Objectivist approach to dealing with a bankrupt company with visionary patents and products that never reorganizes?

Posted by $ jbrenner 3 years, 6 months ago to The Gulch: General
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Another post dealt with the Objectivist ethics of how to deal with abandoned property. I am going to be more specific. A company founded by Chad Mirkin of Northwestern University called NanoInk was way ahead of its time, although not quite as far ahead of its time as Galt's motor. NanoInk developed many tools that should be used now in the nanotech industry. Two days before venture capitalist Ann Lurie told NanoInk to its employees that she was pulling her $150 million initial investment out since she had negligible return on investment, I talked to the person in charge of their NanoProfessor division (no relation to http://www.nanoprofessor.net) named Kirk Barnes. Kirk was scheduled to come talk to my class on the Wednesday two days later in March of 2013 to discuss their dip pen nanolithography capability. A description of this capability is at


I considered buying some of their assets at the bankruptcy sale.


Kirk Barnes came close to re-opening the NanoProfessor division himself and offered me an opportunity to be a partner. We both seriously considered it.

NanoInk's technology was way ahead of its time, but had some problems discussed in


As part of my nanotech lab course for underclassmen, I and one other professor have an end-of-semester ethics activity. One scenario involves role playing both major and minor players in the time just before and after the NanoInk bankruptcy, followed by questions of both participants and audience members regarding the ethical issues of a number of the players. This is my biggest attempt to bring an Objectivist philosophy component to my nanotech minor program.

As it turns out, no part of NanoInk has reorganized, and it is very difficult to find out who has picked up the intellectual property pieces, let alone the equipment.

Please explore the history and product capabilities in the above links plus those within


name = fltech password = brenner

particularly NanoGuardian.htm,

and the app notes within


I downloaded these then publicly available files on the day after the bankruptcy. They were gone two days later.

Please put yourself in the position of Prof. Mirkin, one of his postdocs, one of his past postdocs that ran the company, his then current grad students, their intellectual property person, any one of its employees, its potential competitors, or vultures like me that considered feeding off the carrion. Then outline how you would approach this situation from an Objectivist standpoint.
SOURCE URL: https://www.galtsgulchonline.com/posts/b4c9d471/how-should-an-objectivist-legal-system-deal-with-abandoned-property~unnq4nojjbhy5pdrbjotxnf3xa

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  • Posted by dbhalling 3 years, 6 months ago
    J The goal of bankruptcy is to put useful assets back to work as quickly as possible. This is true of human assets also. Imagine if you were found liable for $100 million debt. If this could not be discharged in bankruptcy, most people (including me) would just quit working. The chances of paying this back are astronomically low and once you did so, you still would not have anything.

    With that in mind, if is unfortunate that this company went bankrupt, but if you can put the IP or human assets back to work, then you are not a vulture but builder. The same is true of potential competitors.

    Perhaps I missed your point. I did not read all the documents, however I did not see why they were relevant to the final question.
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    • Posted by $ 3 years, 6 months ago
      The links only provided a little more additional context. They really didn't change the overall situation. Nonetheless, NanoInk is an excellent case study. Most of NanoInk's people would have the intellectual capacity to be Gulch-worthy. I don't know them personally well enough (except Kirk Barnes) to know whether they are Objectivists or not. My guess is not; while they did start a for-profit business, their default was to go to the NSF and NIH to finance their ideas (as most scientists and engineers now do).

      As for me, I can be a builder, but in that case, I had intriguing choices regarding being a rebuilder, a true vulture (just gobbling up equipment for pennies on the dollar - which I would have done if I knew enough to operate their devices without a manual. There are some pieces of equipment I do know that well, but not theirs.), or neither. Not knowing what the other employees and former investors were going to do made being a rebuilder fairly risky; I didn't know enough about my potential competition to act decisively. Moreover, while I'm wealthy, I am not THAT wealthy. Working through this was an exercise that really tested me in a number of ways.
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      • Posted by dbhalling 3 years, 6 months ago
        It sounds like a cool technology and I am always sad when great inventions cannot get funding. Unfortunately, I could tell you a number of stories where this has happened.
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        • Posted by $ 3 years, 6 months ago
          NanoInk had an almost decade-long track record. They got funding, and lost it, for valid financial reasons. It's a sad story, but not nearly as sad as many others.
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