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.


Does copyright protect something useful?

Nick Bilton poses an interesting question in the New York Times on whether you can copy physical objects without violating copyright link here. His answer is yes and he found intellectual property lawyers who supported that view. He gives several examples, based on 3-D printers actually producing copies of a cup and other useful physical objects, either from the object or from photographs of the object. He asserts that copyright does not cover things that are useful.

This conclusion raises several questions in my mind. What if the object is patented rather than copyrighted? What if its usefulness depends on a patented process that is essential to the usefulness of the object or its copy?

Finally, how long before the proponents of intellectual property manage to get the law changed, either through legislation or judicial interpretation? Even now, you can imagine the outbursts of outrage once something significant is "stolen".

Maybe we'll be lucky but don't count on it.



The law is quite clear. A patent is a right to exclude others from making, using, selling or offering for sale. If the cup is patented, then a patent holder has a right to assert patent rights against the copier of the cup. Of course, most patent holders who make products do not sue people for merely making a copy of something, because patent suits are expensive and time consuming. Since making a copy of a product, even though patented, with a 3D printer is, at least to this point, invariably more expensive than with high volume process and the 3D printer product rarely has physical characteristics similar to a product produced with typical manufacturing techniques, I doubt anyone would even care.

As for the process question, you would need to provide a lot more detail. If the copied product has other uses than as a part of a patented process, then the answer is that patents will not cover the copy. If the only use for the copy is part of a patented process, the patent holder still has to prove that the producer of the copy is using the copy as part of the paetnted process. Of the various types of intellectual property law, patent law is probably the most difficult, time consuming and expensive to prosecute, and patent holders lose about 80% of the time.

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