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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Those predictable unions

I have no problem with unions existing; freedom of association is an important right and one that should never be taken away from us. The problem I have is with unions always seeming to be on the wrong side of every damn issue. And so it goes with patent reform. Way not to break precedent, guys.

13 comments to Those predictable unions

  • I had a short stint working for a software company that had the idea of setting up scanning kiosks in truckstops so that drivers could scan their documents and have them sent back to their offices. This meant that information flowed faster and that the truckers got paid more quickly.

    I don’t know if anybody else had thought of this first but the company had manged to get numerous patents covering the “business process.” The interesting thing was that they did have competitors who were doing pretty much the same thing. The patent holder was the market leader so maybe they felt no need to enforce the patent. Onther other hand, maybe it would make sense for them to fail to build up a business, let others do so and then sue them.

    Any road up, the idea of patenting a business process seems dumb to me. And, in reference to unions, I don’t think it would be in the interests of the Teamsters to have only one company offering truckstop scanning of trucking documents.

    PS On the way home today I saw a bumper sticker “Work Union, Live Better” – it was on the back of a new Jaguar.

  • Ken

    Of course, “new Jag’s” lose at least 25% of their value by buying one and driving off of the lot…(and-unless FoMoCo. has unloaded the co. is…?)

  • Ken

    I’ll get better, really.
    “driving it off of”*
    “unloaded….it is still a ford”*
    sorry.

  • Paul Marks

    I also have no problem with unions existing – as long as no one is forced to talk to them, or to hire or keep union members.

    If someone does not wish to employ union members (or people with blue eyes, or whatever) that is up to this employer – it is the employers place of business and who is there is up to the employer.

    If the employees do not like the rules they should not sign a nonunion contract (i.e. they should work somewhere else) not demand that “yellow dog” contracts be made “unlawful”.

    As for “picketing” – if people are obstructing the entrance to place of business they should be cleared (just as if they were obstructing a private home). A “picket” is a military guard, the word should not be used to defend union thugs (or do people think that philosophical discussions are what happens on picket lines).

    “But wages and conditions will be harmed…”

    Wages and conditions of work vastly improved in the United States long before unions were of any importance at all.

    As for union efforts to improve wages and conditions – via what W.H. Hutt called “the strike threat system” (i.e. not just the not working – but trying to prevent any one else working in the place either), this may improve wages and conditions in the short term (at the price of higher unemployment), but in the long term even union members will have LOWER wages and WORSE conditions of work than would otherwise be the case.

    This is because union action tends to undermine industries – at first in relation to what they could have been, and later in absolute terms.

    None of the above is an attack on what in Britain were called “Friendly Societies” or in the United States were called “Fraternities” (before this term just meant group of students).

    Offering mutual aid for such things as health care costs and retirement is a noble thing.

  • The so-called patent “reform” is an attempt to make it more difficult for individual inventors and small businesses to enforce their patents against larger entities with better financed legal departments. I find two aspects of this “reform” particularly pernicious.

    First, the proposal involves adding an extra year of review after issue before a claim of infringement can be made. This postpones any reward for inventiveness by a full year. If you are a regularly salaried worker, consider how you’d react to a proposal that you accept a one year delay in being paid for your work. The length of time between invention and reward are long enough already without inserting an extra year in the process.

    More important from the point-of-view of infringers, the most powerful weapon in the hands of a small inventor is the threat of an injunction ordering an infringer to cease and desist manufacturing the infringing product. In today’s fast-paced economy, product life cycles are only a few years anyway. Infringers already attempt to drag out litigation to the point where this threat becomes moot – handing them an extra year is only going to make matters worse. The threat that an infringer can be shut down is one of the few clubs a small inventor has to be taken seriously and secure a reasonable royalty.

    Second, the proposed reform attempts to limit the value of a patent by focusing on the value of the specific improvement instead of on the value of the device incorporating the improvement. Often however, it is the “minor” improvement that makes the difference between whether the product as a whole succeeds or fails. The patented horseshoe nail that keeps the proverbial shoe on the horse, the horse carrying the rider, the rider carrying the message, the message saving the army, and the army saving the kingdom has a worth far beyond the apparent cost of the nail itself.

    In my own area (antennas), the antenna itself is a small portion of the overall device cost, usually less than 1%. The cleverly designed 10 cent antenna can determine whether or not the $100 radio works, and whether or not the $100 radio can be successfully marketed. Yet under the proposed “reform,” someone who steals my patented antenna design is going to argue that he owes me only a fraction of the 10 cent cost of the antenna, instead of a fraction of the $100 radio sale enabled by their theft of my design.

    In conclusion, I’m disappointed that a blog which purports to support individual liberty is lending credence and sanction to what is essentially a scheme to help large entities trample the intellectual property rights of individual inventors. To my mind these “reforms” only serve the interests of those who seek to minimize the consequences and risks of patent infringement.

    Sorry Jackie D, but this time the unions are right.

    Hans Schantz, Inventor

  • Why apologize to me because we disagree? I can cope. The unions are, as ever, wrong – but welcome to their flawed opinions. Same goes for you. No apology necessary. :-D

  • nick gray

    This might be a good time to mention that Ludwig Von Mises Institute argues against all patents and copyright laws, arguing they are just state-sanctioned monopolies. After all, copyright laws didn’t exist in Shakespeare’s day, and he did alright. Perhaps companies would compete to be first with a product, and have it named after them as their chief reward.
    What does everyone else think?

  • Pa Annoyed

    Patents are a blunt instrument to solve a genuine problem. Back in Shakespeare’s day, if someone invented something and wanted to exploit it, their only hope was to keep the method secret. Once the secret was out, anyone could do it. So few went to the effort and expense, and what few did kept their methods secret, so nobody could build on what others had done.

    So they came up with a scheme where an inventor could obtain a state-backed monopoly for a limited period in exchange for publishing the details for others to improve upon, and eventually to exploit. Now monopolies are bad, state-backed monopolies are worse, and patents cause all sorts of problem even for genuine inventors, and as all crudely written legislation is, are subject to all sorts of abuse.

    For example, I invented an extremely useful process a while back, where you took certain measurements and calculated with them in a certain way and that gave you a particular quantity that was normally very difficult to obtain and that people had been moaning about not having for decades. ‘Great!’ I thought. I spent several weeks refining the method, working out the errors, mapping out exactly what you would have to change, where you would have to put it in the system, to get it to work. And then somebody did a patent search and found there was already a patent on it held by a very big company. Not one anyone was doing anything with, but one that put the entire idea in the bin. You might be prepared to do some R&D to get a new product in a new area you could really sell, to justify the money you spend getting the thing up and running, but not if someone was going to take a big slice of the profit after you do all the work bringing it to market. It wasn’t worth it.

    So the idea sits on the shelf unused, despite being what everyone was clamouring for, and my weeks of effort were wasted. Someone obviously had the idea, didn’t have the capability to bring it to market, but patented it anyway so they could get a slice when someone else did. It’s not what was intended of patents, but unintended effects are the rule when the state messes with the free market.

    Patents are part of the fabric of business now, and getting rid of them would cause massive disruption and still leave you with the original problem they were trying to solve. There’s nothing you can do to get all the bugs out. You can tinker, but anything you do will have something wrong with it. I’d say it’s probably best to leave the whole mess alone, and any moves you make ought to be directed more towards dismantling the system than making it more prescriptive just on general principles, but accepting that doing so will impact on innovation.

    My sympathy with small inventors reliant on patents is genuine but limited – they are essentially taking advantage of a state-created niche – much as I sympathise with civil servants who would lose their jobs in bureaucracy cutbacks. My main interest lies with the effect it has on innovation in society as a whole, which is a good that might be worth putting up with a little state-mediated crap for. Unless anyone can offer a better free-market solution.

  • I don’t have any problem with patents.
    I think that they are essentially a good idea, which works.
    But not here, of course, because the law says we belong to our employers.
    The law was introduced in 1977 and strengthened in 2001, under, you guessed, Labour, both times.
    In America if a company owning a patent takes your name off the patent, you become an un-named inventor with licensing rights equal to those of the patent owner, so they often(usually?) come clean and alow you some income in relation to your invention.

    Here they can remove names willy nilly and essentially write a fictional and fraudulent monopoly on the rights.

    This is a fact.
    It happened to a coworker.They didn’t take me off the Euro-patent, because two(the two inventors going missing would have been hard to explain, especially as they couldn’t afford to have us team up as well as losing their understanding of the invention.

    Which has happened anyway, heh.

    As for the ‘they will not do anything with it’ argument, this is nothing but a mediocrity’s justification for robbery based on mind-reading.
    I’ve been on the receiving end of that little ploy also.

  • Midwesterner

    The moral justification for patents as a property right is that the inventor’s exclusive use should be protected for the length of time it would have taken another reasonable person to think of it. This is obviously guesswork and is why the present lengths of run are probably as good a guess as any.

    My impression is that improper enforcement of patents is creating a case where everything comes down to litigation. When that happens, the side with the most money generally wins. I am also concerned about a practice I believe big companies are conducting where they ‘picket fence’ another party’s patent in order to prevent them from using it.

    Maybe somebody who has some experience can enlighten me. How is it possible that a patent can be granted and that later patents can prevent its use? It seems logical to me that anything necessary to the invention that is part of the process but not claimed must be assumed to be in the public domain, no?

  • I guess the picket would take the form of patenting any possible developments from the original.
    But to make any gain(which is the commercial motive) they would still need to come to terms over the original.

  • Midwesterner

    I hadn’t thought of it that way. But (think back to IBM-PC) and Xerox-PARC here) I think many companies view blocking of progress as a way to maintain high profits. It never works but they still try. Why?

  • It’s been a tough week, so I would definitely refer you to the Wikipedia entry on Patents.
    They point out some excellent cross-border differences.
    I still prefer the US system.