Re: Patent breakthrough- maybe we don't need them after all?

From: Lee Daniel Crocker (
Date: Tue Mar 14 2000 - 11:50:44 MST

> Lee Daniel Crocker, <>, writes:
> > As I have pointed out here before, it is the patent concept that is
> > a socialist one--it derives from the labor theory of value--the
> > discredited idea that work is valuable in itself. Just because an
> > inventor does work, that's no reason to assume it is valuable, any
> > more than a craftsman making artifacts no one wants.
> But patents make no statements about value. A patent can be as worthless
> as any other piece of property. Do property rights in other fields derive
> from the labor theory of value? Does the fact that someone can own land
> imply that the land must be considered valuable? No, any form of property,
> including patents, can be worthless.
> Patents extend the notion of property into the abstract. Whether this is
> good or effective is debatable, but it has nothing to do with the labor
> theory of value.

There is a difference between traditional property rights and patents,
though: property rights codify what already exists in reality--the fact
that tangible property is scarce and unsharable. It does not attach any
more value to the property than what it already has.

Patents, in contrast, try to _create_ value by making scarce something
which is not by nature, based on the assumption that inventors "deserve"
to have this value created for them by virtue of their labor. Much of
the rhetoric behind patents assumes this moral desert, and it is _that_
that is based on the labor theory of value (if not patent law itself).
I agree that this may not necessarily make a worthless idea valuable--
indeed 90% of patents are nothing but wallpaper anyway. But it does
nonetheless amount to a valuable government entitlement to those idea-
space homesteaders whose inventions _do_ have practical applications,
and it ensures that only that one inventor's applications are the ones
that reach market, despite what other applications the market might
demand if others could use the invention.

I should also note that this particular line of rhetoric is fairly
recent, and that the origin of US patents was based on a slightly
different (though still somewhat socialist) idea: that the state should
encourage inventors to publish their work, rather than maintaining it as a
trade secret, for the good of society.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC

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