IP Watchdog Opinion: Why Libertarians Should Support a Strong Patent System, by Bob Zeidman and Eashan Gupta
This post originally appeared in IP Watchdog on January 5, 2016.
America is without question the most innovative country in the world. This has been the case since its founding over 200 years ago. One of the great innovations of America’s Founding Fathers is the U.S. patent system. This has encouraged innovation for all of these years. However, some argue that the patent system is outdated and no longer encourages innovation. In particular, many libertarians believe that patents are government approved monopolies that discourage innovation. In this paper we examine the U.S. patent system, explain how it encourages innovation, and why libertarians in particular should support this system that operates according to libertarian values and resist current efforts at “reform” that introduce government regulation and limits competition.
What Are Patents?
To understand the U.S. patent system, we first need to understand what a patent is. Patents are simply property rights for inventors that are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The language of the statute states that any person who “invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent,” subject to the conditions and requirements of the law. Patents do not protect ideas by themselves, but the implementation of ideas. For example, one cannot patent the idea of voice transmission over wires. But one could patent a method for voice transmission over wires comprising receiving sound vibrations and converting them to modulations of an electrical current by means of a membrane attached to a carrier of the electrical current in such a way that when the membrane vibrates in response to sound vibrations, the membrane causes a modification to the electrical current during a part of each vibration, etc. In other words, one cannot patent the idea of a telephone but can patent a specific implementation of a telephone.