Re: IP Protection ...

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Sat May 12 2001 - 23:16:10 PDT

I keep re-reading Gojo's essay from yesterday; it's such a clear and
concise distillation of a number of nagging problems I've been
struggling with myself. As a business owner and a Locke advocate by
temperment, I've desperately wanted to believe that current IP
mechanisms were a good thing; but as an innovator and (amateur ;-)
social philosopher / economist, I've become increasingly suspect of
IP. Like Gordon, my previous faith --- even active advocacy --- of
IP rights has collapsed, mostly over the last year or two. A few

> Further, once the possibility of such a bonanza is shown to
> people, they will drop other benficial activities -- such
> as incremental improvements to non-protectable processes --
> to search further ahead for "patentable" ideas.

This is a poignant problem in the pharmaceutical industry. Drugcos
can make bank on a single patentable therapy for years; huge
companies can be built on a small number of these things. This legal
monopoly then allows the drugco to set prices pretty much however it
wants to; prices, esp. for certain drug classes, are always high ---
to pay for the huge drug development costs initially then to generate
the expected huge profit margins. This often puts drugs out of the
reach of the very people that need them most. A combination of
factors, all gov't interference in economic processes (through
regulation and through grant of monopoly) results in a net loss of
maximum potential social benefit. I find it amazing that this very
problem has become the stimulus for certain countries to reconsider
IP rights (particularly for drugs) in a very aggressive way.

Further, the race to lock-in patent rights for particular therapies
means that drug companies all but ignore research into the
therapeutic aspects of common, natural, unpatentable substances.
Instead, it favors extreme, risky bets on exotic drugs --- most such
research fails, but the occasional win does so in a big way, more
than compensating for the losses. As a result, we don't get much ---
in this country, at least --- in the way of serious scientific
research into certain natural substances, dietary supplements, etc.
These potentially very useful and poorly understood substances are
instead condemned to a realm of opportunistic quackery,
psuedoscience, and general hucksterism. Real therapies go
unresearched and get lost among the snake oil and powdered rhino

> I believe the same analysis can be applied to copyrights:
> the fact that, for example, new love songs and romance
> novels and action movies create "protectable" content causes
> their production and propagation to be incented far
> beyond their societal value, in preference to perfectly
> acceptable comparable substitute content that is older and
> unprotectable. IP rights can thus be seen as an engine of
> cultural pollution, a "make-work" program driving people to
> recreate trivial and/or substandard variations on classic
> themes rather than pursuing the "optimal" levels of various
> economic and entertainment-seeking activities.

I'm not sure I agree with this --- it's the only part of Gojo's essay
that doesn't exactly mirror my own thought. For one thing, I think
the notion of "cultural pollution" (and the implicit assumption that
it's a bad thing) is an absurd and peculiarly French ;-) notion.
Culture *is* pollution, it's the current of social and artistic
evolution. I think such statements as those above steer one off into
a realm of aesthetics and various other warm-fuzzy concepts that're
pretty hard to discuss rationally and meaningfully.



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