Subject: Re: The term "intellectual property" considered useful
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Sun, 28 May 2006 05:08:01 +0900

>>>>> "Norbert" == Norbert Bollow <> writes:

    Norbert> I think you misunderstood me; certainly I didn't intend
    Norbert> to imply any form of mind control!

Then why do you talk about owning something in someone's head?

    Norbert> I would say that to own an economic good means to have
    Norbert> the exclusive right to control who may derive economic
    Norbert> benefits from its use.

That turns out not to be the case.  Exclusive licenses do exist, and
in U.S. copyright law an exclusive license gives one standing to sue
as if one were the owner ... but by definition you're not.  Ownership
may be divided with non-exclusive right to control (a jointly-authored
work, or in general a partnership), or with only an indirect and
diffuse right of control (a large joint-stock corporation).

    Norbert> Do you seriously suggest that this patent doesn't give
    Norbert> you legal ownership of the idea in my mind, to some
    Norbert> degree at least?

Indeed I do deny that.  "Ownership" of some kind, maybe, though I
don't think so.  "Legal ownership" of the idea, no.  As far as I know
that's not defined by any law.

    >> You can think up new inventions based on it.

    Norbert> But even in that case I still need to get a patent
    Norbert> license before I am allowed to use those new inventions
    Norbert> (my inventions!) for commercial purposes! :-(

Sure, if you're insufficiently original to come up with an alternative
method to accomplish the goal.  That's what patents are all about.
But I don't see how that amounts to ownership of an idea in your head.

For example, having seen the original patent, you could come up with a
different technique to accomplish the same task.  Xerox did not
infringe the patents of photocopier makers, and IIRC there are now
about 30 commercially viable processes for plain paper copying.

    Norbert> whether someone has ownership, in some
    Norbert> economically-defined sense, of the economic good that is
    Norbert> some specific idea or other kind of thought-object in my
    Norbert> mind.

An "idea" or "thought object" is not a well-defined economic good as
far as I can see.

All you're saying is that your freedom to act on your thoughts is
limited.  That's right; that's exactly what patents do.  Your freedom
to say nasty things about me is also restricted by the libel and
slander laws.  Does that make me the owner, in some economically
defined sense, of any nasty things you might be thinking, and hoping
to sell as an essay to some scummy weekly magazine? :-)

    >> Here's a quick hack: "intellectual property" means a grant of
    >> certain legal rights of control over specified fixed physical
    >> manifestations of intellectual activity.

    Norbert> Bug report: Because this says "specified fixed", the hack
    Norbert> doesn't describe how copyright also covers derived works,
    Norbert> and how patents also cover independent or derived
    Norbert> inventions that make use of one of the patented ideas.

PEBKAC: A derived work must be based on an original copyright work.
Once the work is fixed in some medium, if you perceive it, you are
then subject to copyright control.  A patent provides that when a
described (ie, specified) technique is embodied (ie, fixed in a
medium), you are subject to the patent.

From this point of view, the difference between copyright and patent
is that a copyrighted work is specified by a physical instance, while
a patented technique is specified by being described formally.  (Once
again we see that the pen is mightier than the sword.)

Graduate School of Systems and Information Engineering   University of Tsukuba        Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
        Economics of Information Communication and Computation Systems
          Experimental Economics, Microeconomic Theory, Game Theory