I have written a fair amount regarding property rights on this blog. For more than the last 100 years, the progressives and others on the political left have been whittling away at the very of idea of property rights. Today, far from having the freedom to use your property in ways that do not violate the rights of others, property owners often have to beg permission from some government bureaucrat before they can use their property. If the official grants permission, there will quite likely be innumerable regulations the property owner must comply with to be allowed that use.
In this talk from the Ayn Rand Institute’s 2014 Objectivist Summer Conference, Adam Mossoff from the Center For the Protection of Intellectual Property discusses the litigation between the various players in the smartphone market, often called the “smartphone wars,” as a case study for how the attacks on intellectual property and so-called “patent trolls” is the modern equivalent of the progressive assault on property rights and how to apply objectivity to such issues. Mr. Mossoff points out that such litigations, contrary to what modern pundits often claim, are not new, neither in kind nor scope. He gives examples such as “the telegraph wars,” “the sewing machine wars,” and the struggle over whose system of electricity transmission would win, Edison or Tesla. (I found it amusing that people feared that the telegraph was going to “ruin the English language” much as some worry that texting is doing today.)
Scarcity is not the basis of property rights. Value creation is.
Such conflicts arise whenever a new value, idea, comes into existence, and the courts struggle to determine how to apply the principles of property rights to them. Adam Mossoff points out that the United States was the first country to set up a patent system that applied the principles of property rights to ideas, and this is part of what has fueled our prosperity.
Attack of the But Brigade
The United States was the first country to set up a patent system that applied the principles of property rights to ideas, and this is part of what has fueled our prosperity. These rights are now under attack. Unlike the attack on property rights over the last 100 years or more, today’s attacks on intellectual property come from the right as well as the left. As is often the case in the assault on rights today, those who would restrict our rights do not come out as explicitly against them. They do not say “I think free speech is bad” or “I am against the idea of patents.” Instead they say, “I think patents are good, but…”
The Q&A following the lecture is fascinating as well, covering such topics as what libertarians often get wrong about intellectual property, what is required to get a patent and more.