Taxpayer Patent Extortion

by on September 17, 2008 · 37 comments

Wow. Mike Masnick writes about NASA’s plan to auction off some of its patent portfolio to the private sector. When I read this I had to do a double-take: NASA has a patent portfolio?

This is absurd. The purpose of patent law is to promote the progress of the useful arts by giving inventors an incentive to invent. NASA engineers already have an incentive to invent: they’re being paid taxpayer dollars to do so. Accordingly granting patents to NASA is a pure dead-weight loss to the economy. It restricts the free flow of ideas with no offsetting benefit from improved incentives. Indeed, this is precisely why the copyrights on government-created works are immediately placed in the public domain.

Why isn’t there a similar doctrine in place for patent law? I can’t see any reason government agencies should be allowed to apply for patents in the first place, but if they are going to do so, they should be placed in the public domain the same way copyrights are. How can it be legal for a government agency to use taxpayer money to perform research and then obtain patents that effectively prohibit most taxpayers from using the results of that research? If I helped pay for research, I should be free to use the results.

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