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Patents Vs Innovation - the Tabarrok Curve 210

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the wrong-side dept.
New submitter Optimal Cynic writes "Slashdot likes to argue about intellectual property and patents, and it's clear that both extremes are undesirable. Dr Alex Tabarrok has tackled the question — what is the right level of patent protection? His answer is the Tabarrok Curve, which applies the Laffer Curve methodology to innovation."
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Patents Vs Innovation - the Tabarrok Curve

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  • Tabarrok seems to tacitly assume that innovation can be regulated via legislation. It seems to me that this non-proven, basic assumption has been proven wrong more than once, e.g. during the few years preceding the internet bubble of the '90s. The tip of the curve, then and there, lay completely to the left. ( Where IMHO it should be, but I am trying to separate facts from discussion from personal opinion here. )
  • Assurance contracts (Score:5, Informative)

    by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @05:19AM (#44098857) Homepage

    Tabarrok is also known for his work on how to fund public goods via non-patent means, in particular his dominant assurance contract [wikipedia.org] form which is a variant of what Kickstarter does.

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @05:31AM (#44098875)

    Tabarrok seems to tacitly assume that innovation can be regulated via legislation.

    Where in the world do you get that idea from?

    He just says that too much patent protection has a cost that, at some point, must outweigh any benefits, so the optimal level of patent protection is not the maximum one. What the optimum level is, he doesn't know

    If you're of the school that believes that patent protection is always bad, then his argument isn't meant for you. He isn't arguing for more patent protection with people like you, he is arguing against more patent protection with people who say "since some patent protection is good, more must be better".

  • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:44AM (#44099203)

    Tabarrok seems to tacitly assume that innovation can be regulated via legislation. It seems to me that this non-proven, basic assumption has been proven wrong more than once, e.g. during the few years preceding the internet bubble of the '90s. The tip of the curve, then and there, lay completely to the left. ( Where IMHO it should be, but I am trying to separate facts from discussion from personal opinion here. )

    Where in the world do you get that idea from?

    From TFA, as in these lines:

    So, we’ve constructed the patent system: people have a 17 year exclusive right to such public goods. That is, we’ve made them excludable by law

    I am not necessarily of the "school that believes that patent protection is always bad". I am of the school that believes that patent protection is, sometimes, a necessary evil, and bad at all other times.

    For the benefit of those who did not read TFA: What he is saying is that patent protection can boost innovation but if that protection is too great the patents get used as a weapon to bash competitors with the result that there is a net drop in innovation. Furthermore he is arguing that we have passed well beyond the point where patent protection is a demotivating influence on innovation so in that sense you actually agree with him. One only has to look at his curve to see this:

    http://b-i.forbesimg.com/timworstall/files/2013/06/tabarrokcurve.png [forbesimg.com]

    In that graph, if you move too far to the left and you have no patent protection at all which stifles innovation, move too far to the right and have excessive patent protection also stifles innovation, stay somewhere in the middle and patent protection will actually boost innovation above the two extremes. You seem to be mostly arguing for the greatest innovation being achieved at a point that is very close to the left hand extreme. I'm not saying he is right in every detail but the basic idea of applying the Laffer tax revenue curve [wikipedia.org] to innovation seems sound. Too much red tape around patents is just as detrimental to innovation as overtaxation is to state revenue. Likewise too little patent protection is just as likely to stifle innovation as excessive tax cuts are likely to screw up state finances.

    As regards the legal system he eventually suggests that it may not be the patent system that is at fault so much as the legal system it self:

    Knowledge is a public good and thus in a pure free market we think that too little of it will be produced. Too strong a protection and again too little will be produced.

    These are the sorts of thorny questions that we instituted government to deal with for us. Hands up everyone who thinks that our current politicians are going to get this necessary balance right? Quite: it might be that it’s not so much the patent system which is not fit for purpose as the legislative.

    Basically he is hypothesising here that we can move ourselves further to the left on his Tabarrok curve mostly (though presumably not exclusively) by legal reform rather than patent reform. I am no lawyer but it seems pretty obvious to me that fixing the legal system such that patent trolling by two bit law firms in East Texas and general patent warfare by major corporations were made significantly harder than it currently is, might be a good idea. In fact the whole issue of anti-competitive and SLAPP lawsuits and the power they give people with lots of money to spend to extort less wealthy people/organisations/companies is something that needs urgent fixing.

  • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:23AM (#44099789) Homepage

    His hypothesis makes sense but it only looks at the time constraints. I assume he did this because it is the easiest thing to legislate and not have to deal with constitutional matters in the US, since the constitution directs the government "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

    No, the Constitution only empowers the federal government to grant patents and copyrights. Article I, section 8 does not direct it to do so, however, any more than it directs the government to grant letters of marque and reprisal to privateers, which is another power it holds. Making the US a patent free zone mitt be a bad idea, but it would be perfectly constitutional.

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