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Question for Randian IP Advocates

Great question by Sheldon Richman:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Question for Randian IP Advocates

The Randian case for intellectual “property rights” is that all value-productive action (which is necessary for life) proceeds from a creative idea, and therefore all property is ultimately intellectual property. Deprive a person of the exclusive right to his idea and you attack the very foundation of life.

That case prompts a thought experiment: Imagine a primitive tribe in which one member does painstaking research on which wild berries are good for human consumption and which are not. (The Randian case emphasizes that such knowledge is not automatic as it in the case of lower animals, but has to be discovered by intellectual effort.) He learns through his work that when he eats one particular berry he gets healthier and more energetic — better in every way. He also discovers that other berries are best avoided. The rest of the tribe observes and takes notes.

Question: Under Randian IP law, would the others need the innovator’s permission before they may consume the healthful berries? Or does the innovative have an exclusive right to the fruits of his effort. (Pun intended.)

If not, why not?

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Norman April 18, 2011, 1:53 pm

    What’s the supposed Randian answer and the supporting analysis?

  • Norman April 19, 2011, 7:51 am

    Since there there aren’t any takers I’ll try my two cents worth. The berry scientist’s methods are patentable. If the other tribal members employ his methods to determine the good berries from the the bad berries that they themselves own, they are infringing, unless the other tribal members create a wholly distinguishable method for berry selection. If the other tribal members are unable to employ their own method, they must either pay the berry scientist for a license to employ his method to select their own berries, randomly eat their own berries and determine the difference through trial and error, or do without and find a substitute. In any event, the berry scientist, being a consistent Randian, asserts his “right” in perpetuity (through his heirs) to control how the tribal members select their own berries using his method.

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