Epstein on property rights and patents

by Russ Roberts on February 20, 2007

in Podcast, Property Rights

The latest episode of EconTalk is Richard Epstein on property rights and patents. Richard Epstein is always interesting but the first nine minutes or so are quite a tour de force, an elegantly crafted overview of property rights in complete sentences and beautifully organized. There are some interesting discussions of the FDA and the political economy of regulation.

Next week: Viviana Zelizer, Princeton University sociologist talking about money and intimacy and ideas in her latest book, The Purchase of Intimacy.

Two weeks from now, Gregg Easterbrook on his latest book, The Progress Paradox.

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raj February 20, 2007 at 9:18 pm

Who gets to decide what is patentable and what is not? The speaker says that 'good morning' should not be patentable – well why not? Who decides that?

And who decides what constitutes 'innovative'? Something that is innovative to me might not be so innovative to someone else.

It is funny when 'let the market decide' libertarians want the big bad govt to make the decisions on such vague concepts as 'innovative', 'significant', 'non-obvious', etc.

Patents only hold back innovation. Without patents, companies are forced to think of new ways to beat their competitors. And they would not need to spend billions to develop anything because they could build on the research of their competitors.

Alan February 21, 2007 at 8:48 am

Adam Smith's take on the drug makers of his day:

"Apothecaries' profit is become a bye-word, denoting something uncommonly extravagant. This great apparent profit, however, is
frequently no more than the reasonable wages of labour. The skill of an apothecary is a much nicer and more delicate matter than that of any artificer whatever; and the trust which is reposed in him is of
much greater importance. He is the physician of the poor in all cases, and of the rich when the distress or danger is not very great. His reward, therefore, ought to be suitable to his skill and his trust; and it arises generally from the price at which he sells his drugs. But the whole drugs which the best employed apothecary in a large market-town, will sell in a year, may not perhaps cost him above thirty or forty pounds. Though he should sell them, therefore, for three or four hundred, or at a thousand per cent. profit, this may
frequently be no more than the reasonable wages of his labour, charged, in the only way in which he can charge them, upon the price of his drugs. The greater part of the apparent profit is real wages disguised in the garb of profit."

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