Intellectual Property, Patents, and Pants


What is intellectual property? There is a lot of confusion out there, even among those that call themselves “libertarian” and champions of freedom and private property. Within libertarianism you will hear debate about whether intellectual property and patents are good for economic activity or not. But the problem is that on the surface, intellectual “property” and patents actually give certain individuals the ability to control the property of others. Libertarians, anarchists and voluntaryists should be strictly opposed to controlling the property of others through violence and coercion. This is a violation of the non-aggression principle which states that violence against another person or their property is inherently unjustified.

But patents and intellectual property is simply one person saying “I can use violence and force to throw you in a cage because you used your own property and arranged it in a way similar to my property.”

“IP rights, at least for patents and copyrights, may be considered rights in ideal objects. It is important to point out that ownership of an idea, or ideal object, effectively gives the IP owners a property right in every physical embodiment of that work or invention.”1 It is nothing more than having the monopolistic ability to control the property of others, keeping them from arranging their property in ways similar to yours thus making it impossible for competition to arise.

I can hear the naysayers now. “But if we give our inventors and creators monopolies on their ideas, there will be more incentive to create innovative ideas!”


You would think that something that uses intellectual property, like the film industry, would show great wealth and innovation compared to something that did not (like the fashion industry). Apparently, the fashion industry dwarfs the film industry. I mean think about it. The dress or shirt you bought at Target or Ross was ripped off of some super expensive runway dress. Yet, no one freaks out. Designers steal ideas from each other all the time. It creates an environment of competition where you are forced to stay on your toes and stay innovative with your designs in order to keep people interested in them.2

Can you imagine if pants or sleeves were patented? Can you imagine the terrible clothing that would be available to us if only one person had the “legal” monopoly to design pants or sleeves? It would be terrible and significantly less innovative than the fashion available now.

The reason patents for sleeves and pants sounds ridiculous is that you very clearly see the fallacy of IP. You see that IP is only partially based off of actual property rights. Actual property rights apply to tangible goods you acquire (lawfully) through trade. This is because these tangible items are scarce, so protecting scarce items makes total and complete sense. Ideas and recipes on the other hand, are not scarce like a tangible item. So when you see patents and IP laws applied to ideas like sleeves and pants, you instantly see the logical disconnect.2

So how does one protect ones inventions and ideas? You do so through other scarce resources like top notch service and other benefits that are scarce, not through a broken legal system that allows you to control the tangible property of others through an intangible idea you have.

1. Kinsella, N. Stephan. Against Intellectual Property. Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2008. Mises Institute. Mises Institute. Web.

2. “Intellectual Property Is Bad for Business.” Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.


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