
nothing to it. It's one of the biggest, clearest business lessons of the
last decade.

-Matt Jensen

    The U.S. ranks 24th in life expectancy.  

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