City Journal Winter 2016

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Winter 2016
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Guy Sorman
Patently American « Back to Story

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The new USPTO laws clearly put the individual inventor at a disadvantage. Discounted fees mean little, when fees are ~$3,000 but attorney costs are over ten times more: ~$34,000. Litigating a patent infringement can cost well into the hundreds of thousands. What garage inventor has that kind of money?
Stopping intellectual property violations is futile. Stopping the products at the port, however, is much more feasible, both practically and politically. Pending currency manipulation legislation reflects this sentiment.

But why the sudden change of heart on trade policy from a libertarian think tank? Does the decimation of the manufacturing sector make the free-traders nervous? Can the neo-liberal, race-to-the-bottom, rent-seekers find any candidate in either party to befriend in these austere times?

Perhaps if the WTO system didn't exist, any sovereign country would be free to use any another country's design for the benefit of its citizens, without external meddling:

In a world without transnational IP, if I were a poor African nation, why would I pay exorbitant prices for HIV/AIDS drugs from Western pharmaceutical companies when I can buy the same drugs from non-IP compliant nations? If I couldn't afford Western prices in the first place, would I really be taking away their business?

Also, studios and recording companies in Asia still turn a profit by adding value to their products. Anyone can copy a DVD movie, but the real McCoy comes with a collectible trinket for the true fans.
Who knows how many American DVDs would be sold in China if they were ten times more expensive? Probably fewer than today.

Moreover, I'm sure America would suffer if Chinese industry were forced to obey American rules, the Chinese economy would crash and couldn't prop up the US any longer.

Finally, from a moral point of view, it's very hard to argue that China has to honor Western patents and intellectual property rights, unless they have explicitly promised to do so. Just because we have a culture were ideas can be "owned" doesn't mean that is the only possible system. If we don't want them to "steal" our patents, we shouldn't sell them our stuff in the first place.
Practically, how would the United States prevent China from making knock-offs? Ask nicely? Also, assuming that Chinese would respond in the same way as the Japanese to pressure from the US is naive both culturally and temporally. Government intervention in trade and business would do what it has always done, I suspect; that is, go wrong. A better solution might be to allow "intellectual property" owners their right to trade secrets.