Commentary

Columbus, the Moon, and Lunar Patents

by jonathan goff

I don’t think this counts as my monthly blog post, mostly because I’m linking to and commenting on someone else’s blog post, but here goes.

Michael Mealling (a fellow Masten Alumni gone entrepreneur) set out this year to do a blog post a day on his Rocketforge.org blog site. I really liked a post of his on debunking some of the myths surrounding the Columbus expedition. It’s a short blog post, but an even shorter summary is that the historical evidence shows that King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella didn’t actually finance the expedition, it was pretty much entirely privately financed. What Ferdinand and Isabella did was grant Columbus a 10 year patent on trade with any of the lands he discovered, and a title of nobility. The patent meant that Columbus got 10% of the gains of any trade with those lands he discovered, made by anyone under Spanish authority for the duration of the patent.

Now, here’s my random thought. I’ve seen lots of creative ideas about how to jumpstart lunar settlement by recognizing property rights of various sorts. Legal precedent from the US and the Soviet Union already pretty much says that if you mine something you can sell it, so that’s not the problem. The problem is that current lunar law makes claiming real estate very legally challenging. There are some creative solutions out there with knowledgeable space lawyers backing them, but there are equally knowledgeable space lawyers who disagree with them. I’m not taking a stand one way or another on their initiative, just saying it isn’t so obviously uncontroversial that it’s sure to succeed.

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