A private individual, company or governmental body claims
ownership of a particular set of numbers, maybe all real,
imaginary and complex numbers for a start, and asks for
royalties when they are used. For example, Elizabeth II or
BBC Two use those numbers without permission. Someone
could
claim ownership to them and demand a payment
each time they're used, or they could maybe squat a
number and wait for someone to use it, then sue them for
performance rights. Certain numbers would be hot
properties, for instance round numbers, lower integers and
pi. Other numbers might appear less useful at first, but
become more valuable if, for example, a new physical
constant was discovered. Rights to use these numbers are
then floated on a stock market style bidding system to
determine a reasonable market rate. The number
representing that market rate would also of course be
available on the open market for bids.

In order for a bank to send you a statement, it would have
to pay the owner of the number representing the funds in
your account a certain sum. If you wanted to have a
'phone number, that would also cost a certain amount.
Each number on a till receipt would become the joint
property of the customer and the shop and you could split
the cost. Then, of course, the number representing that
cost would also only be usable for a fee. The number
representing that fee would again only be usable for a fee.
And so on. The number of numbers this produced would
also be considered the property of a particular person and
they would have to be paid for that. That sum would again
be worth something. This would continue ad infinitum.

An international organisation would be established to keep
track of the use of all numbers and issue appropriate bills,
moving money around between the appropriate consumers
and owners. until all was satisfied. It would include EFT
surveillance, a police force, CCTV cameras to keep track of
the numbers being used and so on. It would be staffed
entirely by volunteers because of the difficulties in paying
people specific wages and the possibilities of corruption
owing to its ownership of the means of surveillance. For
similar reasons, the staff would be exempt from making
payments and forbidden from using numbers in their
everyday lives. They would carry a special card with an
unknown number of sides which was a reserved colour
illegal for anyone else to use under international law which
would allow them access to an indeterminate number of
goods and services.

After all that, colours could then undergo the same
process.

//Seems to me there are only ten digits. All other numbers are comprised of those.// that depends on what you call a number... for example: which combination of the digits from zero to ten is the solution to the square root of a negative number composed?

Numbers are not digits, otherwise you could get round it by simply spelling them out or using a different number base. Numbers are most probably "out there" in practical terms.

Lots of other things are also "out there". Examples are radio frequencies, minerals, areas of land and genomes.

So [Ian], in that case all ideas should come ready-patented by other people, and there should be a science of forms which maps all possible ideas for whose areas people could claim title.

What about imaginary numbers ? What about the cube roots of unity ?

We are not worried by this idea. Numerical designations are good, and we have prior rights on lots of them. In fact, we spy a nice little earner here .... [+]

Absolutely first class, nineteenthly. (Just to check, are ordinal numbers included also?)

I have considered the application of capitalism to natural phenomenon before both on the lavatory and the halfbakery and, having now read this fine idea, I think it necessary to suggest a refinement. In much the same way that powerful European nations landgrabbed much of the dark continent, at the expense of not only the native but smaller competitor nations such Switzerland, banks, being yet rich and devious organisations would doubtless concoct a similar numbergrab, so as to squat upon as much numerical capital as they can muster (with, nae doot, an network of inter-bank licences for the use of key numbers developing), leaving Mr and Mrs Prospective Capitalist, for want of a better word, fucked. Perhaps then the system should be limited to one number per legal person, which allows conglomerates to have a few bites at the cherry but leaves the general public a chance.

OK, i like the idea of allocating numbers, maybe as a sort of birthright, and i did think about ordinals but decided they could be thrown in as a freebie with cardinals. In fact, maybe names should be replaced by numbers. Adverbials on the other hand...

Not sure about raising to powers, though it could be good. Also, i was indeed thinking that imaginary numbers and the like should be included, so that maybe companies could draw their logos on the complex number plane. So, maybe an area of numbers from i to twenty-five times i and across for a couple of hundred could then have the Coca-cola logo on it, and so on.

Maybe divide up the number line into tranches which the organisation could sell off to different bidders, so Virgin runs the first thousand or so, Carlton another few hundred after that and so on. But people would bemoan the fact that all the toilets are blocked in the five hundreds and that they don't like the silly way the weather forecast is presented at nineteen hundred.

That's an interesting question. Anything which uses an approximation of pi to a particular number of decimal or other places could be a hot property, so there'd be a cluster of expensive numbers around pi but pi itself might turn out to be worth relatively little because it's not practical. By extension, people could also try to claim they were really using a different number by a quadrillionth than the one which was practical. So for example, the film "Nine and a Half Weeks" could be renamed "Nine and five hundred thousand quadrillion and one quintillionth Weeks".

It would also mean that only pure mathematics would need to use the pure numbers, and since they had no application, they'd actually be cheap.

Yes, well, there may be problems where integers are inevitable, and there's a question of how far one's property might extend. This problem is also known as calculus.

The link to domain-names is an extremely pertinent one - anything can be represented as a number (albeit a long one) and in computing, at some level, everything *is* represented as a number - In the case of domain-name mapping, where a person registers and pays for the global mapping of one number (representation of a domain name) to another (representation of an ip address) and you have a pure example of this idea already in practice. Albeit within the limited scope of having your number mappings logged in the caches of global routers.

The problem I see is in the open scope of this idea - show me a thing, and I'll show you an algorithm that links that thing to my chosen number, and bill you accordingly. e.g. Your thing might be "Avocado" my number might be 23423423 and I might happen to maintain a list of things, ordered in such a way that "Avocado" sits at position 23423423 (some of my list might be populated with placeholder items, but that's not your problem)

Similarly, if you wanted to send out a bank statement with my current balance of 23423423 on it, but didn't want to pay my royalty fees, they might point out that they happen to own number 98324289343788974 and that they maintain a list of numbers, and 23423423 just happens to be 98324289343788974th on their list, and send me a bill. I could then register number 89732489238942389423423423 and send a further bill due to the fact that I maintain a list of numbers, of which, 98324289343788974 appears in the 89732489238942389423423423th position. And so it goes on, until all the trees have been chopped down to produce increasingly recursive demands on (increasingly thinning) headed notepaper and we all die out due to that will later become known as the Cretinous–Judiciary Extinction event.

This sortof reminds me of licensed radio spectrum. I'm sure it
sounded good back when we all used shortwave radios to get
our news and entertainment, and the BBC owned the
universe, but these days the FCC auctioning off radio
spectrum is sortof like me selling moon real-estate or
number licenses.

[bobofthefuture] - brilliant idea, have a free beer!

[nineteenthly] - If numbers are fair-game, I wonder whether it's possible to register ownership rights on other Platonic Forms. I'd take a few of the geometric primitives (cubes and cuboids would come in handy in most cities) and maybe try and grab a couple of conceptual forms such as "transaction" and "communication", charging royalties where appropriate. Oh, and and I'm bagsying "royalties" as well, while I'm at it.