Intellectual Property Rights and Lunar Land Grants

A full suite of property rights may encourage farmers in the sky. Image credit: Del Rey Books.

Recently, the Web (or at least the space-oriented part) has been filled with discussions, defenses, and even some dismissals of a proposal by the Space Settlement Institute called the Space Settlement Prize Act. This proposed law would create a framework for recognizing private ownership claims on the Moon and other celestial bodies. In other words, it would pave the way for private property on the Moon, something many believe the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 (OST) prohibits. Who do we have to thank for this renewed debate? Rand Simberg, aerospace engineer and noted space policy commentator (among other things). Rand champions creation of private property rights in space. In a recent CEI paper on the subject, he points out that property rights are the sine qua non of wealth creation and argues that there is a loophole in the OST which allows private lunar land claims. I, too, am strongly in favor of personal, real, and intellectual property rights in space. Personally, I’d like to retire to my own modest crater overlooking the Sea of Tranquility one day. Jeff Foust and many others have done a great job of capturing the essence of Rand’s arguments so I will spare you my hackneyed attempts to condense the ever-growing conversation. Instead, let’s look at how the United States and other nations have already limited the reach of the Outer Space Treaty via patent law and customary international law. These limitations may provide support for adoption of the Space Settlement Prize Act but may also lessen the need for such an explicit confinement of the OST. Continue reading