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IP Answer Man: Death Toll of Patent Law

Paraphrased interchange:

…I have been exploring several ideas for possible inquiries into the nature and effects of patents. … One thing in particular that has been occupying a great share of my reflection time is the death toll of intellectual property laws. Surely, as you have demonstrated by excellence in your writings and studies, there is a strong economic, moral, and philosophical case to be made against intellectual property laws. But, perhaps, there is a bloody and unseen (or unrealized, as Per Bylund would say) effect of IP laws: The millions – maybe, billions – of lives that could’ve been saved were not for intellectual property laws.

All the medicine that could’ve been cheaply manufactured by local entrepreneurs in Africa instead of having to be shipped (at exorbitant prices) from Big Pharma; all the technological innovation that could’ve been produced at any place by any adventurous entrepreneur, but instead whose production was monopolized by one single company (e.g., Apple); and many more examples. How many human beings could be saved? How many human beings are left at mercy of Government Bureaucrats without any option to produce the medicine locally?
This is certainly a dark subject, I understand. And I’m certainly ready to dive head-on, reading and compiling multiple sources to laboriously construct a solid picture of this murderous side effect of patent rights.
But, in order to do such, I need exactly that: sources. As you, Mr. Kinsella, are the most vocal opponent of IP law, and an intellectually productive man, I wonder if you have any source (study, book, etc) on the subject. Any is greatly appreciated.

See some comments below and then some suggestions.

First: what you are pointing to here—this is actually my biggest problem with the patent system: if it is true that it impedes the development and spread and use of technological innovation, which I think it does, it has an unimaginable cumulative effect on human welfare and undoubtedly harms billions of lives by premature deaths, etc. This is because—the reason we are rich is because of the knowledge we have accumulated. So anything that impedes this causes untold and immeasurable harm to the human race. That is why I say it’s death, as here, in The Death Throes of Pro-IP Libertarianism:

It is obscene to undermine the glorious operation of the market in producing wealth and abundance by imposing artificial scarcity on human knowledge and learning (see “IP and Artificial Scarcity“). Learning, emulation, and information are good. It is good that information can be reproduced, retained, spread, and taught and learned and communicated so easily. Granted, we cannot say that it is bad that the world of physical resources is one of scarcity — this is the way reality is, after all — but it is certainly a challenge, and it makes life a struggle. It is suicidal and foolish to try to hamper one of our most important tools — learning, emulation, knowledge — by imposing scarcity on it. Intellectual property is theft. Intellectual property is statism. Intellectual property is death. Give us intellectual freedom instead!

This is why I say patents are even worse than copyright and IP itself—mainly patents (plus copyright)—are among the worst statist institutions/laws:

On this topic, see, for example, Hayek’s mention of the “fund of experience”—that we humans draw on for continued success. That means the human race learns things over time and that knowledge spreads, and is emulated and adopted, and so we keep getting richer. Anything that intentionally impedes the spread and use of such knowledge is suicidal, it harms the human race.1

See Hayek’s Views on Intellectual Property:

“the rise of our standard of life is due at least as much to an increase in knowledge which enables us not merely to consume more of the same things but to use different things, and often things we did not even know before. And though the growth of income depends in part on the accumulation of capital, more probably depends on our learning to use our resources more effectively and for new purposes.

The growth of knowledge is of such special importance because, while the material resources will always remain scarce and will have to be reserved for limited purposes, the users of new knowledge (where we do not make them artificially scarce by patents of monopoly) are unrestricted. Knowledge, once achieved, becomes gratuitously available for the benefit of all. It is through this free gift of the knowledge acquired by the experiments of some members of society that general progress is made possible, that the achievements of those who have gone before facilitate the advance of those who follow.”

“… The range of what will be tried and later developed, the fund of experience that will become avail­able to all, is greatly extended by the unequal distribution of present benefits; and the rate of advance will be greatly increased if the first steps are taken long before the majority can profit from them. Many of the improvements would indeed never become a possibility for all if they had not long before been available to some. If all had to wait for better things until they could be provided for all, that day would in many instances never come. Even the poorest to­day owe their relative material well-being to the results of past inequality.”

As I wrote previously,

Material progress is made over time in human society because information is not scarce. It can be infinitely multiplied, learned, taught, and built on. The more patterns, recipes, causal laws that are known add to the stock of knowledge available to all actors and act as a greater and greater wealth multiplier by allowing actors to engage in ever-more efficient and productive actions. It is a good thing that ideas are infinitely reproducible, not a bad thing. There is no need to impose artificial scarcity on these things to make them more like scarce resources, which, unfortunately, are scarce.

From Knowledge is Power. See also related links in Intellectual Property and the Structure of Human Action such as:

So IP—patents—slow down the development, use, and spread of technical innovation. And they ADMIT it does this. See e.g. “To paraphrase the late economist Joan Robinson, patents and copyrights slow down the diffusion of new ideas for a reason: to ensure there will be more new ideas to diffuse.” See Independent Institute on The “Benefits” of Intellectual Property Protection.

And it limits free market competition. That it’s purpose:

Governments adopt intellectual property laws in the belief that a privileged, monopolistic domain operating on the margins of the free-market economy promotes long-term cultural and technological progress better than a regime of unbridled competition.

… Intellectual property laws typically provide qualified creators with temporary grants of exclusive property rights that derogate from the norms of free competition in order to overcome the “public goods” problem inherent in the commercial exploitation of intangible creations.

See my post Intellectual Property Advocates Hate Competition.

IP is an explicit attempt to impose artificial scarcity where none exists. Its proponents admit this; this is a feature, not a bug, for them. As Hayek noted in The Constitution of Liberty, as quoted above: “The growth of knowledge is of such special importance because, while the material resources will always remain scarce and will have to be reserved for limited purposes, the users of new knowledge (where we do not make them artificially scarce by patents of monopoly) …”

The literature is rife with IP scholars (mostly proponents) admitting that it’s an attempt to impose artificial scarcity where none exists naturally. Just google it.  E.g. see Cezary Błaszczyk, “The Critique of Copyright in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Argumentation Ethics,” Central European Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, vol. 68 (2016), pp. 33–54 (PDFAcademia), discussing the “artificial scarcity” imposed by copyright law. See also IP and Artificial Scarcity, mentioning Arnold Plant and Boudewijn Bouckaert’s comments on the artificial scarcity created by IP law.

So… these IP fascists admit it.  Patents slow down diffusion of ideas and limit free market competition. Patents impose artificial scarcity where none naturally exists. That’s the purpose. WTF. Of course innovation is impeded and human death and misery is the result.

Now as for the concrete ways IP—patents mostly, but also copyright—literally kills people, see various links you can find from this search: https://c4sif.org/?s=patents+kill, such as:

Why don’t you take a look at all this then come back to me if you want to discuss it more. If you wanted to assemble more data, I would support that and appreciate it. I think if you could look into various studies or analyses that argue for how technological innovation, scientific discovery, etc., are the key reasons for modern prosperity, then this could aid the analysis. Most of these scholars are completely unaware or confused about the effect patents have on innovation. But if you add that to the analysis, you could help bolster and illustrate the claim that patents kill people—billions of people over time. Untold numbers of people.

Basically it would be this: sources A, B, C…. all explain why we are richer now than the Romans were, due to our knowledge–the earth is the same, we are not really smarter. It’s just the knowledge we have. this is a theme I have pushed repeatedly, explaining that successful human actions requires access to and control of scarce resources, which are the subject of property rights, and knowledge of causal laws (scientific knowledge) and various recipes–inventions, designs, machines, processes, engineering methods–that can be used to guide our action. The former is fairly limited so we have property rights for it; but the latter keeps growing–our “fund of experience.” So ANYTHING that impedes the development, spread, communication, use, adoption, emulation of advances in technological knowledge has a butterfly effect that kills or harms the human race going forward. This includes taxation, the business cycle (caused by the fed), patent law, and so on.

Anyway ponder all this then get back with me to let me know what other questions or suggestions you have.


  1. See also “Against Intellectual Property After Twenty Years: Looking Back and Looking Forward“: “For elaboration, see Kinsella, “Hayek’s Views on Intellectual Property,” C4SIF Blog (Aug. 2, 2013) and “Intellectual Property and the Structure of Human Action,” discussing Hayek’s comments about how the accumulation of a “fund of experience” helps aid human progress and the creation of wealth. See also Kinsella, “Tucker, ‘Knowledge Is as Valuable as Physical Capital,’” C4SIF Blog (March 27, 2017).” []
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