There’s a story on Slashdot about the very simple but intriguing notion that if intellectual property is to be treated as peer to real property then perhaps it should be subject to property tax. Among other effects, it is suggested that such an approach might limit the “dog in the manger” (my own term) behavior of using patents and copyrights to prevent others from using an idea while simultaneously not using it oneself. This is not just an abstract concern, either; such behavior is at the core of companies buying up patents for innovations that could undercut their business, or amassing huge patent portfolios as a “war chest” to fight off patent-infringement suits brought against them. If the intellectual-property system is to satisfy its supposed purpose of “enhancing the progress of science and useful arts” then creating an economic disincentive for abuse contrary to that purpose seems like a good thing. One important question does remain unresolved, though:

by milsoRgen
On the face of it, I love that idea. The bigger question would be how do you determine the value of the IP to assess it for taxation.

I’m sort of inclined to say that self-evaluation might be sufficient, because there’s a built-in disincentive for undervaluing one’s assets. If you intend to sue someone for infringement, you might be in an awkward situation if the claimed damages are greater than the claimed value and you might be subject to penalties for the early undervaluation. I think it would also be reasonable to allow for valuations to be challenged just like validity already can be. Few companies would want to risk being the subject of a challenge that they know they’d lose, especially if the penalty for an egregious undervaluation could be loss of the patent or copyright.

P.S. It might seem a bit silly for little old me to link to something on big old Slashdot, but I’ve come to the general conclusion that it’s not worth trying to have a serious discussion on it or practically any other online free-for-all. At least for the next while, I intend to express my online opinions here instead, and conduct any follow-on discussion within the blogosphere (which, flawed as it is, still seems better than forums).