One of America's leading authorities on technology and telecom policy, Motley is a writer, television and radio commentator, political and policy strategist, lecturer, debater, activist, and policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
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Due to this weekend’s torrential winter downpour, we are currently in the midst of a federal government shutdown. Uh oh. We’ve been told so often by so many that a government shutdown will shake the Earth from its orbital path and send us careening into the Sun. So far, thankfully, that has not occurred.
Despite our promised fiery demise, we have begun to excavate DC (…wait a moment, what’s the rush?). DC is doing what anyone does in such situations. You triage – you prioritize what gets attention in what order.
There is oh-so-much that should just stay buried. Not physically (I guess) – but metaphorically. There is oh-so-much DC is doing – that it absolutely shouldn’t. And there is oh-so-much more DC wants to do – that it absolutely shouldn’t.
Amongst the myriad latter are two bills currently under consideration: The House’s Innovation Act and the Senate’s PATENT Act. Bills that – no matter the expressed intent – will fundamentally undermine the ability of people with ideas to protect their ideas with patents.
Sadly, in a Republican-controlled Congress – there are Republicans pushing these bills. They do so in the alleged name of “tort reform” – to attack and undermine “patent trolls.” When you rightly oppose their attempts to fundamentally transform how we handle intellectual property – you are accused of being on the side of the trial lawyers and their disruptive “patent troll” clients.
Except you’re actually defending one of the crucial components of any free market economy – private property. These underminers want to pretend intellectual property isn’t property – but that doesn’t make it so. Some may want to pretend an avowed Socialist isn’t in contention for the Democrat presidential nomination – but that doesn’t make it so.
In our information economy – where computers rule and nigh everything is digital – less and less is tangible. But just because you can’t touch it – doesn’t mean it isn’t property. Stealing a compact disc from Tower Records – was wrong. Downloading without paying for an MP3 – is wrong. New technologies – same principles. To oppose these bills – is to be on the side of all things private property.
In opposing these bills, you are also on the side of people crucial to any successful economy – the Creators. The people who have the ideas that make everything else possible. No matter the format – vinyl records, eight-tracks, cassette tapes, CDs or MP3s – the ideas pressed thereon are what matter.
Beyonce’s songs are important – the format on which you acquire them is not. And investments in these ideas are like investments in any other ideas. If you don’t protect them – if you can’t protect them – you’ll stop getting them.
When you steal a Beyonce album, you don’t just steal from Beyonce. You steal from the companies that invest a LOT of money in Beyonce – and a whole lot of other Creators who aren’t (yet?) profitable. If the investors’ investments aren’t protected by law – they can’t get a return on their investments. So they’ll stop investing.
And when they stop investing – we’ll stop getting new ideas. No new ideas – no more products, no goods, no services. Our entire economy will grind to a halt.
It isn’t your fault that the Innovation and PATENT Acts are drafted so broadly and badly – they place you on the same side as trial lawyers. (Though for every terrible trial lawyer – there is a trial lawyer on the other side of the courtroom fending off his cohort with a whip and a chair. They ain’t all bad.)
And “patent trolls” is anti-property-activist-speak – for people suing to protect their patents. And filing lawsuits against the very many thieves is just about the only way to protect patents.
These bills throw out not just the baby – but the entire nursery – with the bathwater. New ideas, new creations, new products – smothered in the crib. Perversely – in the name of protecting innovation.
Currently, the Innovation and PATENT Acts are buried in respective Congressional committees. Like much of DC – they should stay buried.
We won’t like what happens if they’re unearthed.