Cathy, my only focus here is the claim that IP is justified. Neil's latest articles is not a clear argument in favor, but it seems to rest on the idea that you own any pattern you create. But this is not a libertarian principle and in fact if people owned patterns they created then it would undermine all property in physical things. He implies we would have no innovation without IP--which is clearly untrue. We might have less, but not zero. So then the argument is we need IP to make sure we have more innovation. How do we know the value of that additional innovation is worth the cost of the IP system? How we do know even that higher level of innovation is enough? Some--even libertarians--think it's not so they go even further and support tax subsidized innovation awards to spur even more innovation.
I am a patent lawyer, and a libertarian (and a huge fan of your husband's novels). I used to be pro-patent, but when I searched for a more solid foundation for it, I finally realized I couldn't, and that the reason was I was trying to justify the unjustifiable. Granting rights in ideas really means giving the idea-creator a veto-right over how other people use their own bodies and property. It's simply unjustifiable. You do not own "whatever" you "create"--you own scarce resources for which you or an ancestor in title were the homesteader.
I've explained all this in detail in various works, such as "Intellectual Property and Libertarianism" and "The Case Against IP: A Concise Guide", here http://www.stephankinsella.com/publications/#IP
Jeff Tucker also has a brief reply to Neil up at http://blog.mises.org/13327/l-neith-smith-on-ip/
I can assure you I'm no collectivist and I do not dismiss the value of mental creativity. But after looking at this issue in depth for a long time--from the inside as a patent lawyer, as well--it is very clear to me that granting property rights in things like ideas, patterns, inventions, etc. necessarily undermines and undercuts real property rights. It is based on a confusion that a lot of libertarians have, in part because of their reverence for the American Constitutional scheme, Ayn Rand, and also some somewhat imprecise wordings by Locke--about the ownership of "labor". We have to keep in mind that the whole reason we need property rights is because tangible objects--which we need to use to survive and prosper--are scarce, or rivalrous: that is, only one person may use it. Because of this scarcity, unless there are property rules people will conflict and fight over these things instead of using them peacefully and productively. In a world of nonscarcity--which is hard to imagine--if you have a car and I can just blink my eyes and "copy" it magically have my own car, you still have your own car and I have not harmed you. There would be no need for theft prohibitions or property ownership in such a world. We ban theft in reality, because if I take your car you no longer have your own car.
Now it is true that ideas are crucial, but the role they play in action is not as scarce means (like appropriated scarce objects are--land, sticks, food, etc.), but as a guide to action. We use information at our disposal to decide what actions to take, with available (scarce) means. Unlike scarce resources, the information we rely on to guide our actions does not need to be economized or owned, since it is not scarce. You and I can each back our own cakes, as long as we each own our own equipment and ingredients. I can't use the egg you are going to use; you need to own your egg and I mine, and then we can make our cakes. But we can each follow the same recipe. My having and using it does not prevent you from having and using it. Thus there is no need to have property rules in it; moreover, assigning property rules in the recipe is always enforced with physical force, against physical things in the real world (say, you would use your copyright in the recipe to take some of my money for damages, or to compel me not to use my body or property in certain ways). Because you have to enforce it in the physical world, with physical force, against physical property and/or bodies, assigning property rights in information or ideas always translates to some kind of property assigning in physical property--but it's in property that is already owned. So that means my property ownership in my body or my equipment is now partially assigned to you (your "veto" rights over how I use it), which is theft, or a transfer of property rights from me to you.
We have to realize that it is a *good thing* that ideas are infinitely reproducible (nonscarce). This allows the gradual accumulation of knowledge and technology; learning is a good thing. The transmission and spread of ideas is a good thing. IP tries to force ideas to be scarce resources, by imposing artificial scarcity. It tries to make ideas more like tangible objects, which are unfortunately scarce. We should be doing the opposite: be glad that ideas, at least, are nonscarce and reproducible (thus allowing learning and progress), and support the free market which makes scarce objects ever more abundant and cheaper (less scarce). We want to make scarce things (physical goods) more plentiful, and to keep ideas nonscarce. Learning is good. Imitation is good. The market thrives on emulation and the spread of information, ideas, knowledge.