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The Economist on Owning Ideas (1850)

From Alexander Zaitchik, Owning the Sun:

“Long before medicines entered the monopoly debate, many countries were hesitant to accept the general Anglo-American concept of “owning ideas.” A debate over the legitimacy and value of monopolies as awards for invention was a tempest across Europe throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The Netherlands proudly maintained what it called a “free trade in inventions” until 1912. During this long argument, the fiercest denunciations of intellectual property were found not in left-wing journals but in the pages of The Economist, whose editors advocated for the abolishment of the English patent system. The magazine asserted in 1850 that for inventors to “establish a right of property in their inventions,” they first would have “to give up all the knowledge and assistance they have derived from the knowledge and inventions of others . . . That is impossible, and the impossibility shows that their minds and their inventions are, in fact, parts of the great mental whole of society, and that they have no right of property in their inventions.”

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