Walter Eucken on Patent Laws: Are Patents Just ‘Nonsense upon Stilts’?

Manuel Wörsdörfer


As recent newspaper headlines show the topic of patents/patent laws is still heavily disputed. In this paper I will approach this topic from a theoretical-historical and history of economic thought-perspective. In this regard I will link the patent controversy of the nineteenth century with Walter Eucken’s Ordoliberalism – a German version of neoliberalism. My paper is structured as follows: The second chapter provides the reader with a historical introduction. At the heart of this paragraph are the controversy and discourse on patent laws in nineteenth century Europe as well as the pro and contra arguments presented by the anti-patent/free-trade movement respectively by the advocates of patent protection. The focus of my paper is on the struggle for the protection of inventions and innovations in nineteenth century Germany, since Walter Eucken, main representative of the Freiburg School of Law and Economics, picks up the counter-arguments presented in the national debate and in particular by the Kongress deutscher Volkswirthe. The third chapter deals intensively with the question whether patent laws are just ‘nonsense upon stilts’ from an ordoliberal perspective. Here, Eucken’s arguments against the current patent system are elaborated in great detail. The paper ends with a summary of my main findings.

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Published on 11th December, 2012, in Economic Thought Vol 1, No 2, 2012