New Report Challenges The Whole 'IP Intensive Industries Are Doing Well Because Of Strong IP' Myth
from the good-to-see dept
When challenged on this, the US Commerce Department's incredibly weak defense of this kind of argument (i.e., "Steve Jobs had patents, Steve Jobs made cool things, ergo, patents are important to innovation") was certainly troubling.
Thankfully, a new report by Eli Dourado and Ian Robinson at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University does a nice job dismantling most of the claims in these series of reports that suggest that lots of jobs in "IP intensive industries" automatically means "strong intellectual property laws are good." The report starts out by simply highlighting the problem of generally using "jobs" as a proxy for "good for society." That's a fallacy, and often a problematic one for innovation (where disruption may initially destroy a bunch of jobs, but, in the long-term, create many new opportunities).
Perhaps most fundamentally, jobs are not ends in themselves, and counting the number of jobs created is therefore not the best way to evaluate a policy. As Bryan Caplan notes, “Economists have been at war with make-work bias for centuries. [19th-century French economist Frederic] Bastiat ridicules the equation of prosperity with jobs as ‘Sisyphism,’ after the mythological fully employed Greek who was eternally condemned to roll a boulder up a hill.” Economic progress, Bastiat says, is defined by an increasing ratio of output to effort—indeed, economic nirvana is achieved when there is high output and zero labor effort.But of course, the bigger issue, as we've outlined, is the silly argument that these jobs exist because of strict intellectual property laws. Not a single one of these studies has looked at how the jobs change with changes in the law. It simply is ridiculous to naturally assume that most of these jobs (like the grocery store point above) exist because of the current laws.
Lawmakers could create jobs by requiring that construction projects be performed with spoons instead of shovels or tractors. Such a policy, however, would reduce worker productivity and decrease total economic output. Consequently, this spoon mandate would not promote economic progress.
Likewise, some of the jobs created by IP may harm the economy instead of helping it. Suppose IP laws necessitated that every firm hire 10 additional IP lawyers, but otherwise left output unchanged. IP could be said to create millions of additional jobs, but these would be jobs that reduced real output per worker, jobs that moved society further away from economic nirvana. They should be reckoned as economic costs of IP, not economic benefits. If (counterfactually) this were the only effect of IP, then abolition of IP would mean that the effort of the heretofore unproductively employed IP lawyers could be redirected to more productive uses.
As a reductio ad absurdum, consider the blogging “industry.” As a matter of law, all authors are automatically, without registration or any other formal notice, bestowed with a copyright in their blog posts. Since the entire output of the blogosphere is copyrighted, under IPUSE’s methodology it would qualify as an IP-intensive industry (if it were considered an industry). Nevertheless, it seems clear that copyright protection accounts for at best a tiny sliver of bloggers’ output—the vast majority of blogs are accessible without a paid subscription, and many bloggers do not attempt to monetize their posts (with ads, say) at all.On a similar note, for years we've pointed to CCIA's reports that did such a great job highlighting this fallacy by using the identical methodology to define "fair use intensive industries" to show that based on the copyright industry's own bogus methodology, clearly fair use is "more important" than copyright since it employs more people -- and thus, if we were to believe the original reports, then we should clearly expand fair use (massively, since it's so limited today). The whole point of the report was to mock the silly claims about "copyright intensive industries" -- and, amazingly, those who supported one report were horrified by the fair use report, attacking the methodology, without the self-awareness to recognize they were mocking their own preferred methodology.
If some industries resemble blogging—for example, if copyrights are automatically awarded but not relied on, or if patenting is done for primarily defensive purposes, or if trademarks exist but are rarely relied on by consumers—then IPUSE and the other reports that rely on simplistic counts of IP grossly overstate the number of jobs due to intellectual property. For these industries, IP intensity is not a reliable indicator of IP dependence.
As the report also notes, many of these other reports on how "important" IP is assume that intellectual property is the sole incentive for these jobs and related innovations and progress. That's just silly. As the new report notes, there are lots of possible impacts that these studies don't even remotely account for:
As a general matter, intellectual property law can overprotect as well as underprotect. When it overprotects, it creates jobs without a corresponding increase in real output, it creates jobs by destroying other jobs that are not accounted for, and at the margin it accounts for very little of the actual output created by supposedly IP-intensive industries.The report then goes on to explore each of the three key areas -- copyrights, patents and trademarks -- to show why the assumptions underlying many of the reports simply don't hold up under scrutiny. It's a useful addition to counteract the bogus studies that make the bogus correlation argument based on the broadly defined "IP-intensive industries." If I have one complaint about it, it's that the report doesn't go as far as I expected, based on the title: "How Many Jobs Does Intellectual Property Create?" When I started reading the paper, I expected an attempt to actually look for some sort of causal methodology to determine such a figure, rather than just a dismantling of the arguments of those other reports. It's still a useful bit of research and analysis, but the title overpromises a bit.