Fri, 12 Mar 2004

A patent is a monopoly.

Nobody is disputing the good you have done. Creating new ideas is laudable. Patenting them may not be. It is inarguable that your patent has given you a monopoly. This gives you the ability to charge monopoly prices. Monopoly pricing is a-priori a cost on society. You charge more than you otherwise would be able to, and fewer implementations of your idea will be sold.

The idea behind the patent system is that the cost is acceptable because without paying that cost, the ideas would not be created. Without the ideas, there would be no benefit, and no cost either, for that matter. So the cost is thought to be acceptable.

Is this a true idea? It's disputable. For those people who say that it is a false idea, it inevitably falls out that society is paying for something without gaining anything in return. There is another word for that: theft. But it all hinges on the idea being false. If you don't think the idea is false, and by definition American society does not, because it has not seen fit to dismantle the patent system, then you can sleep easy.

You assume that simultaneous invention and reinvention never happen. They do. If they are common rather than rare, then the patent system is theft from the public domain rather than a contribution towards it.

Theft is an intentional act intended to transfer value from one party to another without the first party's consent. The fact that society itself is an unwitting accomplice to this theft makes it no less theft. It is still theft even if the victim doesn't realize that value has been taken from them. It is still theft even if the absence of the value is never discovered.

I want to close off this discussion of patents as theft with an observation: If A owns a patent, and B acts as if the patent belongs to him, if B publicly claims that the patent belongs to him, if B seeks to stop other people from using his patent, most people would consider that theft. If A is actually the public domain, then B is equally guilty of theft.

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