Tell me if this makes sense to you:
—If I buy a diamond, I can own it for as long as I like;
—If I produce a brand name for a product, provided that I trademark it, I can own it for as long as I would like, until and unless it becomes “generic” (like the term “escalator”, which actually started as a brand name);
—If I write a novel, provided that I copyright protect it, I can own it until I die, and my heirs can maintain those rights for 70 years longer; but,
—If I invent a drug, even if I protect that intellectual property to the full extent of U.S. patent law, I can only own it for 20 years from the date I file for a patent on it.
I can own a tangible good forever, I can own a trademark virtually forever, I can own a copyright for my entire life plus 70 years. But property which is more intrinsically a part of me – my idea, my invention, the product of my intellect – I am only allowed to own that for 20 years after I reveal it to the patent office.
Rationally, it seems obvious that all property – whether tangible or intellectual – should be subject to the same rules and laws of ownership. If you can own a gemstone forever, you should be able to own an invention forever. In fact, if a society wishes to impose differential standards for ownership rights to different types of property, wouldn’t it make more sense that preferential treatment be given to those items which are the product of your talent, your creativity, your self, over those things which you earn or purchase based upon that product of your efforts? The logical extension of this argument, in any free society, is that you should be able to own all property, whether purchased or invented, physical or ethereal, for as long as you wish. Patents, trademarks, copyrights, title – all should be perpetual.
And yet, even in the United States, the country most devoted to free markets and property rights, we live with these irrational, illogical, and even unethical limitations upon intellectual property ownership. In fact, when you hear lawmakers, lobbyists, and pundits talk about patent reform, particularly in regards to drugs, the direction that is most often espoused is to further tighten and shorten the patent protection available to inventors. How did we get here? What would cause a free society like ours … Next Page »
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