Of Patents and Pooper-Scoopers
I detest the notion of patents. A patent is a man-made creature of havoc handed down in the form of statute that revokes the right of inventors to freely create a product that may too closely mimic someone else’s already-patented design. Therefore, aside from the obvious property rights infringement, we have the problem of guaranteed monopoly to holders of patents.
This means that the public misses out on competing products, gainful improvements, and better prices. Now this is very true when it comes to pooper-scoopers. Now of course, I am going to drop all of the technical Austro-libertarian reasoning on why patents are absurd, because one cannot intelligently mix anti-patent theory with pooper-scooperism. See my paleo-friend Stephan Kinsella’s patent expertise in various free market publications.
Being in the state of ownership of dogs — two of them — I can attest to having a great deal of pooper-scooper experience. I purchased my first scooper 5 years ago, and ended up with this archaic design: a wooden stick that looked like it was part of a Fisher-Price push-toy, molded to a sheet-metal, shark jaw-looking contraption that took two hands to operate. So therefore, I was lacking a third hand to hold the poop bag, and if it was windy and I set the poop bag down while not heavily loaded, it ended up in the neighbor’s yard with a couple of its tidbits inside.
So I immediately set upon looking for a user-friendly scooper; one that was easy for small, female hands to use. I came across this wonderful spring-action design that enables me to tie up only one hand while holding the poop bag in the other hand. The working end of this little gizmo snaps open and shut like the jaws of a dragon, and therefore, I assumed it was entirely up to the task of king-size German Shepherd droppings.
So I bought this thing, an Allen’s Extra Large Super Scooper, patent #5601321. On it hung a big old cardboard tag pronouncing its “uniquely patented design” and “the only one of its kind”. Operationally, I love the functions of the scooper. Its “unique” design really works nicely.
However, several of its design flaws make it vulnerable to breakage. First, the "unique, patented" dual springs always break, leaving one to embark upon multiple scooper repairs. Also, the cheap plastic is very susceptible to breakage in the cold weather. The spring-loaded handle that moves up-and-down has a tendency to just snap in two. And then, the "patented" plastic teeth that dig into the grass always break off, as well.
Don’t get me wrong, for there are several joys to this “patented” pooper scooper. It’s the first one I’ve had that actually makes a messy job easy. However, over the years, this product has seen no design improvement from the original product that hit the store shelves several years ago. The same stuff still breaks. This system of patents doesn’t allow for improvements to existing designs by competing producers, so why should the patent-holder make it better?
Just recently, I found myself going back to the pet store for my fifth pooper-scooper on 5 years. They last a year, tops. My first one ran about eighteen dollars, and now, I’m paying twenty-five dollars for the same old poop stick. And due to the wonderful world of government-granted patents, I still have one choice — that I have seen — in that spring-loaded design; there are no competing poop sticks out there due to the protective nature of a patent system.
I cuss ‘neath my breath at my 80-lb. german shepherd/husky and my chocolate lab each time it’s time to scoop the gigantic mounds of poop, and wonder why the beagle or the yorkie didn’t seem more appealing to me.
But then I put the blame squarely where it belongs, and that is with an anti-competitive nature of patents, disallowing competing products of similar design, and surely one that may be better, may last longer, and may be cheaper to buy. Mr. Allen must be a very rich man due to the patent system. I hope he has a yorkie instead of a german shepherd.
Amazingly, I have come to realize that there is more competition for cable TV contracts then there is for pooper-scoopers.
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a paleolibertarian freelance writer, graduate student in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan. She is writing her first book, which is a treatise against all things statist. See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles.