Patents for physical machines have, arguably, helped advance society by creating an incentive for innovation. But some feel that software patents, in particular, have not been socially useful. Do we need to revise the rules for software patents?
If yes, do you have modest technical changes in the patent process in mind, or do you want to scrap software patents entirely, or something in between?
If no, say why; you might pick a common objection or two to software patents and explain why the objection is not sufficient to justify change, or you might argue that, whatever the drawbacks, software patents do create a socially useful incentive for invention, or you might address a combination of these.
Some people think that nothing should be patentable; the latter argument is made in Michele Boldrin and David Levine's The Case Against Patents, and their longer work Against Intellectual Monopoly. If you think that all patents are equally bad, feel free to make that argument, but please make your position clear. If you argue against all patents, you should be sure you understand your argument's implications for, say, the pharmaceuticals industry.Here are a few justifications that have been advanced for considering software patents to be fundamentally different, and thus deserving of special rules:
Discuss both sides, and come to a
conclusion. Your conclusion should either support one side or the
other (perhaps with qualifications).
Here are a few more points to think about if you need suggestions. You
don't have to address them all (you don't have to address any of
The question is really whether society as a whole would be better off. Or are we better off with large tech companies, and the large-scale services they can provide?
You may either just pick one (or two) of the three companies for your paper, or else talk about all three.
(For Google, the usual antitrust issue is with their lock on the advertising marketplace, rather than on search. Google is also a near-monopoly in search, but there are competitors. One of Google's biggest ad businesses is search ads.)
Once upon a time the argument was widely accepted that AT&T, the Bell System, was a natural monopoly. The idea was that routing calls between different long-distance providers was too complicated. This is sometimes called the network effect; sometimes it's more efficient for everyone to have the same provider. But at that time daytime long-distance calls cost a dollar a minute (back when you could get a McDonalds meal for a dollar), so maybe we were not in fact better off. It wasn't until the rise of cell phones that marginal long-distance calling costs dropped to zero.
Network-effect arguments apply to all three of the above. Facebook has maybe the strongest argument: how would we interact with Friends who were on other social networks? For Amazon, the strongest network effect is maybe tied to their delivery system: having one delivery provider is more efficient. And Amazon Marketplace "third-party" merchants basically use Amazon for that delivery network. For Google, a single ad network certainly has its advantages in that there's only one provider to place "tracker" code on everyone's web pages, that reads and writes third-party tracking cookies. For search itself, a monopoly isn't quite as necessary.
In recent decades the usual standard in the US courts for antitrust cases was that the actions of a business had to harm consumers. Does Facebook do that? On the one hand, the service is free. But keep in mind that you can theoretically still "overpay" for free services, in the sense that the service might be better if there were competition. Google search has certainly responded to competition.
For Facebook, the pro-monopoly argument is largely the network effect: Google's competing service Google+ went nowhere, despite some innovative features. People want to be where their friends are. That and not wanting to damage the company that has been so successful at creating its platform. That said, however, TikTok is definitely a competitor to Facebook.
For Google, the pro-monopoly argument is more that Google seems to be doing a good job with both advertising and search. But would search be better with a serious competitor? As for advertising, the multi-state antitrust suit against Google suggests that the advertising market is not being well-served by Google, though some of the claims are a bit overstated. Publishers, though, might be getting less revenue than they would in a different environment.
For Amazon, the pro-monopoly argument is basically that Amazon is nowhere near a monopoly when you look at in-person shopping too. But will a time come when Amazon captures a majority of retail sales? They are hugely dominant in online sales. Some have argued that it is really Amazon's delivery practices that are a monopoly: nobody else can afford free shipping. Of course, shipping isn't free: Prime members pay $120/year (if you're not a student). In some sense, having to prepay shipping upfront, like Prime, is inherently anticompetitive; once you sign up with one seller, other online sellers can't compete. Should Amazon have to divest its shipping service, or guarantee open common-carrier access to all other companies?
Breaking Google up probably means spinning off some of its advertising units. For Amazon, there's dividing the whole company, and also spinning off its delivery unit. For Facebook, there's spinning off Instagram (and maybe Whatsapp). (Facebook regards Instagram as essential because their core facebook.com platform is less popular for some age groups.)
Either argue for things to be left as they are, or propose a remedy. Breaking the company up doesn't have to be the only remedy; maybe you can argue that Facebook, etc should simply be subject to a certain set of restrictions or regulations. That is, in order to improve overall competition these companies might lose the freedom to do what they want. An example might be that Google search had to treat all searches equally; they couldn't penalize searches for search terms representing Google competitors. Or maybe a company would simply face heightened scrutiny for any corporate acquisitions.
All three companies clearly provide considerable value to consumers.
As usual, your paper should come to a conclusion: break 'em up, or leave 'em be.