Protection of Intellectual Property Rights

JulianD's picture
Submitted by JulianD on Sun, 2006-01-29 01:12

I having been intrigued by the case developing in the United States against RIM, the supplier of the mobile data device - Blackberry.

I have never understood the degree to which people are addicted to them given that PDA's exist which do the same - and more...but what has been interesting to watch over the last 6 months is how the alleged theft of intellectual property in the form of a Patent Violation might soon impact the lives of millions of people.

The legal complexities are obviously many - and someone out there might have more insight than I into the truth about the claims of a patent violation. But it appears that patent violation has occured and it is indeed reassuring to see that the US justice system is being somewhat objective in threatening to punish a company - for theft. The impact that a closure would have on a large number of its customers should not be - and it appears will not be - an issue the court will entertain.


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sjw's picture

I grabbed my copy and read up to this point:

"Patents and copyrights pertain [to] an object which, in the case of patents, *may* never have existed without its particular originator; and in the case of copyrights, *would* never have existed."

I think the same strength of protection for *other* creators that exists for copyrights ought to exist for patents too. So I disagree with Rand, I'd change the first "may" to a "would" as well, and then you have a perfect test for whether the government should protect the IP in question.

Personally, I think it's good that you're stuck in understanding that essay, since I think Rand adopted some conventional attitudes there and didn't fully apply her principles. Again: By what right to you stop a man from using ideas he thought up on his own. She gives an answer to this, but it doesn't wash in my book.

I don't think I'm expressing

Duncan Bayne's picture

I don't think I'm expressing myself very well ...

  1. I agree that some kind of laws protecting creators are a good idea, whether they are based on intellectual property, or on well-enforced terms of use contracts.
  2. I'm trying to work out whether ideas can, in fact, be property - and this is where I'm coming unstuck, because I simply don't understand Rand's arguments in her essay on IP in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.
  3. If ideas can be property, then how can that property ever cease to exist qua property - which is another argument Rand makes in the aforementioned essay.

Essentially, I guess what I'm asking is "could someone please explain that essay in small words" Smiling

Copyrights & Patents

sjw's picture

In principle the radio broadcast is no different. It would be possible to scramble the signal a particular way, such that it could only be descrambled by having a device that itself is copyrighted. So just as one could insure, with the right kind of cumbersome written contracts, that you don't steal a book by copying it (which requires physical access), one could insure that you don't steal music without agreeing to the terms of the decrypter copyright. All the government is doing with supporting copyrights is eliminating the need for cumbersome and expensive technology. So I don't know what the motive could be for someone wanting to eliminate this kind of IP except that they like to steal things.

The really important point with patents is: What if you *don't* see me riding my bicycle down the road, but you invent one yourself independently?

On the other hand, just as with copyrights, there should be a means to prevent others from literally copying the bike design based on physical inspection of it (so: in principle, the bike seller could prohibit use or sale for reverse-engineering purposes via contract).

Granted, one could view

Duncan Bayne's picture

Granted, one could view copyright as a rubber-stamped contract governing terms of use - in the case of, say, a purchase: you buy my CD, but only on the condition that you agree not to copy it.

That's well and good, but what of broadcast? If I broadcast the music (say, on radio), so that anyone may access it ... I don't see how one could enforce terms of use in that case.

Patents are on even shakier ground, as far as I can tell. E.g. imagine you patented, say, the bicycle. I see you riding your prototype down the road, and build one myself. I've certainly not violated your property (your bike is still yours, as is your knowledge of how to build bicycles).

It would be fair of me to at least credit you as the originator, and to pay you if I then sold my copy - but I can't see any justificaton for a legal requirement for me to do so. Of course, if I attempted to claim I was the creator, that would be fraud, and properly illegal.

Perhaps someone here who's read Rand's treatise on IP, and understands it better than I do, could elaborate?

As it happens...

sjw's picture

Axiomatic magazine recently published an article by Greg Perkins called "Don't steal this article". You can get it at:

However I can't recommend it except to underscore how much a good analysis of IP is needed. It's a really poor article, only dealing with the worst kind of arguments and using simplistic derivations from Objectivist literature instead of first-handed thinking. In particular, he is completely ignorant of what kinds of things patents are used for and the main problems patents have, implicitly assuming that patents are comparable to copyrights in their uniqueness, evidently completely ignorant of noteworthy real-world cases like Amazon one-click or the lawsuit against ebay for the idea of an online auction.

IP law

sjw's picture

Duncan: I think two questions need to be answered here, regarding two classes of IP.

The first class is regarding those things you create that no one else could have created but you, what we normally apply "copyright" to. Like a book. No one else could have possibly written Atlas Shrugged on accident. So it's definitely Ayn Rand's creation. The second class concerns those things that someone else might have been able to create (and there's a range here from "might have been able to" to "probably would have been able to" to "certainly would have been able to").

The key question for the first class is: how can Ayn Rand preserve her rights to her creations? I don't regard this question as very difficult; copyrights are merely a shorthand and implicit form of a written contract. In principle, Rand could require all readers to sign a contract agreeing not to copy, but since that would be cumbersome the government has legitimately created a "rubber stamp" form of that contract.

The key question for the second class is: By what right does one man (a patent holder) prevent another man (somebody who thought up the same thing independently) from profiting from his own thoughts? This is, evidently, the more difficult question.

Recently, I've been trying ...

Duncan Bayne's picture

... to get a better handle on the philosophical foundations of intellectual property law. Hence my purchase of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal - that was primarily to read Rand's essay on IP. I've also been reading Roderick Long's arguments against IP, which seem fairly strong.

Perhaps the time is right for an in-depth examination by some of the luminaries on SOLO Law or SOLO Economics?

Good point

sjw's picture

Good point, it is more like they are taking the drugs.

I think the reference "Crackberry" is indeed a drug reference, it's common for Blackberry users to talk about these devices in the terminology of drug addiction.

I was feeling bad for RIM, but then I heard that they played the same sort of patent-warfare games themselves. This is a field in dire need of some objective analysis.

The cops aren't taking home the drug money...

Andrew Bates's picture

The cops would be taking home the drug money if they took RIM's profits. But they're continuing to use its service - which is like taking home the drugs instead. Doest thou not as I do...

Coincidentally, a friend of mine working at Goldman Sachs calls his a Crackberry. I haven't asked him why though I suspect it's because he's hooked onto it like an addict.

Alternatively, it could be that the screen or case cracks.


sjw's picture

This is so obscene I would not have believed it before I saw it:

Basically, the government is trying to find a way to exempt themselves from any consequences of shutting down Blackberry. So citizens will be banned from using theirs, but the congressmen will still get serviced. Talk about bald-faced hypocrisy!

I guess the government feels that they get off the hook from violating patents, since they're the ones that extract the cash from the alleged patent violator! That's akin to cops who feel good about taking some of the drug money home because they're the ones who confiscated it.

The public rationalization for this bizarre behavior is that "crucial government services would be interrupted". This is even worse. First of all, it's a lie. Blackberry's are not crucial to government services. But even if they were, is it OK for the government to steal anything it wants in the name of "the public good"? Well, at least this is a more honest form of stealing--since it's so obviously stealing.

Not so fast

sjw's picture

I wouldn't be so quick to pat the justice system on the back on this one, the patent system is notorious for letting through bogus patents, including not only trivialities like Amazon's "one click" but also designs that may not be "obvious" to a jury but are obvious to a good practitioner.

Purpose of Patents

Andrew Bates's picture


From what I understand , you can patent a discovered process but not a discovered idea. Ayn Rand provides an explanation of why somewhere in C:TUI (recognising creation of value vs. legislating ignorance).

Based on reading news articles on this story a number of times over the last month or so, I think the company pursuing RIM is a parasite. They came up with a faily simple obvious idea (instantaneous email on a phone/pda), patented a simple process (continual checking of an inbox and sending of new messages to a device wirelessly) - that seems more like an idea - and waited for someone to develop it, make it popular and become successful and thus become the target of a suit.

(You may recall the libertarian CEO of Cypress Semiconductors, TJ Rodgers, once described Texas Instruments as an engineering company that only employed lawyers as they gained more revenue from pursuing patent suits than from selling their products.)

That said, RIM said they were developing work-around options to keep their services going so maybe there's some complex engineering issue in the checking and sending that I've failed to grasp.

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