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The Hoverboard’s Patent Problem – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The Hoverboard’s Patent Problem – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker

Who has the right to make a “hoverboard”?

Shane Chen of Portland, Oregon, owns the patent to one of the hottest holiday gifts this season. It is a kind of hoverboard, a small item that keeps its user upright using infrared sensors, gyroscopes, and motors. You have probably seen them all over your city. You might even have been approached by a street seller.

The authorized version — licensed by Chen himself — is being made and distributed by Razor USA. Prices started at $1,000 and up, but competition from cheap knockoffs, selling for as low as $200, has brought the price for the authorized version to $600. Still, there are places online where you can get them for $200. If experience in new products in a guide to the future, in a year, they will be available for less than $100.

And truly, these knockoffs are everywhere. Small entrepreneurs are importing them from small manufacturers by the thousands and selling them on the streets. They are making and selling so fast that quality control has been… lax. There are anecdotal reports of explosions and sudden acceleration (parodies on this Saturday night live skit). Amazon has refused to sell many brands.

The patent has proven difficult to enforce. Razor is spending up to $1 million per week to sue unauthorized manufactures. It’s a reminder: it’s never enough just own the government-granted monopoly rights to produce something. It always costs money to enforce it. You have to investigate. You have to litigate. You have to win. And by the time that day comes, you might have lost vast market share.

If the product is popular enough, the task is essentially hopeless. The resources and time expended on patent enforcement might instead of gone to innovation and marketing toward actually making profits. Enforcing a monopoly isn’t necessarily the same as making money. Indeed, it is the opposite.

The Case of Eli Whitney
The hoverboard saga brings to mind the history of one of the 19th-century’s most famous inventions: the cotton gin. The holder of the patent was Eli Whitney. A year after his graduation from Yale, he designed and constructed an improvement in the cotton gin — a technology that had existed since the ancient world. He obtained the patent on a single feature, a brush-like extension that improved the way the seeds were extracted from the cotton.

According to Boldrin and Levine, Eli and his partner Phineas Miller has dreams of getting rich with a monopoly pricing scheme. They would install their machines throughout the South and ask a royalty of two fifths, payable in ginned cotton. This prospect seriously annoyed farmers throughout the region, understandably.

So it became a common practice for farmers to reverse engineer the innovation — not a difficult thing to do. Rather than lease the Whitney machine, they would just make their own. Does this violate anyone’s rights? Of course not. A design of a contraption is made scarce and “owned” only by legislation. To forcibly prevent farmers from making their own machines is actually an invasion of their rights.

Still, with the prospect of riches dancing in his head, Eli and Phineas set out to sue every farmer who reverse engineered their design. “Whitney and Miller spent a lot of time and money trying to enforce their patent on the cotton gin, but with little success,” write Boldrin and Levine. “Between 1794 and 1807 they went around the South bringing to court everyone in sight, yet received little compensation for their strenuous efforts.”

Meanwhile, the gin led to vast increases in productivity. The cotton industry boomed. But the holders of the patent became ever poorer.

Fortunately, the story ends well. Whitney learned that suing people is less profitable than actually marketing products. His next project was to invent a machine that created interchangeable parts for muskets. Having learned his lesson, he did not seek a patent for his innovation. He just got busy right away and began selling. (His main customer, as it turns out, became the US Army.)

He finally did strike it big. As Boldrin and Levine summarize the lesson: “It was not as a monopolist of the cotton gin, but rather as the competitive manufacturer of muskets that Whitney finally became rich.”

Will Shane Chen Learn the Lesson?
The hoverboard, like the cotton gin, is in enormous demand. All the government power is the world will not prevent hundreds of manufacturers from making them, driving the price down and down until everyone can afford one. That one million per week that Razor is spending on trying to stop copycats is probably better spent on marketing and innovation — actually selling stuff rather than trying to prevent others from selling stuff.

Absent the government regulation, how can innovators make money? They have the first-mover advantage. This is what provides a period of high profitability before others get in on the act. This is the competitive market at work, inspiring everyone to serve the customer ever more faithfully through lower prices and better products.

Another factor that gives advantage to the innovators is trust. Even now, you can go to the drug store and see name-brand products living alongside store-branded products. Both make money. Both appeal to certain market segments. One producer’s gain does not necessarily come at the expense of other producers, unless the government intervenes.

It is common wisdom to say that the patent system is broken. But what is broken about it? It’s not that the system is abused. It is that it is used at all. Industrial monopolies achieved through government grants of special privileges create waste — and the ongoing lawsuits concerning the hoverboard are a case in point.

Whether it is ginning cotton or zipping around on city sidewalks, a true innovative society encourages as much production and innovation as possible, in service of the masses who love the newest and coolest thing.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Michel Chevalier’s Case Against the Patent System – Article by Louis Rouanet

Michel Chevalier’s Case Against the Patent System – Article by Louis Rouanet

The New Renaissance Hat
Louis Rouanet
April 17, 2015

Michel Chevalier (1806–1879) was a very influential French economist during the second half of the nineteenth century. He is still widely known in France for being the architect of the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty of 1860 which was the free-trade agreement between France and Great Britain. Michel Chevalier is, however, less known for his major contribution to the intellectual property debate. [1] Contrary to Jean Baptiste Say, Gustave de Molinari, and many other French economists, Chevalier fiercely opposed the patent system. As Fritz Machlup remarked: “Among French economists, Michel Chevalier was probably the most emphatic in the joint antagonism to tariffs and patents, declaring that both ‘stem from the same doctrine and result in the same abuses.’”

Taking a fresh look at Michel Chevalier’s major work, Les Brevets d’invention (1878), we find it to be not only a well-written and powerful book, but also has remained impressively relevant. The arguments advanced by Chevalier anticipate the current arguments of the present opponents of intellectual property.

Patents as Contrary to Freedom and Economic Progress

Michel Chevalier argues that patents cannot be justified if they are contrary to freedom, even if beneficial to technological change. For him “From the moment we can make effective the patent only through inquisitorial expedients, violence, and subversion of liberty of labor, it is proof that we must renounce patents.” Chevalier rejects utilitarianism as a sufficient method to justify or refute the patent system. Chevalier’s opposition to patents, however, is not just based on moral arguments but shows the disastrous effects of this system for both foreign trade and the economy in general.

According to Chevalier, patents are of the same nature as privileges and monopolies which were prevalent during the Ancien Régime. They are also comparable in their effects to protectionist policies:

In absolute terms, patents diminish the productive power of nations that recognize them: evident proposition for those who believe that freedom, free competition, is the great lever of industrial progress.

Chevalier goes on to note the conservative and anti-innovation nature of monopolies and gives many examples of monopolies during the Ancien Régime. According to him, the innovators during the Ancien Régime weren’t rewarded, not because of the absence of patents, but because of the corporation guild system which was destroying competition and freedom to entry into markets. Thus, the innovators were constantly sued by guilds and consumers rarely benefited from their inventions. This argument is still relevant today. Indeed, companies protected from competition and government-owned corporations are often less innovative and more subject to conservative measures. Sectors typically run by government such as schools experience very little technological progress. On the other hand, the competitive process of the market gives incentives for the actors to differentiate from the other producers. As Pascal Salin stated, the company which makes the highest profits on a free market is the company which is the best positioned to “invent the future.” The essential virtue of competition is that it encourages producers to innovate in order to better serve the needs of consumers.

As one of his more striking examples, Chevalier examines the case of aniline — a dye and major innovation in the chemical industry — and shows how monopoly, resulting from patents, leads to hampered innovation. His interpretation of the problems caused by patents in the chemical industry at the time is consistent with more recent studies done by Boldrin and Levine in Against Intellectual Monopoly, now the seminal work on the topic.

Innovation as a Process

Chevalier understood that innovation is, above all, a process and that giving privileges to the innovator will destroy this process, leading to less and not more inventions. He wrote:

Every industrial discovery is the product of the general ferment of ideas, the result of an internal work which was accomplished with the support of a large number of successive or simultaneous collaborators in society, often for centuries.

This argument regarding the cumulative nature of innovation is still the most powerful argument against intellectual monopoly today and has also been the theme of several recent studies.2 Similar to Chevalier, Hayek saw innovation as a process and stated that “it is not obvious that such forced scarcity [intellectual property] is the most effective way to stimulate the human creative process.”

In an 1862 debate in the Académe des Sciences Morales et Politiques, Chevalier gave the example of Louis Daguerre, one of the inventors of photography, who didn’t seek a patent for his system of photography. According to Chevalier, the absence of a patent led to necessary improvements of the daguerreotype and fostered its widespread use. His conclusion is the following:

The spirit of man proceeds only by successive trials and repeated attempts. Discoveries do not arrive with a single bound to the degree of perfection or completion, which is reserved for them; there must be renewed, persevering efforts, cut by breaks that allow, so to speak, to breath. … If it is true that the invention must pass through the hands of twenty people before reaching its final state, it follows that the exclusive privilege granted to the first patented, and to each of his followers, prevents this practical result rather than facilitate it.

The Increasing Number of Patents and Negative Consequences

Already during the nineteenth century, legal instability and uncertainty challenged the actual efficiency of the patent system and the economists were very much aware of this problem. Chevalier warned that the patent system would lead to legal uncertainty for the companies and would lead the industry back to a guild system where no entrepreneur would dare to enter a market for fear of being sued by patent holders. Chevalier was ahead of his time by denouncing what can be considered the ancestors of today’s patent trolls.

Chevalier concluded his 1862 article by stating: “I think I have said enough to show that the patent legislation has been an eccentricity of the legislator.” He went further in 1863 and added that “[a]ll friends of industrial and social progress must work together to rescue the industry of obstacles, obsolete remains of the past. Patents must disappear first.” [3]

1. Fritz Machlup and Edith Penrose briefly discussed Michel Chevalier in “The Patent Controversy in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Economic History, 1950.

2. See Alberto Galasso et Mark Schankerman, “Patents and Cumulative Innovation: Causal Evidence from the Courts”, NBER working paper, 21 June 2014 ; and also, Alessandro Nuvolari, “Collective Invention during the British Industrial Revolution: The Case of the Cornish Pumping Engine,” Cambridge Journal of Economics 28, No. 3 (2004).

3. Quoted in Eugène Pouillet, “Traité théorique et pratique des brevets d’invention et de la contrefaçon,” 1909, pp. x–xi.

Louis Rouanet is a student at Sciences Po Paris (Institute of Political Studies) where he studies economics and political science.

This article was originally published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided full credit is given.

Ludd vs. Schumpeter: Fear of Robot Labor is Fear of the Free Market – Article by Wendy McElroy

Ludd vs. Schumpeter: Fear of Robot Labor is Fear of the Free Market – Article by Wendy McElroy

The New Renaissance Hat
Wendy McElroy
September 18, 2014

Report Suggests Nearly Half of U.S. Jobs Are Vulnerable to Computerization,” screams a headline. The cry of “robots are coming to take our jobs!” is ringing across North America. But the concern reveals nothing so much as a fear—and misunderstanding—of the free market.

In the short term, robotics will cause some job dislocation; in the long term, labor patterns will simply shift. The use of robotics to increase productivity while decreasing costs works basically the same way as past technological advances, like the production line, have worked. Those advances improved the quality of life of billions of people and created new forms of employment that were unimaginable at the time.

Given that reality, the cry that should be heard is, “Beware of monopolies controlling technology through restrictive patents or other government-granted privilege.”

The robots are coming!

Actually, they are here already. Technological advance is an inherent aspect of a free market in which innovators seeks to produce more value at a lower cost. Entrepreneurs want a market edge. Computerization, industrial control systems, and robotics have become an integral part of that quest. Many manual jobs, such as factory-line assembly, have been phased out and replaced by others, such jobs related to technology, the Internet, and games. For a number of reasons, however, robots are poised to become villains of unemployment. Two reasons come to mind:

1. Robots are now highly developed and less expensive. Such traits make them an increasingly popular option. The Banque de Luxembourg News offered a snapshot:

The currently-estimated average unit cost of around $50,000 should certainly decrease further with the arrival of “low-cost” robots on the market. This is particularly the case for “Baxter,” the humanoid robot with evolving artificial intelligence from the US company Rethink Robotics, or “Universal 5” from the Danish company Universal Robots, priced at just $22,000 and $34,000 respectively.

Better, faster, and cheaper are the bases of increased productivity.

2. Robots will be interacting more directly with the general public. The fast-food industry is a good example. People may be accustomed to ATMs, but a robotic kiosk that asks, “Do you want fries with that?” will occasion widespread public comment, albeit temporarily.

Comment from displaced fast-food restaurant workers may not be so transient. NBC News recently described a strike by workers in an estimated 150 cities. The workers’ main demand was a $15 minimum wage, but they also called for better working conditions. The protesters, ironically, are speeding up their own unemployment by making themselves expensive and difficult to manage.

Labor costs

Compared to humans, robots are cheaper to employ—partly for natural reasons and partly because of government intervention.

Among the natural costs are training, safety needs, overtime, and personnel problems such as hiring, firing and on-the-job theft. Now, according to Singularity Hub, robots can also be more productive in certain roles. They  “can make a burger in 10 seconds (360/hr). Fast yes, but also superior quality. Because the restaurant is free to spend its savings on better ingredients, it can make gourmet burgers at fast food prices.”

Government-imposed costs include minimum-wage laws and mandated benefits, as well as discrimination, liability, and other employment lawsuits. The employment advisory Workforce explained, “Defending a case through discovery and a ruling on a motion for summary judgment can cost an employer between $75,000 and $125,000. If an employer loses summary judgment—which, much more often than not, is the case—the employer can expect to spend a total of $175,000 to $250,000 to take a case to a jury verdict at trial.”

At some point, human labor will make sense only to restaurants that wish to preserve the “personal touch” or to fill a niche.

The underlying message of robotechnophobia

The tech site Motherboard aptly commented, “The coming age of robot workers chiefly reflects a tension that’s been around since the first common lands were enclosed by landowners who declared them private property: that between labour and the owners of capital. The future of labour in the robot age has everything to do with capitalism.”

Ironically, Motherboard points to one critic of capitalism who defended technological advances in production: none other than Karl Marx. He called machines “fixed capital.” The defense occurs in a segment called “The Fragment on Machines”  in the unfinished but published manuscript Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie (Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy).

Marx believed the “variable capital” (workers) dislocated by machines would be freed from the exploitation of their “surplus labor,” the difference between their wages and the selling price of a product, which the capitalist pockets as profit. Machines would benefit “emancipated labour” because capitalists would “employ people upon something not directly and immediately productive, e.g. in the erection of machinery.” The relationship change would revolutionize society and hasten the end of capitalism itself.

Never mind that the idea of “surplus labor” is intellectually bankrupt, technology ended up strengthening capitalism. But Marx was right about one thing: Many workers have been emancipated from soul-deadening, repetitive labor. Many who feared technology did so because they viewed society as static. The free market is the opposite. It is a dynamic, quick-response ecosystem of value. Internet pioneer Vint Cerf argues, “Historically, technology has created more jobs than it destroys and there is no reason to think otherwise in this case.”

Forbes pointed out that U.S. unemployment rates have changed little over the past 120 years (1890 to 2014) despite massive advances in workplace technology:

There have been three major spikes in unemployment, all caused by financiers, not by engineers: the railroad and bank failures of the Panic of 1893, the bank failures of the Great Depression, and finally the Great Recession of our era, also stemming from bank failures. And each time, once the bankers and policymakers got their houses in order, businesses, engineers, and entrepreneurs restored growth and employment.

The drive to make society static is powerful obstacle to that restored employment. How does society become static? A key word in the answer is “monopoly.” But we should not equivocate on two forms of monopoly.

A monopoly established by aggressive innovation and excellence will dominate only as long as it produces better or less expensive goods than others can. Monopolies created by crony capitalism are entrenched expressions of privilege that serve elite interests. Crony capitalism is the economic arrangement by which business success depends upon having a close relationship with government, including legal privileges.

Restrictive patents are a basic building block of crony capitalism because they grant a business the “right” to exclude competition. Many libertarians deny the legitimacy of any patents. The nineteenth century classical liberal Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk rejected patents on classically Austrian grounds. He called them “legally compulsive relationships of patronage which are based on a vendor’s exclusive right of sale”: in short, a government-granted privilege that violated every man’s right to compete freely. Modern critics of patents include the Austrian economist Murray Rothbard and intellectual property attorney Stephan Kinsella.

Pharmaceuticals and technology are particularly patent-hungry. The extent of the hunger can be gauged by how much money companies spend to protect their intellectual property rights. In 2011, Apple and Google reportedly spent more on patent lawsuits and purchases than on research and development. A New York Times article addressed the costs imposed on tech companies by “patent trolls”—people who do not produce or supply services based on patents they own but use them only to collect licensing fees and legal settlements. “Litigation costs in the United States related to patent assertion entities [trolls],” the article claimed, “totaled nearly $30 billion in 2011, more than four times the costs in 2005.” These costs and associated ones, like patent infringement insurance, harm a society’s productivity by creating stasis and  preventing competition.

Dean Baker, co-director of the progressive Center for Economic Policy Research, described the difference between robots produced on the marketplace and robots produced by monopoly. Private producers “won’t directly get rich” because “robots will presumably be relatively cheap to make. After all, we can have robots make them. If the owners of robots get really rich it will be because the government has given them patent monopolies so that they can collect lots of money from anyone who wants to buy or build a robot.”  The monopoly “tax” will be passed on to impoverish both consumers and employees.


Ultimately, we should return again to the wisdom of Joseph Schumpeter, who reminds us that technological progress, while it can change the patterns of production, tends to free up resources for new uses, making life better over the long term. In other words, the displacement of workers by robots is just creative destruction in action. Just as the car starter replaced the buggy whip, the robot might replace the burger-flipper. Perhaps the burger-flipper will migrate to a new profession, such as caring for an elderly person or cleaning homes for busy professionals. But there are always new ways to create value.

An increased use of robots will cause labor dislocation, which will be painful for many workers in the near term. But if market forces are allowed to function, the dislocation will be temporary. And if history is a guide, the replacement jobs will require skills that better express what it means to be human: communication, problem-solving, creation, and caregiving.

Wendy McElroy ( is an author, editor of, and Research Fellow at The Independent Institute (

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

Advancing Pharmaceutical and Medical Technology Does Not Depend on Patents – Article by Nathan Nicolaisen

Advancing Pharmaceutical and Medical Technology Does Not Depend on Patents – Article by Nathan Nicolaisen

The New Renaissance Hat
Nathan Nicolaisen
January 1, 2014

Pharmaceutical drug manufacturers are often regarded as the successes of the intellectual property regime. It is assumed that their willingness to take risks by investing heavily in R&D is justified by the awarding of patents over their lifesaving discoveries. Proponents of intellectual property claim that without patents many lifesaving drugs would not exist. They assert that generic drug manufacturers would diminish profit margins and dissipate the original manufacturer’s market share and innovation would come to a virtual standstill. Further, manufacturers once willing to create new drugs will no longer do so without sufficient returns on investment. Research into the matter suggests, however, that patent protection may not be required for medical advances.

Unpatented Medical Technologies

The notion that unpatented medical technologies are not feasible is historically false. Surveys of important medical breakthroughs provide insight into whether patents are absolutely necessary and conducive to innovation in medicine. In 2006, the British Medical Journal challenged its readership to submit a list of the most noteworthy medical and pharmaceutical inventions throughout history. The original list contained over 70 different discoveries before being narrowed down to 15. The list goes as follows in no particular order: penicillin, x-rays, tissue culture, ether anesthetic, chlorpromazine, public sanitation, germ theory, evidence-based medicine, vaccines, the pill, computers, oral rehydration therapy, DNA structure, monoclonal antibody technology, and smoking health risk. Of these discoveries, only two of them have remotely anything to do with patents, chlorpromazine and the pill.[1] In another survey conducted by the United States Centers for Disease Control the results are strikingly similar. Of the ten most important medical discoveries of the twentieth century, none of them had anything to do with patents.[2]

Natural Market Advantages and Trade Secrecy

Contrary to popular belief, large pharmaceutical companies may maintain significant market share advantages after the introduction of generics through the help of natural barriers to entry. Large pharmaceutical companies have a first-mover advantage and an established internal and external structure that competitors, large and small, do not. Regardless of how fast competitors can manufacture a generic drug (never mind the fact that they must hire new labor, train new employees, buy raw materials, establish suppliers, organize logistics, create a marketing and advertising plan, and set up competitive shelf space), it can be extremely difficult to make a dent in the market dominance of an already-established drug. Competition data from India suggests that it takes approximately four years for generic drugs to enter the market.[3] In addition, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that an original drug manufacturer could still maintain a market share of more than 20 percent after the introduction of generics. Expanding the scope of research beyond pharmaceutical drugs, a survey of R&D labs and company managers revealed that between 23 percent and 35 percent believe a patent is an effective way of getting a return on investment. At the same time 51 percent believe trade secrets to be an effective way of ensuring returns.[4]

The Truth about R&D Costs and Generic Drugs

Pharmaceutical drug manufacturers enjoy large margins in spite of large R&D. The claim that R&D for pharmaceuticals is high is not unfounded. The cost to bring a new drug to market varies between estimates of $402 million on the lower end and $800 million on the upper end.[5],[6] Regardless of high R&D costs, drug companies still command high margins. For the past two decades pharmaceutical drugs have been one of the most profitable industries in the United States, never dropping below third place.[7] The profitability of pharmaceuticals can be explained away under the assumption that people are living longer and consuming more pharmaceutical drugs. It may also be suggested that the human population is less healthy than in the past and the demand for pharmaceutical drugs is inelastic. But, analysis of the profit margin on pharmaceutical drugs and lack of any serious innovation suggests that this is not always the case.

The pharmaceutical industry globally maintains about a 25 percent operating margin as opposed to 15 percent for consumer goods. In the United States, this number achieved its zenith at almost 35 percent. The high margin on the drugs may not be due directly to high R&D costs, either. As of 2006, the ratio of R&D to sales revenue was about 0.19.[8] Further, the top 30 pharmaceutical firms in the world incur costs for promotions and advertising that are nearly double the costs of R&D. This is not to imply that there is a perfect amount of R&D spending each firm must do, rather it is to show that the inability to recoup R&D costs is greatly exaggerated.

Generic drugs are not just manufactured by small companies that seek to ride on the coattails of the giants. It is believed that generics add nothing innovative to the realm of lifesaving drugs, they merely manufacture competing drugs that are already in the public domain; the real innovation comes from the companies willing to invest in research and development. The National Institute of Health Care Management conducted a survey of drugs that received approval from the FDA from 1989 to 2000 with revealing results. Just over half the drugs in the survey, 54 percent, were using active ingredients that were already in use in the market. Of the drugs that were approved by the FDA, 23 percent were given a priority rating on the basis that they were a sufficient clinical improvement compared to existing alternatives. As a corollary, 77 percent of the approved drugs did not exhibit any kind of significant clinical improvement.[9] In other words, these drugs are functionally generic drugs, offering no kind of advantage over existing treatments. Large drug companies are ironically engaging in the kind of behavior they abhor by developing functionally generic drugs while wasting valuable R&D resources.


In a truly free market, whoever has the resources to manufacture an invention is permitted to do so, and the firms that enter the market first with a new drug enjoy a significant advantage. Moreover, the fact remains that the best way to protect an idea is to keep it a secret, which is why the trade-secret method remains effective. The federal government, however, has made it profitable to conclude that the best way to protect an idea is twisting the wrists and shoulders of one’s competitors with government force. Yet in spite of overwhelming federal-government intervention, innovation and ingenuity prevail, even if to a lesser degree.

Nathan Nicolaisen is a senior at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa studying business management and mathematics. 

This article was published on and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.


[1] This means that the inventions were not patented, due to some previous patent, or discovered out of desire to obtain a patent. Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly, (Cambridge University Press, January 2010), 258, 259.

[2] ibid, 259.

[3] ibid, 266

[4] ibid, 186

[5] $402 million is in 2000 dollars. James Bessen and Michael J. Meurer, Of Patents and Property, Boston University Shool of Law, 2008),

[6] $800 million is in 2000 dollars. Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly, (Cambridge University Press, January 2010), 241.

[7] ibid, 256

[8] ibid, 255

[9] ibid, 261

Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The depredations of the multinational agricultural corporation Monsanto are rightly condemned by many. But Mr. Stolyarov points out that arguments against Monsanto’s misbehavior are not valid arguments against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as a whole.


– “Against Monsanto, For GMOs” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Monsanto – Legal actions and controversies” – Wikipedia
– “Copyright Term Extension Act” – Wikipedia
– “Electronic Arts discontinues Online Pass, a controversial form of video game DRM” – Sean Hollister – The Verge – May 15, 2013
– “Extinction” – Wikipedia

Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Against Monsanto, For GMOs – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
June 9, 2013

                The depredations of the multinational agricultural corporation Monsanto are rightly condemned by many. Monsanto is a prominent example of a crony corporation – a company that bolsters its market dominance not through honest competition and innovation, but through the persistent use of the political and legal system to enforce its preferences against its competitors and customers. Most outrageous is Monsanto’s stretching of patents beyond all conceivable limits – attempting to patent genes and life forms and to forcibly destroy the crops of farmers who replant seeds from crops originally obtained from Monsanto.

                Yet because Monsanto is one of the world’s leading producers of genetically modified crops, campaigners who oppose all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) often use Monsanto as the poster child for the problems with GMOs as a whole. The March Against Monsanto, which took place in cities worldwide in late May of 2013, is the most recent prominent example of this conflation. The blanket condemnation of GMOs because of Monsanto’s misbehavior is deeply fallacious. The policy of a particular company does not serve to discredit an entire class of products, just because that company produces those products – even if it could be granted that the company’s actions result in its own products being more harmful than they would otherwise be.

                GMOs, in conventional usage, are any life forms which have been altered through techniques more advanced than the kind of selective breeding which has existed for millennia. In fact, the only material distinction between genetic engineering and selective breeding is in the degree to which the procedure is targeted toward specific features of an organism. Whereas selective breeding is largely based on observation of the organism’s phenotype, genetic engineering relies on more precise manipulation of the organism’s DNA. Because of its ability to more closely focus on specific desirable or undesirable attributes, genetic engineering is less subject to unintended consequences than a solely macroscopic approach. Issues of a particular company’s abuse of the political system and its attempts to render the patent system ever more draconian do not constitute an argument against GMOs or the techniques used to create them.

                Consider that Monsanto’s behavior is not unique; similar depredations are found throughout the status quo of crony corporatism, where many large firms thrive not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of political pull and institutionalized coercion. Walt Disney Corporation has made similar outrageous (and successful) attempts to extend the intellectual-property system solely for its own benefit. The 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act was primarily motivated by Disney’s lobbying to prevent the character of Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain. Yet are all films, and all animated characters, evil or wrong because of Disney’s manipulation of the legal system instead of competing fairly and honestly on the market? Surely, to condemn films on the basis of Disney’s behavior would be absurd.

                Consider, likewise, Apple Corporation, which has attempted to sue its competitors’ products out of existence and to patent the rectangle with rounded corners – a geometric shape which is no less basic an idea in mathematics than a trapezoid or an octagon. Are all smartphones, tablet computers, MP3 players, and online music services – including those of Apple’s competitors – wrong and evil solely because of Apple’s unethical use of the legal system to squelch competition? Surely not! EA Games, until May 2013, embedded crushingly restrictive digital-rights management (DRM) into its products, requiring a continuous Internet connection (and de facto continual monitoring of the user by EA) for some games to be playable at all. Are all computer games and video games evil and wrong because of EA’s intrusive anti-consumer practices? Should they all be banned in favor of only those games that use pre-1950s-era technology – e.g., board games and other table-top games? If the reader does not support the wholesale abolition, or even the limitation, of films, consumer electronics, and games as a result of the misbehavior of prominent makers of these products, then what rationale can there possibly be for viewing GMOs differently?

                Indeed, the loathing of all GMOs stems from a more fundamental fallacy, for which any criticism of Monsanto only provides convenient cover. That fallacy is the assumption that “the natural” – i.e., anything not affected by human technology, or, more realistically, human technology of sufficiently recent origin – is somehow optimal for human purposes or simply for its own sake. While it is logically conceivable that some genetic modifications to organisms could render them more harmful than they would otherwise be (though there has never been any evidence of such harms arising despite the trillions of servings of genetically modified foods consumed to date), the condemnation of all genetic modifications using techniques from the last 60 years is far more sweeping than this. Such condemnation is not and cannot be scientific; rather, it is an outgrowth of the indiscriminate anti-technology agenda of the anti-GMO campaigners. A scientific approach, based on experimentation, empirical observation, and the immense knowledge thus far amassed regarding chemistry and biology, might conceivably give rise to a sophisticated classification of GMOs based on gradations of safety, safe uses, unsafe uses, and possible yet-unknown risks. The anti-GMO campaigners’ approach, on the other hand, can simply be summarized as “Nature good – human technology bad” – not scientific or discerning at all.

                The reverence for purportedly unaltered “nature” completely ignores the vicious, cruel, appallingly wasteful (not even to mention suboptimal) conditions of any environment untouched by human influence. After all, 99.9% of all species that ever existed are extinct – the vast majority from causes that arose long before human beings evolved. The plants and animals that primitive hunter-gatherers consumed did not evolve with the intention of providing optimal nutrition for man; they simply happened to be around, attainable for humans, and nutritious enough that humans did not die right away after consuming them – and some humans (the ones that were not poisoned, or killed hunting, or murdered by their fellow men) managed to survive to reproductive age by eating these “natural” foods. Just because the primitive “paleo” diet of our ancestors enabled them to survive long enough to trigger the chain of events that led to us, does not render their lives, or their diets, ideal for emulation in every aspect. We can do better. We must do better – if protection of large numbers of human beings from famine, drought, pests, and prohibitive costs of food is to be considered a moral priority in the least. By depriving human beings of the increased abundance, resilience, and nutritional content that only the genetic modification of foods can provide, anti-GMO campaigners would sentence millions – perhaps billions – of humans to the miserable subsistence conditions and tragically early deaths of their primeval forebears, of whom the Earth could support only a few million without human agricultural interventions.

                We do not need to like Monsanto in order to embrace the life-saving, life-enhancing potential of GMOs. We need to consider the technology involved in GMOs on its own terms, imagining how we would view it if it could be delivered by economic arrangements we would prefer. As a libertarian individualist, I advocate for a world in which GMOs could be produced by thousands of competing firms, each fairly trying to win the business of consumers through the creation of superior products which add value to people’s lives. If you are justifiably concerned about the practices of Monsanto, consider working toward a world like that, instead of a world where the promise of GMOs is denied to the billions who currently owe their very existences to human technology and ingenuity.

Libertarian Life-Extension Reforms – Video Series by G. Stolyarov II

Libertarian Life-Extension Reforms – Video Series by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 10, 2012

This video series is derived from Mr. Stolyarov’s essay, “Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach“. The series highlights each of the proposed areas of pro-liberty life-extension reforms in an effort to spread these ideas and achieve their broader public consideration.

#1 – Repeal FDA Approval Requirements

Mr. Stolyarov discusses the greatest threat to research on indefinite human life extension: the  current requirement in the United States (and analogous requirements elsewhere in the Western world) that drugs or treatments may not be used, even on willing patients, unless approval for such drugs or treatments is received from the Food and Drug Administration (or an analogous national regulatory organization in other countries).

Such prohibitions on the quick development and marketing of potentially life-saving drugs are not only costly and time-consuming to overcome; they are morally unconscionable in terms of the cost in human lives.

#2 – Abolishing Medical Licensing Protectionism

There are too few doctors in the West today – not enough to deliver affordable, life-saving treatments, and certainly not enough to ensure that, when life-extending discoveries are made, they will rapidly become available to all.

Mr. Stolyarov advocates for the elimination of compulsory licensing requirements for medical professionals, and the replacement of such a system by a competing market of private certifications for various “tiers” of medical care.

#3-4 – Abolishing Medical and Software Patent Monopolies

Patents – legal grants of monopoly privilege – artificially raise the cost and the scarcity of new drugs and new software. Mr. Stolyarov recommends allowing free, open competition to apply to these products as well.

#5 – Reestablishing the Doctor-Patient Relationship

The most reliable and effective medical care occurs when both patients and doctors have full sovereignty over medical treatment and payment. A libertarian system is most likely to prolong individual lives and lead to the rapid discovery of unprecedented life-extending treatments.

Mr. Stolyarov presents the case for political reforms that maximize patient choice and free-market experimentation with various methods of payment for and provision of medical services.

#6 – Medical Research Instead of Military Spending

Mr. Stolyarov concludes his series on libertarian life-extension reforms by offering a way to reduce aggregate government spending while also increasing funding for medical research. If government funds are spent on saving and extending lives rather than destroying them, this would surely be an improvement. Thus, while Mr. Stolyarov does not support increasing aggregate government spending to fund indefinite life extension (or medical research generally), he would advocate a spending-reduction plan where vast amounts of military spending are eliminated and some fraction of such spending is replaced with spending on medical research.

Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Political Priorities for Achieving Indefinite Life Extension: A Libertarian Approach – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
November 22, 2012

While the achievement of radical human life extension is primarily a scientific and technical challenge, the political environment in which research takes place is extremely influential as to the rate of progress, as well as whether the research could even occur in the first place, and whether consumers could benefit from the fruits of such research in a sufficiently short timeframe. I, as a libertarian, do not see massive government funding of indefinite life extension as the solution – because of the numerous strings attached and the possibility of such funding distorting and even stalling the course of life-extension research by rendering it subject to pressures by anti-longevity special-interest constituencies. (I can allow an exception for increased government medical spending if it comes at the cost of major reductions in military spending; see my item 6 below for more details.) Rather, my proposed solutions focus on liberating the market, competition, and consumer choice to achieve an unprecedented rapidity of progress in life-extension treatments. This is the fastest and most reliable way to ensure that people living today will benefit from these treatments and will not be among the last generations to perish. Here, I describe six major types of libertarian reforms that could greatly accelerate progress toward indefinite human life extension.

1. Repeal of the requirement for drugs and medical treatments to obtain FDA approval before being used on willing patients. The greatest threat to research on indefinite life extension – and the availability of life-extending treatments to patients – is the current requirement in the United States (and analogous requirements elsewhere in the Western world) that drugs or treatments may not be used, even on willing patients, unless approval for such drugs or treatments is received from the Food and Drug Administration (or an analogous national regulatory organization in other countries). This is a profound violation of patient sovereignty; a person who is terminally ill is unable to choose to take a risk on an unapproved drug or treatment unless this person is fortunate enough to participate in a clinical trial. Even then, once the clinical trial ends, the treatment must be discontinued, even if it was actually successful at prolonging the person’s life. This is not only profoundly tragic, but morally unconscionable as well.

As a libertarian, I would prefer to see the FDA abolished altogether and for competing private certification agencies to take its place. But even this transformation does not need to occur in order for the worst current effects of the FDA to be greatly alleviated. The most critical reform needed is to allow unapproved drugs and treatments to be marketed and consumed. If the FDA wishes to strongly differentiate between approved and unapproved treatments, then a strongly worded warning label could be required for unapproved treatments, and patients could even be required to sign a consent form stating that they have been informed of the risks of an unapproved treatment. While this is not a perfect libertarian solution, it is a vast incremental improvement over the status quo, in that hundreds of thousands of people who would die otherwise would at least be able to take several more chances at extending their lives – and some of these attempts will succeed, even if they are pure gambles from the patient’s point of view. Thus, this reform to directly extend many lives and to redress a moral travesty should be the top political priority of advocates of indefinite life extension. Over the coming decades, its effect will be to allow cutting-edge treatments to reach a market sooner and thus to enable data about those treatments’ effects to be gathered more quickly and reliably. Because many treatments take 10-15 years to receive FDA approval, this reform could by itself speed up the real-world advent of indefinite life extension by over a decade.

2. Abolishing medical licensing protectionism. The current system for licensing doctors is highly monopolistic and protectionist – the result of efforts by the American Medical Association in the early 20th century to limit entry into the profession in order to artificially boost incomes for its members. The medical system suffers today from too few doctors and thus vastly inflated patient costs and unacceptable waiting times for appointments. Instead of prohibiting the practice of medicine by all except a select few who have completed an extremely rigorous and cost-prohibitive formal medical schooling, governments in the Western world should allow the market to determine different tiers of medical care for which competing private certifications would emerge. For the most specialized and intricate tasks, high standards of certification would continue to exist, and a practitioner’s credentials and reputation would remain absolutely essential to convincing consumers to put their lives in that practitioner’s hands. But, with regard to routine medical care (e.g., annual check-ups, vaccinations, basic wound treatment), it is not necessary to receive attention from a person with a full-fledged medical degree. Furthermore, competition among certification providers would increase quality of training and lower its price, as well as accelerate the time needed to complete the training. Such a system would allow many more young medical professionals to practice without undertaking enormous debt or serving for years (if not decades) in roles that offer very little remuneration while entailing a great deal of subservience to the hierarchy of some established institution or another. Ultimately, without sufficient doctors to affordably deliver life-extending treatments when they become available, it would not be feasible to extend these treatments to the majority of people. Would there be medical quacks under such a system of privatized certification? There are always quacks, including in the West today – and no regulatory system can prevent those quacks from exploiting willing dupes. But full consumer choice, combined with the strong reputational signals sent by the market, would ensure that the quacks would have a niche audience only and would never predominate over scientifically minded practitioners.

3. Abolishing medical patent monopolies. Medical patents – in essence, legal grants of monopoly for limited periods of time – greatly inflate the cost of drugs and other treatments. Especially in today’s world of rapidly advancing biotechnology, a patent term of 20 years essentially means that no party other than the patent holder (or someone paying royalties to the patent holder) may innovate upon the patented medicine for a generation, all while the technological potential for such innovation becomes glaringly obvious. As much innovation consists of incremental improvements on what already exists, the lack of an ability to create derivative drugs and treatments that tweak current approaches implies that the entire medical field is, for some time, stuck at the first stages of a treatment’s evolution – with all of the expense and unreliability this entails. More appallingly, many pharmaceutical companies today attempt to re-patent drugs that have already entered the public domain, simply because the drugs have been discovered to have effects on a disease different from the one for which they were originally patented. The result of this is that the price of the re-patented drug often spikes by orders of magnitude compared to the price level during the period the drug was subject to competition. Only a vibrant and competitive market, where numerous medical providers can experiment with how to improve particular treatments or create new ones, can allow for the rate of progress needed for the people alive today to benefit from radical life extension. Some may challenge this recommendation with the argument that the monopoly revenues from medical patents are necessary to recoup the sometimes enormous costs that pharmaceutical companies incur in researching and testing the drug and obtaining approval from regulatory agencies such as the FDA. But if the absolute requirement of FDA approval is removed as I recommend, then these costs will plummet dramatically, and drug developers will be able to realize revenues much more quickly than in the status quo. Furthermore, the original developer of an innovation will still always benefit from a first-mover advantage, as it takes time for competitors to catch on. If the original developer can maintain high-quality service and demonstrate the ability to sell a safe product, then the brand-name advantage alone can secure a consistent revenue stream without the need for a patent monopoly.

4. Abolishing software patent monopolies. With the rapid growth of computing power and the Internet, much more medical research is becoming dependent on computation. In some fields such as genome sequencing, the price per computation is declining at a rate even far exceeding that of Moore’s Law. At the same time, ordinary individuals have an unprecedented opportunity to participate in medical research by donating their computer time to distributed computing projects. Software, however, remains artificially scarce because of patent monopolies that have increasingly been utilized by established companies to crush innovation (witness the massively expensive and wasteful patent wars over smartphone and tablet technology). Because most software is not cost-prohibitive even today, the most pernicious effect of software patents is not on price, but on the existence of innovation per se. Because there exist tens of thousands of software patents (many held defensively and not actually utilized to market anything), any inventor of a program that assists in medical, biotechnological, or nanotechnological computations must proceed with extreme caution, lest he run afoul of some obscure patent that is held for the specific purpose of suing people like him out of existence once his product is made known. The predatory nature of the patent litigation system serves to deter many potential innovators from even trying, resulting in numerous foregone discoveries that could further accelerate the rate at which computation could facilitate medical progress. Ideally, all software patents (and all patents generally) should be abolished, and free-market competition should be allowed to reign. But even under a patent system, massive incremental improvements could be made. First, non-commercial uses of a patent should be rendered immune to liability. This would open up a lot of ground for non-profit medical research using distributed computing. Second, for commercial use of patents, a system of legislatively fixed maximum royalties could emerge – where the patent holder would be obligated to allow a competitor to use a particular patented product, provided that a certain price is paid to the patent holder – and litigation would be permanently barred. This approach would continue to give a revenue stream to patent holders while ensuring that the existence of a patent does not prevent a product from coming to market or result in highly uncertain and variable litigation costs.

5. Reestablishing the two-party doctor-patient relationship. The most reliable and effective medical care occurs when the person receiving it has full discretion over the level of treatment to be pursued, while the person delivering it has full discretion over the execution (subject to the wishes of the consumer). When a third party – whether private or governmental – pays the bills, it also assumes the position of being able to dictate the treatment and limit patient choice. Third-party payment systems do not preclude medical progress altogether, but they do limit and distort it in significant ways. They also result in the “rationing” of medical care based on the third party’s resources, rather than those of the patient. Perversely enough, third-party payment systems also discourage charity on the part of doctors. For instance, Medicare in the United States prohibits doctors who accept its reimbursements from treating patients free of charge. Mandates to utilize private health insurance in the United States and governmental health “insurance” elsewhere in the Western world have had the effect of forcing patients to be restricted by powerful third parties in this way. While private third-party payment systems should not be prohibited, all political incentives for third-party medical payment systems should be repealed. In the United States, the pernicious health-insurance mandate of the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) should be abolished, as should all requirements and political incentives for employers to provide health insurance. Health insurance should become a product whose purchase is purely discretionary on a free market. This reform would have many beneficial effects. First, by decoupling insurance from employment, it would ensure that those who do rely on third-party payments for medical care will not have those payments discontinued simply because they lose their jobs. Second, insurance companies would be encouraged to become more consumer-friendly, since they will need to deal with consumers directly, rather than enticing employers – whose interests in an insurance product may be different from those of their employees. Third, insurance companies would be entirely subject to market forces – including the most powerful consumer protection imaginable: the right of a consumer to exit from a market entirely. Fourth and most importantly, the cost of medical care would decline dramatically, since it would become subject to direct negotiation between doctors and patients, while doctors would be subject to far less of the costly administrative bureaucracy associated with managing third-party payments.

In countries where government is the third-party payer, the most important reform is to render participation in the government system voluntary. The worst systems of government healthcare are those where private alternatives are prohibited, and such private competition should be permitted immediately, with no strings attached. Better yet, patients should be permitted to opt out of the government systems altogether by being allowed to save on their taxes if they renounce the benefits from such systems and opt for a competing private system instead. Over time, the government systems would shrink to basic “safety nets” for the poorest and least able, while standards of living and medical care would rise to the level that ever fewer people would find themselves in need of such “safety nets”. Eventually, with a sufficiently high level of prosperity and technological advancement, the government healthcare systems could be phased out altogether without adverse health consequences to anyone.

6. Replacement of military spending with medical research. While, as a libertarian, I do not consider medical research to be the proper province of government, there are many worse ways for a government to spend its money – for instance, by actively killing people in wasteful, expensive, and immoral wars. If government funds are spent on saving and extending lives rather than destroying them, this would surely be an improvement. Thus, while I do not support increasing aggregate government spending to fund indefinite life extension (or medical research generally), I would advocate a spending-reduction plan where vast amounts of military spending are eliminated and some fraction of such spending is replaced with spending on medical research. Ideally, this research should be as free from “strings attached” as possible and could be funded through outright unconditional grants to organizations working on indefinite life extension. However, in practice it is virtually impossible to avoid elements of politicization and conditionality in government medical funding. Therefore, this plan should be implemented with the utmost caution. Its effectiveness could be improved by the passage of legislation to expressly prohibit the government from dictating the methods, outcomes, or applications of the research it funds, as well as to prohibit non-researchers from acting as lobbyists for medical research. An alternative to this plan could be to simply lower taxes across the board by the amount of reduction in military spending. This would have the effect of returning wealth to the general public, some of which would be spent on medical research, while another portion of these returned funds would increase consumers’ bargaining power in the medical system, resulting in improved treatments and more patient sovereignty.