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Against Monopoly

defending the right to innovate

Monopoly corrupts. Absolute monopoly corrupts absolutely.





Copyright Notice: We don't think much of copyright, so you can do what you want with the content on this blog. Of course we are hungry for publicity, so we would be pleased if you avoided plagiarism and gave us credit for what we have written. We encourage you not to impose copyright restrictions on your "derivative" works, but we won't try to stop you. For the legally or statist minded, you can consider yourself subject to a Creative Commons Attribution License.


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Competition now; But in the Future?

Competition for cable-television providers looks safe at least for a time, as the result of two copyright suits link here. In one, Aereo TV captures from antennas and delivers regular programming via the internet for a monthly fee; this allows the subscriber to record the programs playing them back when he wants. In the other, the satellite Dish provider offered a service, Hopper, which allowed the customer to eliminate ads on home recorded programs. Neither service allows the broadcaster to charge for its programs since the courts ruled that they could not use copyright to enforce payment.

The crucial court decisions found that it was the customer who made the recording so copyright was not violated.

As the Times article points out, unless the two interlopers pay, the broadcasters can and now are likely to retaliate by ceasing to broadcast over the air and providing cable service only.

In judging the result of these cases, once again copyright appears to reduce competition and raise prices to consumers. But its ostensible purpose, to reward the creator of the program to induce new creativity, is largely avoided--if that ever happened, it was long in the past.

Redistributing TV Material Without the Ads Is Legal

Here is one for the books; you may record copyrighted material and play it back without the ads, because dumping the ads is covered by fair use link here. Fox TV, the plaintiff, saw it was losing revenue when others downloaded and redistributed its on-line material without the ads. Dish, the TV redistributor, made a good business out of doing so and charging subscriptions from its customers. Its successful defense will no doubt attract others into the redistribution business.

Public Knowledge announces a Patent Reform Project

I'm late with this but Public Knowledge announced two weeks ago that it was starting a Patent Reform Project link here. Given that we are surrounded with an incredibly expensive and inefficient and now corrupt (with the presence of the patent trolls' extortion) system, it is important for the informed and interested to weigh in.

One cannot be terribly optimistic about the outcome, but to leave the system to the big money and personally interested is to give up. We can do better. Given our democratic system, compromise is essential so one almost never gets all his wishes. But the critics have been making a dent in the unthinking belief that intellectual property was property like physical goods or land and that it always encouraged innovation and thus human progress. It is a right with characteristics like real property, created by law and law can be changed. Now is the time to change it.

Weigh in, please.

Another Big Patent Troll Assessed

The New York Times went after another big patent troll yesterday, the second in less than a week link here. This one is called Intellectual Ventures. It seems to be a spinoff from Microsoft, a major patent holder, as it is run by Microsoft's former chief technology officer, Nathan Myhrvold. Its origin may raise the question as to how much business it does with Microsoft and whether it profits in some way from the new enterprise.

Another reason for the article is the announcement that "This summer, the Federal Trade Commission is expected to begin a sweeping investigation of the patent system after the agency's chairwoman, Edith Ramirez, urged a crackdown link here. She has singled out a particular kind of miscreant, one that engages in 'a variety of aggressive litigation tactics,' including hiding behind shell companies when it sues." Although not part of the article, it is worth reading as a description of what the FTC is thinking.

Most of the article is a description of what Intellectual Ventures has been up to and what a toll it has levied on the cost of doing business in a world that fosters both patents and patent-trolls.

How the Most Successful Patent Troll Does It

The New York Times goes after patent trolls in a long review in the Sunday paper link here. Its author, David Segal, thinks he has found the worst offender, Erich Spangenberg, whose company, IPNav, even has a classy website, link here on which it claims to have "Monetized to date: $610,549,103" and makes its sales pitch to existing and prospective clients.

It is at the top of the list of patent trolls, ranked according to the number of defendants added to their suits from 2008-2012. The total number of patent infringement suits (in litigation?) has jumped from 2304 in 2009 to 4731 in 2012. One estimate of the costs of these suits was 29 billion in 2011. Only $6 billion went to inventors, with the balance going to lawyers and the trolls themselves as expenses and profits.

The article has a lot of details on how IPNAV operates, some of which have gotten it in trouble with the law, but so far it has escaped using lots of money and legal talent. But the bottom line is that it is a huge tax on innovation and on consumers with no redeeming features. The question is how long the U.S. or the patent system survives.

Another bad patent--guaranteeing more litigation

Bad patents are an old story, but they keep getting worse. This one is granted for "displaying pictures of athletes on the fields on which their sport is played" link here.

Timothy, in whose name the story is posted at Slashdot.org, sends you to the patent itself, a master piece of overblown legalism and hucksterism link here. Google, to which the patent is granted, should be deeply ashamed. Timothy comments, "Just about anyone that's familiar with sports has seen position and depth charts, in which athletes are portrayed on the athletic fields their sport is played on."

Does the decline in total factor productivity explain the drop in innovation?

In a long post, Mike Masnick calls attention to an e-book by Alex Tabarrok which focuses on the decline in total factor productivity as a measure of the drop in innovation link here. This has occurred despite the huge increase in the number of patents. He concludes that the patent system is broken and suggests some fixes like a mix of patents, some short-term and easy to get and others, long-term and less likely to be granted. Read and ponder.

And then think about the political and economic power of those who oppose such reforms.

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Bilan takes them on...if you read French.

Patents on 3D Printing Challenged by Prior Art

Mike Masnick lets go with a strong blast on patents because they may yet again cripple innovation in 3D printing link here. As he writes, "One of the reasons 3D printing is suddenly on the cusp of going mainstream is the expiration of some key patents that have held the technology back for decades."

The really hopeful feature of his post is that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is opposing some recent patent applications, based on the discovery of prior art. The story gets better as the EFF has successfully appealed to crowd-sourcing to find evidence of such prior art. Unfortunately, the Patent Office still can't seem to find much of this.

Mike's enthusiasm about the changes that 3D printing may make for manufacturing, new product design, and a growth in the competitive strength of small enterprise have yet to be proved. Still, it should be clear to most people that we suffer from a world of business monopoly based on laws which convey privilege to large enterprise with wealth to buy political support for favorable legislation.

Here's hoping.

Maybe generic drug makers will be sueable

In a highly speculative piece the New York Times suggests that a possible change in labeling requirements risks generic drug makers being sued link here. This comes just two years after the Supremes decided the reverse i.e., that they couldn't be sued as the law required they use the same warning label as the brand-name makers (see our piece posted on 06/26/2013 at 08:40 AM.

Apparently the change is prompted by the FDA's discovery that users harmed by a generic drug should be able to sue if their drug fails to perform correctly.

This all seems a stretch. The warning labels are framed based on what is known at the time it is approved. Subsequent experience could quite reasonably have shown the need for amending approved uses and thus, labeling. Like most of us, when the facts change, the FDA changes its opinion or so we can hope.

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Most Recent Comments

Rights Violations Aren't the Only Bads I hear that nonsense from pro-IP people all the

Intellectual Property Fosters Corporate Concentration Yeah, I see the discouragement of working on a patented device all the time. Great examples

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Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Les patent trolls ne sont pas toujours des officines

Patent Lawyers Who Don't Toe the Line Should Be Punished! Moreover "the single most destructive force to innovation is patents". We'd like to unite with you

Bonfire of the Missalettes!

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Patents on 3D Printing Challenged by Prior Art To Loup Vaillant: "So, you think we wouldn't have had those 9 technologies without patents? I can

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Patents on 3D Printing Challenged by Prior Art The fact is that in the last 20-25 years the technologies of rapid prototyping (today known as

Public Knowledge announces a Patent Reform Project No patents should be allowed on ANY software. And no patents on Business Methods. If the have to

Patents on 3D Printing Challenged by Prior Art The fact is that in the last 20-25 years the technologies of rapid prototyping (today known as

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How the Most Successful Patent Troll Does It It appears that the "troll" phenomenon is concentrated on software, which is to be expected since

Patents on 3D Printing Challenged by Prior Art Steve: Something that is nearly 30 years old is "novel"? How do you figure

Another Big Patent Troll Assessed I suspect that Carl Shapiro deserves some credit in this. While not as skeptical about patents as I