FAMED AUTHOR WRITES
Thank you very much for the copy of your interesting magazine. Needless to say, it delighted me to see Mr. Costello's article. (REASON, January 1972)
With no desire to be ungracious, I might nevertheless point out a couple of small errors in this generally excellent piece. It was not Edmond Hamilton but Jack Williamson who created Giles Habibula. The stories "Strange Bedfellows" ("To Build A World") and "Memory" ("A World Called Maanerek") do not belong to my "future history" series. However, one cannot really fault Mr. Costello for saying so, because they do look as if they ought to fit in, and to prove otherwise from internal evidence would be more trouble than it's worth.
Finally, I don't consider my philosophy "dour," being in fact a generally cheerful fellow. But of course this is a matter of subjective interpretation rather than objective truth.
All the above is the merest nitpicking. It was not only gratifying but encouraging to see such an intelligent interest taken in my work. I am an entertainer, not a missionary—yet every writer inevitably expresses something of his personal worldview and value system. Surprisingly many readers, especially younger ones, seem to like my generally libertarian and rationalistic ideas. Who knows but that there are enough of them to give us grounds for hope?
John D. Ockert, highly articulate Southern California mathematics teacher, in his article, "Save Our Smog" (REASON, January 1972) not only recognizes the true dimensions and thrust of the problem, but also offers a solution, apparently hitherto unthought of by our esteemed politicians. The bit about Mexico was somewhat obscure, but I am still working on it. Either I am being overcome by percipient vitiation (I, too, live in the smog belt) or a small misprint has worked its way into the last part of the paragraph. If the latter be the case—for shame! A dominie, such as Mr. Ockert seems to be, whose quintessential aptitude for composition surpasses all bounds, appears once in a century—and you goof it up! How unREASONable to misplace an article in such an article! I realize deadline limitations will probably preclude your printing this letter, but I have decided to write anyway to say, "Let's have more of Mr. Ockert, he's great".
Ralph H. Steffen
I enjoyed reading Dr. Hospers' reflections on his visit to the Soviet Union (REASON, January 1972) and found that his impressions coincided generally with those of several other persons who have returned recently from the USSR and whose reports I have heard.
I do fault Dr. Hospers in two particulars, however.
First, his treatment of the subject of medical care in the Soviet Union is superficial to the point of being misleading. Granted that was not the principal topic of his paper, it might have been better for him to ignore the subject altogether than to give it such inadequate treatment. Medical care in the USSR is free to the patient (though a libertarian such as Dr. Hospers should at least recognize and comment on the fact that it is not free to the patient's alter-ego, the taxpayer), but it is most assuredly not "excellent." Mortality rates in the Soviet Union are uniformly higher than in the United States; babies are still delivered by midwife; except in a few showplace research centers, equipment and facilities are outdated and inadequate (American physicians who toured Russia in 1968 reported finding hospitals "unbelievably barren," unclean, and poorly maintained; laboratories skimpily equipped—about on a par with American hospitals of 30-40 years before; multiple operations conducted simultaneously in the same operating room; old, obsolete, unsterile blood transfusion tubing, etc. Of course, not all hospitals were the same, but the doctors rated Soviet medical facilities as inferior to those in other countries they had visited—Poland, Czechoslovakia, and West Germany—and far inferior to U.S. medicine. Russell Roth, a prominent U.S. urologist, reported after a 1972 tour that the Soviet system provides excellent mobile emergency care and has a plentiful supply of physicians, but that facilities are poorly distributed (only large regional hospitals were equipped to handle any). I do not fault Dr. Hospers' intent, but suggest that he might have better realized the superficiality of his view of the Soviet medical system and thus declined to present what may be misleading conclusions.
One final point! I agree with REASON's opening comments about the desirability of a realistic portrayal of Soviet life but respectfully suggest that Dr. Hospers may have leaned too far to avoid a black portrait, thus fleeing from reality in the other direction. I have read all of Solzhenitsyn's novels and the Kostoglotovs, Nerzhins, and Nemovs will remain with me a long time.
Marvin H. Edwards
Editor, PRIVATE PRACTICE MAGAZINE
Oklahoma City, Okla.
PATENT QUESTION: STILL OPEN
I disagree completely with Ronald E. Merrill's ideas as presented in his article, "The Patent Question: Ownership and Innovation," in REASON (January, 1972).
The "real idea" may exist in a man's mind, but it can be written down on pieces of paper and communicated to others. How can anybody who uses words on so many "dirty pieces of paper" write an article purporting somehow to reject written ideas? This is much the same kind of inconsistency found in people who try to refute cause and effect while using a logical chain of connection! Any person who sincerely believes that ideas can have no kind of existence if written on paper should never become a writer of articles for magazines with such names as REASON! He should become a mystic, instead.
I am surprised at your magazine for printing an article which supports the unearned takeover of intellectual property with the faulty reasoning that merely to comprehend an idea is in some way to create it!
Lorna B. Ravanal
Ronald E. Merrill makes some excellent observations in his article on patents but inexplicably avoids the logical conclusions. The excellent observations to which I refer are:
1)…there is no such thing as an "idea" just floating around in the void; every idea exists in somebody's mind.
2) This is why ideas cannot be economic goods; they are not transferable.…The idea, in short, cannot get into [another person's] mind by transfer—it can get there only by being created by [the other person]. (original emphasis)
3) I own the ideas in my mind; you own the ideas in yours; I created mine; you created yours.
From the above it should be clear that any person who reconstructs the idea of a widget from inspecting a widget on a store shelf is as entitled as anyone else to manufacture widgets himself and owes nobody payment for what is actually his own idea.
Now it is important to note, as Merrill seems to recognize, that a teacher cannot teach his (nontransferable) ideas to a student. That what a student actually "learns," with the help of the teacher, are his own ideas. Yet Merrill refers to the "disclosure contract" as "a contract between the inventor and the people to whom he teaches his idea." Also Merrill conspicuously neglects to notice that this contract is not binding on those not a party to it.
In this important respect the disclosure contract does not, contrary to Merrill's claims, amount to a copyright. Likewise, the "production contract" is solely between an inventor and those manufacturers willing to agree to the contract. Finally, the "certification contract" merely certifies that a person developed an idea without being taught. Provided it is possible to determine such a fact, it would only be, at most, of historical interest and devoid of legal significance.
Merrill, by postulating that a patent consists of these three types of contract taken in conjunction attempts to equate patents with protection of property rights of ideas. Yet patents clearly go beyond the limits of these contracts. Moreover, as Merrill himself explicitly states, "[ideas] can be neither sold nor stolen." Hence, whatever patents prevent it is not the violation of property rights.
Ms. Ravanal's letter hardly merits detailed discussion. Her claim that I reject the possibility of communication by writing is simply false-to-fact, as can be seen by reference to my article. Her assertion that I support "the unearned takeover of intellectual property" is also false but has at least the merit of being debatable—or would, if she offered any support whatsoever for this conclusion. As for the relation between comprehension and creation of an idea, I dealt with this topic at some length in my article, and I am forced to say that I cannot make my views any clearer than I have.
Mr. Busse makes the common error confusing ownership of the idea with ownership of the widget. It is true that the person in his example does not owe the inventor payment for the inventor's idea—but he does owe him payment for his labor in inventing the widget.
I did not "recognize" that the service of teaching does not exist. (If it doesn't MIT owes me about a $10,000 refund!) Assisting somebody in reasoning is a service, for which the inventor is entitled to payment.
The disclosure contract is binding on those who are parties to it; to wit: those to whom the invention is disclosed—not just those who buy a sample. The same is true of copyrights; whether you buy a book or check it out of the library, you are forbidden to reprint it.
Patents do protect property rights; the inventor's rights, not to his ideas (which are immune to theft) but to his payment for his labor (which is not). If your employer refuses to give you your monthly pay he is violating your property rights—by stealing your paycheck. The person who copies an invention without paying royalties is committing the same crime.
Ronald E. Merrill
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".