Category Archives: Intellectual Property Rights

Net Neutrality… Obama… Cruz… How About Oliver?

Today, Barack Obama(D) has announced that he will pretend to support net neutrality:



In response, Ted Cruz (RPDGC*), has announced that Net Neutrality is the work of the devil:



The idea that either Democrats OR Republicans actually support net neutrality is a joke.

The Democrats have (and still do) very strongly supported big media and big communications, who are largely anti neutrality. it’s only when net neutrality obviously became a big issue among young liberals (who were largely unmotivated to turn out this midterm election) that they have pretended to support it.

The Dems could have made it a campaign issue, except then they wouldn’t have had the huge media and communications industry money for the elections, that they needed to avoid getting spanked even worse than they did.

If Obama had actually supported net neutrality, he wouldn’t have appointed an anti neutrality industry stooge as FCC chair… but again, if he did that, the Dems would have lost that sweet sweet big media money.

On the other hand, the Republicans are largely anti “big media” and anti “big communications”, and only became anti-neutrality when the Democrats decided to take it as an issue.

What is Net Neutrality?

Frankly, any libertarian should support net neutrality as a principle (government regulation is another matter).

Net neutrality as a principle, is simple. All legitimate traffic should be treated equally, no matter the source or destination. No internet service provider should filter, censor, or slow down traffic from their competitors, their critics, or because of politics or national origin; or for any reason other than technical requirements for safe, efficient, and reliable network operation.

It’s how the internet has always been run, up until recently, without any government action necessary. There’s a famous quote: “The internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”. Any internet service provider that censored, filtered, or slowed down traffic from anyone (for anything other than technical reasons) was routed around, and cut out of the net, by its peers. It was a great example of independent action and peer enforcement working in the marketplace.

Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

Why is it an issue now?

Large media and communications companies like Comcast and Verizon have been deliberately and artificially blocking or slowing down traffic to and from their critics and competitors.

Of course, getting government involved does generally make things worse. In fact, it already did in this case, since the government has been involved from the beginning, and it was largely government action that created the current problem.

In a rational and unbiased competitive environment, consumers would have a reasonable choice of internet service providers, and any ISP that chose to censor or limit access, would lose customers, and either correct themselves or go out of business.

Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like a free and competitive market in internet access. Government regulation and favoritism has created huge monopolies (or at best duopolies, and no, wireless access is not realistic and reasonable competition given the distorted market and cost structures there either) in internet access.

We’ve reached a point where the telecommunications monopolies that government created and support, are in fact deliberately applying anticompetitive, unfair (and in some cases already unlawful) restraint against their critics and competitors.

Since they are government supported monopolies, the market is not allowed to correct the undesirable private action.

This means that, unfortunately, government action IS required… and even if it were not required, it’s inevitable, because politics is politics, and this is now an “Issue”.

So what do we do about the problem?

Please note, I don’t trust either Democrats OR Republicans on the issue in general, and I don’t trust either, or the FCC to regulate neutrality at all. Cruz does have at least one valid concern, in that the history of government regulation of almost every industry, but particularly technology, is mainly a long record of suppressing innovation and other negative unintended consequences.

The ideal solution is to end the government created internet access monopolies that most Americans live under, and allow free and open market competition to correct the problem.

Without government limitations on competition in actual high speed, high quality internet access; competition will increase, prices will fall, and any provider that filters or slows legitimate traffic will lose all their customers and go out of business.

This isn’t just a prediction or libertarian idealism talking by the way. It’s been proved out in Korea, Japan… even in the UK. Everywhere that internet access competition has been allowed to flourish, everything has improved (conversely, in the U.S. where we have deliberately increased the power and scope of these monopolies, we have the worst internet access of any technologically advanced nation).

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen.

The next best thing, is to mandate net neutrality in the least intrusive, least stupid way possible, and to react intelligently (and rapidly) to changes in technology and its uses, to avoid regulatory distortion and suppression of innovation.

Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to happen either…

That said, it’s remotely possible for us get closer to that, quicker, than we can to disassembling the thousands of federal, state, and local regulations, which have created these monopolies, and made the barriers to entry for competition impossibly high.

Of course neither Democrats nor Republicans support or plan to do that.

The whole thing is a spiraling charlie fox of disingenuous cynical idiocy.

Personally, I say forget Obama, forget Cruz, and listen to Oliver (or if you don’t care for Oliver, or can’t watch a video, there The Oatmeal):



*Reactionary Populist Disingenuous Grandstanding Cynic… not the Republican party, just Cruz

Edited to add a few paragraphs clarifying what net neutrality was, and why it’s currently an issue

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Atlas Shrugged Part II in Theaters This Weekend

Atlas Shrugged Part II is opening this weekend. Want to check it out? Follow this link to find a theater near you.

And now, the official Atlas Shrugged Part II trailer:

We don’t go black… We try to turn on lights

We’re not going black today, over SOPA or PIPA.

In case you by some miracle hadn’t noticed it yet, tens of thousands of web sites around the country and around the world, are “going black” or putting up banners explaining that they are not available or there is no content today etc… In protest against the “Stop Online Privacy Act” and the “ProtectIP act”, which are currently (or were recently), being promulgated in congress.

We don’t have a problem with anyone who does. It’s important that people understand what SOPA and PIPA are (or were), and most folks are sadly unaware of the kind of stupid and harmful things that our government does.

Google and Wikipedia are two of the most important and most used sites on the net; and by participating in this protest, they will very certainly make a lot more people aware of this issue.

But “going black” isn’t what we do here.

We talk about political and social issues here; in particular about liberty and freedom. We try to inform people about the important issues, events, and principles of liberty and freedom; and then talk about them in as free and open a way as we can.

I personally think that going black would be entirely against what we are about here; and while it might help to draw more attention to the problem, it wouldn’t help us inform you, or help us begin the conversation about the issue.

… and of course, you can’t go to wikipedia day to find out about it…

So, I personally, would like to do something that is in the spirit of protesting the idiotic and harmful nature of these pieces of industry lobbying masquerading as legislation…

…And share a few things:

That’s the best explanation of why the freedom to share (within fair use of course, copyrights ARE important) is important; and why legislation like PIPA and SOPA are not only stupid and harmful, but entirely antithetical to the American system of ordered liberty.

And then there’s this piece by my friend (and bestselling author, buy his excellent books please) Larry Correia:

“for all of the people out there on the internet having a massive freak out about the government potentially damaging something they love… WELCOME TO THE PARTY.

You think this is something new or unusual? Nope. This is just about a topic that you happen to be familiar with. If you fall into that camp, I want you to take a deep breath, step back, and examine all of the other issues in the past that you didn’t know jack squat about, but your knee jerk reaction was to say “there’s a problem, the governement has to do something!” Well guess what? The crap the federal government usually comes up with to fix these problems is similar to SOPA. In other words, the legislation addresses a perceived problem by instituting a bunch of stupid overregulation and taking away someone’s freedom.

You think people need access to affordable medical care and shouldn’t be denied coverage? Well, you got used and we got the bloated ridiculous mess that is Obamacare. You saw a news report about how big business defrauded people and said congress should do something? Well, everyone in the business world got screwed because of Enron by completely useless new arbitrary crap laws, and a few years later we got into an even bigger financial crisis which the arbitrary crap laws we spent billions conforming to did nothing to prevent. No, because that financial crisis was caused by people saying that there was this huge problem that needed to be fixed, so more people who couldn’t afford to pay mortgages could still buy houses, and the government simply had to do something to fix this problem!

Any crisis… Any problem… You ask the feds to fix it, you get this kind of answer. Almost never do the laws fix the actual problem. Instead the government gets bigger and gains a few more powers and it doesn’t fix the issue. When the problem gets bigger, then the government gets bigger and gains a few more powers that actually make the problem worse. Oh look! Despite all of these laws the problem has gotten even bigger? Whatever should we do? Why, I know! Let’s pass an even bigger law that takes away more individual freedom and gives the government more control!
Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Any topic, any situation, any problem.

They address it, you lose freedom and they gain more control. Some of you are only offended today because this particular law hurts something you enjoy. The rest of the time? Screw it. You can’t be bothered to pay attention. Or worse, people like me who are up in arms over an issue are just cranks or anti-government crackpots.”

I was going to write something roughly similar to this, but Larry beat me to it… and I’d rather share what he wrote, because it’s good, and because I can.

At least for now…

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

A New Approach To “Government Research”

Over at Cato, Jim Harper responds to proponents of gov’t research that point to the products of that research as justification — they never really consider that such products would still occur via private-sector investment. He takes a bit of a swipe at IP policy in the middle, and in his discussion of the history of AT&T I got an idea:

To take the Internet as proof that the government is a necessary producer of research and innovation, you have to reject the scientific method. Unfortunately, there are rarely controls in public policy. We can’t find out what would have happened if government policy had taken a different course, so we don’t know anything more about who should fund research from the fact that government-funded research has produced good things in the past.

But what would have happened if U.S. public policy had taken a different course? I’ve thought about the impossible-to-answer question of where we would have been without DARPA and other government influences on telecom. What most people don’t consider, I believe, is the restraining influence the government-granted AT&T monopoly had on telecommunications for most of the 20th century. AT&T developed a “Teletypewriter Exchange” system in 1931, for example, but had no need to develop it, there being little or no competitive pressure to do so. (Its patent on attaching devices to phone wires undoubtedly helped as well, preventing anyone using AT&T’s wires for modem service.)

Had there been competition, I suspect that someone would have come up with the idea of packet-switched networks—that’s what the Internet is—before Leonard Kleinrock did in 1962. Kleinrock was a student at MIT—he wasn’t at DARPA, which didn’t get into packet-switching until about 1966. (Then again, MIT was almost certainly awash in government money—specifically military money—so there you go. Maybe we owe all the good things we’ve got to war, but I doubt it.)

So back when AT&T was a monopoly, they developed technology that preceded the internet for delivering data over phone lines, as well as owning (and enforcing) a patent on attaching devices to phone wires, which undoubtedly allowed them to prevent anyone else from capitalizing on data-over-phone-line ideas.

Some would say that this is evidence that government should have been financing this sort of invention so that it would be in the public domain (as TCP/IP eventually was). But there’s another angle to look at here:

Why doesn’t the government buy patents that are valuable but underutilized, and release them to the public domain?

Think of it this way: if the US Patent Office had purchased AT&T’s patents back in the 1930’s and released them into the public domain, they could have been capitalized by a broad swath of companies and perhaps kickstarted development of the internet far before DARPA ever got a hand in it (of course mainstream personal commercial user acceptance probably would have relied on availability a low-cost PC’s just as we saw beginning in the late 90’s). AT&T’s monopoly over phone service gave them no profit incentive to utilize their own invention, but getting it into the public domain could have created a competitive market where none existed before.

I see a couple of potential advantages to this idea over that of government research:

  1. Less of a politicized “government picking winners and losers” model for government research. Instead of independent researchers seeking government grant money for things that have not been invented (and for which commercial development is outside their reach as pure scientists), they might need to seek private funding from investors who expect to reap benefits from selling those patents to the USG.
  2. Give an extra incentive for US companies to continue R&D investment in more “speculative” technologies. For technologies which may be valuable but for which the commercial viability is a more long-term play, or for technologies which might be valuable but prove not to be relevant to the business model of the company in question, they can still earn some return on that sunk R&D investment.
  3. Development of an individual technology-creation boom. Many individuals with good ideas who *could* patent their idea but have no desire or capability to create a company to monetize their idea forego the patent process because there is no return on their time. All of these ideas are lost to the world, at least for a time.
  4. Perhaps most importantly, this is the government paying for results rather than promises. As I suggested in this December 2006 post, I believe that incentivizing the private sector to invent might be a more efficient model in general than in purchasing research on the front end.

Now, there are undoubtedly issues with this proposal.

First and foremost, the fear would be that companies would merely use this as a vehicle to offload shitty patents onto the government — just another form of corporate welfare. And I do suspect they’d try. My answer to that is twofold. One, of all the departments of government, I think the Patent & Trademark Office is widely regarded as one of the less politicized. If procedures are put into place to present them with these patents “blindly”, i.e. so that they cannot know the identity of the inventor, I would suspect that we can at least get their fair assessment of an inventions value in an objective manner. Second, is that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. For a company that is not capitalizing on a patent, they understandably think it’s worthless — that doesn’t mean that it’s so. There might be some legitimate diamonds in the rough here.

Second, the fear would be that this would merely be government picking winners and losers on a different stage. I.e. if businesses can’t reap value from their patents, and if government boards can’t reliably pick which research programs are of most benefit, how can they do so with patents? This is a pretty typical government problem. Again, I think putting this in the hands of the PTO might help, but efficiency and waste is always a concern.

Third, the fear is that companies simply won’t sell. Patents — even useless ones — are important legal tools. When Novell sold off a patent portfolio in late 2010, the value worked out to be roughly $510K per patent. When Google announced an intended deal to acquire Motorola Mobility last year, the value of the purchase conveniently was set at $12.5B — equal to Motorola’s 24,500 patents multiplied by $510K. When Nortel went bankrupt and auctioned off their patent portfolio last summer, the total value of their 6,000 patents averaged $750K apiece. There may be some positive value in owning some of those patents, but there’s incredible potential negative value in NOT owning enough patents to countersue your competitors if they decided to engage in an IP war. For big companies, a robust patent portfolio is the international diplomacy equivalent of a nation having nuclear capability — those without it won’t mess with you, and you make sure you play nicely with others who have it to avoid MAD. The key to this is not that there might be unused patents of inestimable value to the public that the companies aren’t even using, but rather that they may not be willing to sell *any* part of their IP portfolio. Unilateral disarmament has never been a popular strategy.

All that said, one of the questions we might be left with is simple: is it a better situation than we have now? Would the advantages gained be enough to justify a wholesale switch from our current strategy of paying for research, or perhaps even of diverting a portion of that budget to a program like this instead? I think it would — opening up the option to reward inventors (whether corporate or individual) for creating IP and then opening it up to the public domain seems like a great strategy for a continual boost to near-term growth. Pure scientific research has its place as a public good. Yet I think a case can be made that less “pure” inventions, being opened to the public domain, have a potential place at the table too, if not instead of, pure science.

Quote of the Day: Bill of Rights 220th Anniversary Edition

December 15, 2011 marks the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights – at least what is left of them. Anthony Gregory’s article at The Huffington Post runs through the list of violations of these precious rights from the Adams administration’s Alien and Sedition acts all the way to the present day violations of the Bush/Obama years via the war on terror. I encourage everyone to read the whole article and reflect on what these rights mean to you on this Bill of Rights Day. If you read nothing else from the article, at least read Gregory’s conclusion:

Clearly, we fall far short from having Bill of Rights that we adhere to and that was designed for our future posterity over 220 years ago. In the end, it is public opinion that most restrains political power — not words on paper, not judges, not politicians’ promises. A population that is not decidedly and passionately against violations of their liberties will see their rights stripped away. If we want to have a Bill of Rights Day worth celebrating, we must demand that officials at all levels respect our freedoms — and not let the government get away with abusing them.

Gregory is right: preserving the Bill of Rights ultimately rests with all of us.

1 2 3 5