Intellectual Property On Trial: John Galt, Howard Roark and Steve Ingalls

Intellectual property is one of the heated debates individualists have among themselves. Ayn Rand had explain the importance of intellectual property in her novels through Galt’s motor of the world, Roark’s bluepint, Ingalls’ converter (from Rand’s play-Think Twice). Anarcho capitalist’s position is that you do not own ideas, if some alien who invented computer first come to earth to claim no one has the right to use computer because they invented first, what should we do? Their argument is based on the skpeticism of intellectual property creating monopoly. Now the objectivist argument would be that if the alien can prove they invented computer first then they can rightfully own it until it dies. If two people are competing to invent the same thing then whoever first invents it has the ownership of the invention, a potential is not a reality. To further understand why the ownership of ideas is important, we’ll look at the 3 characters in Rand’s works to find out.

In chapter 9, part 3 of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart visited John Galt and but unknown to her, secret police were following her. Galt told her to pretend to hate him so they don’t use her as a leverage to enslave Galt, when the police arrived, Dagny complied. The police searched Galt’s apartment to find anything incriminating to use against him but when they found the door to his laboratory, this happened:

“The silence and the sudden immobility of the three brutes were involuntary, while the burglar’s tools in the hands of the fourth went grating cautiously against the wood of the door.

The wood gave way easily, and small chips fell down, their thuds magnified by the silence into the rattle of a distant gun. When the burglar’s jimmy attacked the copper plate, they heard a faint rustle behind the door, no louder than the sigh of a weary mind. In another minute, the lock fell out and the door shuddered forward the width of an inch.

The soldier jumped back. The leader approached, his steps irregular like hiccoughs, and threw the door open. They faced a black hole of unknown content and unrelieved darkness.

They glanced at one another and at Galt; he did not move; he stood looking at the darkness.

Dagny followed them, when they stepped over the threshold, preceded by the beams of their flashlights. The space beyond was a long shell of metal, empty but for heavy drifts of dust on the floor, an odd, grayish-white dust that seemed to belong among ruins undisturbed for centuries. The room looked dead like an empty skull.

She turned away, not to let them see in her face the scream of the knowledge of what that dust had been a few minutes ago. Don’t try to open that door, he had said to her at the entrance to the powerhouse of Atlantis … if you tried to break it down, the machinery inside would collapse into rubble long before the door would give way…. Don’t try to open that door—she was thinking, but knew that what she was now seeing was the visual form of the statement: Don’t try to force a mind.”

Peter Keating was desperate, he was losing his former glory, his only shot was to design a cheap apartment complex at Cortlandt which no one was able to do so. So he went to Howard Roark and beg for help, Roark only had one condition for Keating:

“I like to receive money for my work. But I can pass that up this time. I like to have people know my work is done by me. But I can pass that up. I like to have tenants made happy by my work. But that doesn’t matter too much. The only thing that matters, my goal, my reward, my beginning, my end is the work itself. My work done my way. Peter, there’s nothing in the world that you can offer me, except this. Offer me this and you can have anything I’ve got to give. My work done my way. A private, personal, selfish, egotistical motivation. That’s the only way I function. That’s all I am.”

“Yes, Howard. I understand. With my whole mind.”

“Then here’s what I’m offering you: I’ll design Cortlandt. You’ll put your name on it. You’ll keep all the fees. But you’ll guarantee that it will be built exactly as I design it.”

Keating wanted to follow through with Roark’s condition but he still failed under the pressure of other people, so the design was altered to add more “flair” to the building. When Roark discovered this, he destroyed the construction site, and went on trial.

Think Twice is one of the few plays Rand wrote and is my favourite. The plot is simple murder mystery (Rand also enjoyed mysteries and detective fictions). Walter Breckenridge was a philanthropic millionaire, to celebrate the discovery of a device that could convert solar radiation to renewable energy, his 50th birthday and the 4th of July, he invited his friends to share his excitement. But then someone shot and killed him, a local detective was then summoned to investigate the case. Who was the killer? Was it Adrienne Knowland the actress who was forced to play roles that showed the worst in humanity? Was it Tony Goddard who wanted to be a musician but was forced to be a doctor? Was it Billy Breckenridge who could not do anything because he was wheelchair bound? Was it Serge Sookin the communist spy? Was it Helen Breckenridge who was having an affair? Or Steven Ingalls who really invented the converter? (Spoiler below, highlight to find out)

“Yes, Walter, that’s all I am. Sixteen years ago, when we formed our partnership and started the Breckenridge Laboratories, I was very young. I did not care for mankind and I did not care for fame. I was willing to give you most of the profits, and all the glory, and your name on my inventions—they were my inventions, Walter, mine alone, all of them, and nobody knew it outside the laboratory. I cared for nothing but my work. You knew how to handle people. I didn’t. And I agreed to everything you wanted—just to have a chance at the work I loved. You told me that I was selfish, while you—you loved people and wanted to help them. Well, I’ve seen your kind of help. And I’ve seen also that it was I, I the selfish individualist, who helped mankind by producing the Vitamin X separator and the cheap violet ray and the electric saw and this. While you accepted gratitude for it—and ruined all those you touched. I’ve seen what you’ve done to men. It was I who gave you the means to do it. It was I who made it possible for you. It is my responsibility now. I created you—I’m going to destroy you.”

Intellectual property is important, first of all it creates competition as people would then try to improve their products or come up with newer, better products to satisfy the consumers. Secondly, intellectual property provides protection for the producers so that they are not looted by the looters and moochers. As Thomas Sowell has discussed in Economic Facts and Fallacies, intellectual property protects researchers who spent a fortune to come up with a new drug to get the rightful ownership of their product without being exploited by the parasitic reverse engineered copycats. Lastly, it protects the market from being distorted so that everyone can benefit.


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