According to Wonk Blog, Bill Watson over at the Cato Institute is unhappy that the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled that a number of Apple products infringed on Samsung patents. He rightly notes that there is duplication in the patent law system. But I have a problem with this kind of approach to our broken intellectual property (IP) system. And especially with regard to Apple—one of the most egregious patent trolling companies.
I don’t know much about Watson, but I do know Cato. And they are not really for IP law reform. All Watson is arguing for is a limit to “forum shopping” where companies look around for the best place to sue. It’s not even clear to me that such a minor reform would improve things. Depending upon how the law was changed, it might just make a system that is heavily weighted toward big companies even more so.
The bigger issue is that the whole IP system is broken. But in its big policy document (pdf), Cato doesn’t even suggest any fundamental reforms. That’s quite something for a group known for its extreme recommendations. But it is entirely typical of the fake free market philosophy of the libertarian group. It calls for making these laws more friendly to “competition” but never in a way that would upset the flow of corporate profits.
One interesting thing about the article that features Cato’s Mr. Watson is that it is written by Timothy B. Lee. Who used to be at… Cato. If Wonk Blog wants to provide space to discuss this issue, it would be better off allowing Brad Plumer, who understand the the patent system fairly well. Or even better Dean Baker. (Admittedly, given that Baker attacks the Washington Post almost every day as “Fox on 15th Street,” he would not be politically viable choice.) What’s with the Cato boys getting the valuable space?
The article reads more like advocacy than reporting. No alternative points of view are even mentioned. And in the end, it seems that the point of the article is to keep cheap products flowing into the United States from overseas. It likely is the case that we ought to get the ITC out of the patent law business. But I’d like to see an opposing view. Or at least the view of some people who aren’t wedded to the Cato pseudo-free market ideology.
Update (5 Junue 2013)
I just found another article from Lee on patent trolls. He argues that legislation against a very limited definition of “patent troll” is not nearly enough. I agree. However, it would be no less a minor improvement than ending the ITC’s patent cases. Yet that would apparently be a great idea.