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IP debate - please help!

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statelessrich Posted: Sat, Sep 21 2013 11:19 AM

So I got into a Facebook IP debate. My opponent brought up some points that I want to address in the best way possible; please help me :)

 

This is his post:

As someone who's built a career in patent law. I've been doing this since 1995. I don't think that's a justifiable position. 


I work in a big pharmaceutical company, and I see innovation every day because this company or that doesn't want to have to pay a nickel for a licensing fee off someone else's patent. It's called "designing around" and is a prime mover for innovation. 

Patent law is sometimes (sort of correctly, sort of not) compared to land property rights. Imagine there is a huge gold field and Bob finds gold in sector A17. He buys the deeds to all sectors from A1 to B20. Tim sees Bob's success and whines and bitches that Bob owns all this land. But he is forced to - unless he wants to pay Bob a nickel - to go explore sectors C and D, and there he finds platinum and Element Zero, too. 

In a similar way, on a daily basis, we are keenly aware of what our competitors are doing - so that we can do something different in our never-ending quest to find better medicines to cure cancer and other diseases. Because... why would we want to re-invent the wheel (copy someone else's drug) and get sued for patent infringement when we can make our own and own the patent on that? (Of course, this is all expensive.) 

I find that many who decry IP laws are not creators; they are copiers, who people who want things for free or who are intellectually lazy or not curious. They are not makers. Suppose there were a world with no intellectual property laws, and let's return to the land property metaphor. So... why would it not then be ok for me to go over to your house, rummage through all your stuff and take whatever I want?

 

I don't like that he compares IP to property rights in land, since land is scarce and ideas are not.

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Pretty stupid on his part. Yea, if I can't copy or make use of something you've created, I'll have to find an alternative. But the fact that I'm forced to "innovate" because you have a protectionist monopoly on an "idea" doesn't make this an economically efficient outcome. There is an opportunity cost: namely, the time I spend working aroudn your patents is time I could be spending doing something actually productive. Instead, I'm forced to use time and resources to create an alternative to something which already exists, which I (according to the situation) can make use of, if only you didn't have a patent over it.

You can extend the same logic to protectionist tarrif barriers. If you have a tarrif which makes competition with you unfairly difficult, I'm now "forced" to spend more time coming up with new production methods or innovating otherwise to compete with you. It's poor reasoning. 

There are plenty of reasons to innovate. And in fact, if I have a patent, I'm less likely to innovate. I'll just sit on my patent and get whatever comes from it, rather than develop novel ideas and continuely innovate. Free-market wins. This guy sucks. Let me know if you need me to clarify anything. And yes, you're right, his equivocation between property in land and IP is the same nonsense persistent throughout. He also sticks in a prickish ad hominem. Then again, he's a lawyer; this is to be expected from modern lawyers.

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statelessrich:
I don't like that he compares IP to property rights in land, since land is scarce and ideas are not.
Use that to your advantage. 

 

Tell him:  "If somebody breaks into my house and copies something that belongs to me, then it is my responsibility to pay for my own property insurance and security, right?   Well, the same goes for "intellectucal property" rights.  If you want copy-right protection, lock your doors and pay for it your damn self ---- you SHOULD NOT have the tax-payer finance your protection."  Then remind him that "intellectual property" is not property at all and "copying" something is not the same as stealing something.  Ask him why his laws are dishonest. 

Before calling yourself a libertarian or an anarchist, read this.  
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AJ replied on Mon, Oct 7 2013 1:52 PM

It's called "designing around" and is a prime mover for innovation.

Talk about making lemonade out of lemons. The posters above covered the errors well, but one last thing is that this lawyer guy is dismissing the utility of having competition for existing medicines. Who's to say that a given company should be innovating its own product, when it might be much more efficient and in line with market demand for that company to produce another version of an existing product, thereby also driving down prices for consumers. Sometimes it's better to copy, sometimes to innovate: why should the government decide (albeit indirectly) rather than the free market?

He's really not thinking outside the box. He's thinking about everything with the current system as a given, not actually thinking about the whole situation in a world without patents, in order to make a comparison between that and the present system. If you can get him to do that, you may have a chance at getting somewhere.

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Thanks for all your replies! I'll let you know if I require any more clarification on any points. I think this thread has helped me become a better debator on IP issues.

 

Thanks

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AJ replied on Mon, Oct 21 2013 5:20 AM

Feel free to ask more questions!

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As others have already pointed out, "designing around" is a major cost of IP in general. If you focus on the pharma industry, you may want to check out one chapter from Levine and Boldrin's book. It talks about how, strangely, the pharmaceutic industry innovated vigorosly even without patent protection. Or how a big market in cheap generic drugs doesn't kill the otherwise identical branded products. At the same time, there is an argument to be made that patents keep drugs expensive, which has horrific consequences particularly for AIDS patients in third-world countries (See also here.)

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De Wachter also writes in his book about IP in the pharma industry.

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