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The Problem With Patents

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page.

Kevin Drum wonders if patents really slow down innovation and growth to a degree that anyone should be all that worried:

 During the 80s, I remember learning that IBM held the original patents for stuff like DMA and interrupt controllers,1 which surprised me because by that time those things were like oxygen: just a standard part of every computer in the world. But hey - someone had to invent that stuff, and in the end the patents didn't really slow anyone down. Basically, the technology got incorporated into chips, the chipmakers presumably paid royalties, and everyone else just bought the chips. There was a modest cost, but it didn't prevent Steve Wozniak from designing the Apple II. The same thing happens with patent pools for things like MPEG and other standards. It's all a gigantic pain in the ass, and it can impede progress while the lawyers hash everything out, but once they do, all the little guys end up using the patented technology without having to jump through hoops.

The question always becomes, without all those patents and protections of incumbent players and barriers to entry, how fast would innovation occurred? How many potential startups and innovators were shutdown by big entities like IBM, or later Microsoft or Intel, due to legal protections that reward capital over entrepreneurship?

Of course, maybe it's hard to get a handle on the costs since tech has expanded so much in recent decades. What about other parts of the economy where IP law has a major impact? This is nowhere more insidious than agriculture and the world of genetically modified crops.

Take it away Kevin Carson:

 Take, for example, "intellectual property" - a state-granted monopoly central to the corporate neoliberal order, but which has precious little to do with anything remotely resembling an actual free market. Your Internet service provider isn't a business performing a service for you - the paying customer - so much as an adjunct of the RIAA and MPAA and their lackeys in government. Your ISP spies on you on behalf of Big Content to ensure you're not downloading any big torrents.