Tag: technological innovation

Intellectual Property: Enemy of Freedom and Society

By TJ Roberts | United States

You cannot own an idea. Although intellectual property is an idea Americans codified into their constitution, we must see that the idea of intellectual property is an idea that comes into direct conflict with the idea of freedom and human progress. It is important that humanity moves beyond the scourge of intellectual property so that we may live in a world that is no longer held back by corporate protectionism and inconsistent property law. But beyond that, lives are at stake in this fight.

Intellectual Property Violates Real Property

Lockean Property Norms

Perhaps the most important case against intellectual property is in its opposition to society’s property norms. The most prominent principle of property is the homesteading principle, which John Locke describes in chapter 5 of The Second Treatise on Government. In the Treatise, Locke explains that the Homesteading Principle is the idea that property can be justly acquired by two means: original appropriation and voluntary exchange. With original appropriation, the first user of a previously unowned resource becomes the de facto owner of the property. With voluntary exchange, justly acquired property may be exchanged between consenting senders and receivers. This is why theft is condemned. If I take your wallet from you without your consent, then the exchange was not voluntary and therefore violates Lockean property norms.

What is important to realize as well is that scarcity is fundamental to property. You cannot be the owner of a non-scarce good. In The Economics and Ethics of Private Property, Dr. Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains that in a realm of scarcity, property norms must be established. If, somehow, all scarcity ceased to exist (this would have to include scarcity in ourselves), then property norms would not be necessary. But in this world, scarcity is the cornerstone of Lockean property theory.

Ideas are Not Scarce

Since one cannot own a non-scarce good, it is the burden of the advocate of intellectual property to prove that ideas are scarce. If they do so, then intellectual property (IP) is legitimate. It is clear, however, that ideas are not scarce, and are therefore not subject to the restrictions of private property.

Consider a world in which only one person knows that two plus two equals four. If that person reveals this knowledge to someone else, that person knows that two plus two is four and the teacher still knows this. In other words, one’s acquisition of this knowledge did not inhibit another person from gaining the same piece of knowledge, and it did not degrade the knowledge the teacher originally had either. Because of this, knowledge is not scarce. Since knowledge is not scarce, we are not able to subject ideas to property norms.

Intellectual Property Assaults Private Property

Suppose I wrote a pamphlet and I sold it to you. For the law to tell you that you cannot reprint my pamphlet and sell it to others is to tell you what you cannot do with your private property. This is prohibitive on the sovereignty of the individual and private property. This is not, of course, meant to condone plagiarism. In “Common Misconceptions about Plagiarism and Patents: A Call for an Independent Inventor Defense,” patent lawyer Stephan Kinsella shows that IP “theft” is not plagiarism. Plagiarism wouldn’t run rampant without IP. One possible alternative to intellectual property is Creative Commons, which protects the fact that you created your work all the while not restricting your work to the bureaucracy of American intellectual property law.

Intellectual Property Holds Back Progress

One of the unique benefits of a market economy is that it incentivizes innovation. The consumer is in charge and their needs and desires frequently change. Competition, therefore, is essential to a prosperous market. Intellectual Property, however, holds back competition and protects those at the top. Imagine how much better technology would be if tech companies weren’t constantly under the threat of lawsuits from their competitors. If the focus changed from protecting one’s market power to providing a quality product for their customers in order to grow in the market, the world would have higher quality products at much lower costs.

Of course, progress has occurred in society, but that has happened in spite of intellectual property, not because of it. If we didn’t have intellectual property, software would be significantly cheaper as the potential costs of copying it would drastically decline. Inevitably, the only way for software companies to make a profit would be to provide a better product than their competitors since they won’t be able to artificially increase prices if they want to stay in business. If we abolished intellectual property, we would see a new age of progress.

Intellectual Property Has a Body Count

In 2016, Martin Shkreli raised the price of a life-saving medication to $750 per pill. This led to immense public outrage. But their rage was misplaced. The reason Shkreli was able to do this wasn’t corporate greed, but because of intellectual property. If people were able to copy the drug and sell it to compete with Shkreli’s company, such a price hike would have put him out of business.

This is just one of the innumerable symptoms of the disease of intellectual property. American IP law forbids competition against new ideas, especially medicines. Since a generic is effectively illegal for years after a cure is discovered, the poor are frequently left unable to pay for these life-saving medications. The abolition of intellectual property would save lives, allowing not only for prices to fall as competition rises, but also for quality of products to rise as innovation increases.

Intellectual Property Is the Enemy of Progress

In other words, intellectual property has failed the people. It is nothing more than corporate protectionism that flies in the face of Lockean property norms that has a very real cost to humanity. If we want a society that can advance quicker, allows for competition to drive prices down, and allow for a society based on consistent property norms, then we must reject the protectionist sham that is intellectual property.

Recommended Reading

Against Intellectual PropertyStephan Kinsella

Goods, Scarce and NonscarceStephan Kinsella and Jeffrey Tucker


This post was originally published in LIFE.

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Innovation is Being Held Back, but Who’s Doing It?

By Mason Mohon | USA

The last decade or so has blessed the human race with technological innovations like we have never seen before. Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of its iPhone with the release of the new iPhone X. Silicon Valley geniuses are constantly trying to come up with the next big thing and trying to get their tech on the market and widely used. A new vehicle model with new driving features seems to be releasing every year, and it is impossible to keep up. All of this innovation is pushing us to be able to do more than ever before, with technology allowing U.S. companies to outsource online jobs to India, where they can be done more efficiently and cheaper. Few would argue that this innovation is a bad thing, but are we stifling it? Are we at our fullest potential?

A basic rule of free-market economics is that consumer demand must be served. An entrepreneur or business firm cannot and will not continue to exist if it does not serve the needs of the consumer. If a business begins to provide a good or service that the consumers don’t want, said business will begin to lose resources and will cease to gain profits. If a business wants profit, it has to test the market and find out what a substantial amount of people actually want to have. That is one of the beautiful things about the free market. Demand of the consumers is met, and that is the only way any producer of anything can hope to make money. The people have needs and wants and they are met by the market. But what if these consumers want to work against innovation? What if the majority of consumers didn’t want or didn’t care for new technologies?

Let us say that most consumers do not see the potential a product has for them or for the world as a whole. They do not see the innovation, and a game-changing piece of technology ends up flopping. That would really suck, for we would miss out on a new technology. Is this a fatal flaw in the system? Could the consumers (who make up humanity) be holding back humanity?

We would have to look at what the problem in this situation is, though. If this issue would arise (or is arising), it is not a problem at all, but rather an opportunity. This is an opportunity for new technological innovators to show how they are changing the game. It is a problem of information arising, and the consumers need more information. A well-placed ad campaign and a good partnership could remedy the problem in no time. Chances are that the market would solve something like this, but only if it pushed hard enough.

An example would be the comparison between Samsung and Apple phone products. For a long time, my Samsung owning friends have joked with how primitive I was owning an iPhone, for Samsungs tended to be better on nearly every front. They were the better, stronger, more durable, and more innovative technology, but regardless, many stick with iPhones. It was recently discovered that Apple intentionally slows down old models of its phones when a new model comes out. When the iPhone X was released, very noticeable bugs came in the new operating system on my 6S plus. Samsung has not shown to be doing anything like this, which just adds a cherry on top for their technological superiority. Now, Samsung has an opportunity to make this issue with iPhones as big as they possibly can. People are staying with Apple iPhones for various reasons, but no informed person is staying with them because they are better. Here’s the chance Samsung! Now take it!

What would the alternative be, anyway? Should we put government bureaucrats in charge of allocating money to what is innovative? Should there be a federal agency to promote human development? No, because in short, government agencies usually suck at their jobs. The state should not be in charge of deciding what technology is worth promoting and what is not. The consumers and the market do a great job of sorting all of that kind of stuff out, as the above paragraph indicated. The state should not tell people that Samsung is better and promote Samsung, whether it be through regulations or subsidies. Any sensible person should be able to see that this should be the case.

It actually turns out that the state is the enemy of innovation. State taxes on big companies and corporations mean they have a lot less money to put into new technologies and serving the consumers more. Regulations make it hard to create new products and tariffs cause resources to become more expensive. Taxes in any part of the economy, whether it be capital gains, corporate, or income, tend to make people more present-oriented. This decreases foresight and causes people to care less about the future, making fewer long-term investments. This means that people will be less focused on the future and more focused on the present. This means fewer people oriented towards tomorrow, looking to change the world with the next big tech boost.

Humanity is getting better and better at creating new things each and every year. What we want to avoid is throttling that, and we want to make sure we can keep this growth going for the long haul. The way the free market is set up – to serve consumers – is not an impediment for this, even though it may sometimes seem like it. Rather, the government is the ultimate danger to human growth and flourishing. Once its barriers are taken back, we can see humanity reach new never before imagined heights.