Since the first unlettered hominid used a twig to extract termites from a dry log, nervously yet inquisitively watched by another hominid who shrewdly discerned that using the same method would allow him to increase his own termite intake to a more satisfactory level, human innovation began to spread from individual to individual until we reached such a plane that even undergraduates can open tins of spaghetti hoops. Innovation without imitation is a fine motto for any intelligent species out there in the cosmos which is content to progress no further than nudity and raw termites.
Many people, however, now unquestioningly accept the relatively recent notion that an innovation is the intellectual property of the person who first devised it – or, rather, who first registered it with some bureaucrats and paid the government a fee, in exchange for which the state enforces a monopoly of the idea. Nevertheless, it remains controversial: after all, anything capable of inspiring the fanatical support of both Ayn Rand and the kind of corporatist rent-seekers whom she tore to pieces in Atlas Shrugged must logically be subject to some muddled thinking somewhere. We are grateful, therefore, to Elon Musk, whose announcement that he will not sue anyone who uses his electric automotive technology gives us this opportunity to consider the principles behind copyright and patent law. Read more