Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Retro Garlic: Gates vs. Iron Man

The other day we posted "Robert Gates Is In The House!", for his address taking on, and shooting an arrow across the bow of, the Military-Industrial Complex.

Yesterday, Robert Farley and Davida H. Isaacs, over on The American Prospect, put up an amusing, and informative, post, relating to the colossally-large elephant in the room;

The Stark Reality of Defense Contracting ...A summer blockbuster tackles disputes endemic to the military-industrial complex

In Iron Man 2, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) risks billion-dollar pieces of equipment to impress guests at a birthday party -- a big mistake for a defense contractor. After all, Stark's reckless debauchery provides the perfect pretext for the U.S. government to take away his Iron Man suit. Explosions, tattoos, and Scarlett Johansson notwithstanding, the disputes between Tony Stark and his antagonists revolve around ownership of the rights to the Iron Man technology. Iron Man 2 is the most expensive movie ever made about an intellectual property dispute.


In the United States, inventors are supposed to profit from their creations, as emphasized in the original comics. But Iron Man 2 takes a different tack. While trying to fend off Vanko, Stark is pressured by the U.S. government to give up the secrets of the Iron Man suit. After Stark refuses a senator's demand that he relinquish his body-armor technology, the government forcibly takes it from him, only to turn it over to a competitor that then uses the technology to fulfill its own defense contract. Consciously or no, this echoes the real world; the United States government can take such actions with almost total legal impunity.

These inventors theoretically have their own superpower at their disposal: the Fifth Amendment's "Takings Clause," which requires compensation for government appropriation. But it has one weakness: the military and state secrets privilege, which has been invoked with increasing frequency in the past 25 years. Perhaps most notably, it has been used to prevent suspected terrorists from obtaining access to incriminating information. Less well known is the role it has played in suppressing intellectual-property owners' attempts to recover compensation for government use of their innovations.


Stark didn't need a monetary incentive to develop his technology. And presumably Stark, either individually or through his company, retained sufficient political pull to obtain compensation for that stolen technology without having to rely on the Takings Clause. Of course, he's just a fictional comic book hero. But as audiences watch Senate efforts to persuade Tony Stark to relinquish Iron Man technology to the U.S. Government, they should keep in mind that Stark's greatest power might not be his full-body armor but instead his company's political connections.

Suit up there, Mr. Gates ...

Or, call in the cavalry!

No comments: