TEXT OF COMMENTARY
KAI RYSSDAL: As Congress weighs electronic surveillance, the Europeans have been taking aim at another slice of the American high-tech pie: Last month, the European Commission won a landmark case against Microsoft. The commission charged the company with maintaining a monopoly on computer operating systems and media players.
Commentator Barry Lynn says Washington ought to think like the Europeans if it’s serious about technological innovation.
Barry Lynn: Monopoly is good for innovation — it says so in the Constitution.
Even before giving Congress the right to declare war, the Founders gave it the right to declare monopoly, in order “to promote the progress of science and useful arts.”
Monopoly is bad for innovation — that’s also in the Constitution, which says monopolies should exist for “limited times” only.
It doesn’t take a fancy degree to understand what the Founders were thinking: Monopoly spurs innovation by guaranteeing inventors big profits. But monopoly must one day end, to open the way for new inventors.
Ever since Ronald Reagan, Americans have forgotten how this system works. Rather than use our government to help new ideas rise, we let old monopolies use their vast powers to keep new ideas down.
In recent years, a robust debate has erupted over the length and strength of patents and copyrights. Yet almost no one in America talks of the vital role that antitrust law plays in promoting innovation.
Not so in Europe: Since August, antitrust officials there have launched formal cases against Intel, Qualcomm and Rambus. They also won a big case against Microsoft.
Not surprisingly, these American firms are not happy. They say Europe’s officials are misusing antitrust law to protect sclerotic old businesses.
Don’t believe them.
What Europe’s governments are protecting is the interest of European consumers. Bill Gates has no right to collect an immense private tax every time anyone anywhere buys a new computer.
Europe’s governments are also protecting the ability of innovators to bring new and better ideas to market. In today’s integrated world, this is good for Americans too.
So let’s applaud Europe’s antitrust enforcers — and rather than watching passively as Europe’s bureaucrats regulate our companies, let’s bust a few tech-suppressing monopolies of our own choosing.
After all, aren’t we the people who invented antitrust?
RYSSDAL: Barry Lynn is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation.
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