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Patent-Seeking as a Defensive Move — Then, and Now

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In the comments to Let's Bring Back the Good Old Days of English Patents, Jeff Tucker makes the following excellent observation:

And its purpose [of patents of monopoly granted by English monarchs] was to cement political loyalty in a time of grave political-religious upheaval. It was the same on the Continent with the first mercantile grants of privilege for producers of many products. The Kings wanted credit for the growing existence of consumer goods and services. The first producers wanted security against being looted by the King and otherwise being outcompeted. Everyone won but the consumer.

In other words, merchants who were afraid of being looted by the monarch's discretionary power sought monopolies as a means of protecting themselves from the state. They joined the state to keep the enemy close, so to speak. But is this merely a thing of the past? No!—patents are often acquired nowadays for defensive purposes—to defend against patent infringement threats caused by the state's grant of patent monopolies to their competitors! As Jeff similarly notes,

Today we think of a exclusive privileges to make clothing or sugar or hand tools are ridiculous and outmoded. But exclusive privileges to produce movies, books, and drugs? Oh those are oh so necessary, else we'd be sunk!

Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.