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Itellectual Property - General Theories

Itellectual Property - General Theories



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Published by: legalmatters on Aug 11, 2007
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Peter S. Menell
Professor of Law and Co-Director  Berkeley Center for Law and TechnologyUniversity of California at Berkeley
© Copyright 1999 Peter S. Menell
This chapter surveys and synthesizes the deepening and widening theoreticallandscape of intellectual property. Not surprisingly, the principalphilosophical theory applied to the protection of utilitarian works - that is,technological inventions - has been utilitarianism. Utilitarian theoristsgenerally endorse the creation of intellectual property rights as anappropriate means to foster innovation. Non-utilitarian theorists emphasizecreators’ moral rights to control their work. Many of these scholars drawupon multiple philosophical strands in constructing their analyses.
 JEL classification:
Copyrights, Patents, Utilitarianism
1. Introduction
The theory of intellectual property has not, until recently, attracted muchphilosophical interest or been the subject of deep controversy. Utilitariantheorists generally endorsed the creation of intellectual property rights as anappropriate means to foster innovation, subject to the caveat that such rightsare limited in duration so as to balance the social welfare loss of monopolyexploitation. Non-utilitarian theorists emphasized creators’ moral rights tocontrol their work. With the increasing importance of intellectual propertyin society and the development of particular new technologies, most notablydigital technology and the decoding of genetic structure, the theory of intellectual property has attracted heightened interest. Economists andpolicy analysts have greatly enriched our understanding of the complexrelationship between intellectual property protection and innovation anddiffusion of technological advances. Non-utilitarian theories of intellectualproperty have proliferated in recent years, as philosophers and legal scholarshave applied traditional and novel philosophical perspectives to the realm of intellectual property. This article surveys and synthesizes the deepening andwidening theoretical landscape of intellectual property. While much of the
 Intellectual Property: General Theories
1600discussion transcends the law of any particular nation, the statutory anddoctrinal examples are drawn principally from the particularities of theUnites States intellectual property regimes.
A. Utilitarian/Economic Theories of Intellectual Property
Not surprisingly, the principal philosophical theory applied to the protectionof utilitarian works - that is, technological inventions - has beenutilitarianism (Merges, et al., 1997, pp. 135-136 hereinafter cited as MMLJ;Machlup, 1958). The social value of utilitarian works lies principally if notexclusively in their ability to perform tasks (for example, a better mousetrap)or satisfy desires more effectively or at lower costs. It is logical, therefore,that society would seek to protect such works within a governance regimethat itself is based upon utilitarian precepts. Furthermore, inventions - newprocesses, machines, manufactures, or compositions of matter - unlikeartistic or literary expression do not generally implicate personal interests of the creator. (For a discussion of the application of non-utilitarian theories topatent law, see Oddi, 1996, pp. 274-277, discussing reward-based andnatural law theories; Becker, 1993, noting intuitive appeal of entitlement-based arguments.) The United States Constitution expressly conditions thegrant of power to Congress to create patent and copyright laws upon autilitarian foundation: ‘to Promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts’.Economic theory, a particular instantiation of utilitarianism, has providedthe principal framework for analyzing intellectual property.In addition, the utilitarian perspective has relevance to other forms of intellectual property. Trade secret law often protects utilitarian works(MMLJ, 1997, pp. 34-36; Scheppele, 1988). Trademark law is principallyconcerned with ensuring that consumers are not misled in the marketplaceand hence is particularly amenable to economic analysis (Economides,1988). Even copyright law, which implicates a broader array of personalinterests of the creator than patent law, may benefit from the application of the utilitarian framework to the extent that society seeks the production anddiffusion of literary and artistic works. Hadfield (1992) provides a thoroughhistorical survey of economic theories of copyright; see also Goldstein (1995,ch. 5) and Plant (1934b). The utilitarian framework has been particularlycentral to the development of copyright law in the United States. TheCongressional Committee reporting on the 1909 Copyright Act stated: ‘Theenactment of copyright legislation by Congress under the terms of theConstitution is not based upon any natural right that the author has in hiswritings, ... but upon the ground that the welfare of the public will be served... by securing to authors for limited periods the exclusive rights to their
 Intellectual Property: General Theories
131writings’. (H.R. Rep. No. 2222, 60th Cong., 2nd Sess. 7, 1909. See also
 Mazer v. Stein
, 347 U.S. 201, 219, 1954; MMLJ, 1997, pp. 326-328).
2. Historical Background
Utilitarian theories of intellectual property developed and evolved in asymbiotic relationship with the evolution of the modern state: from theformation and maturation of the mercantilist nation-states through theIndustrial Revolution to the rise of the modern capitalist economy. Mostearly scholars focused upon what Merges (1995b) calls the ‘GrandQuestion’: whether state-created intellectual property rights should exist atall. More recently, attention has shifted toward the design of intellectualproperty rules and institutions.Intellectual property rights emerged during the early mercantilist periodas a means for nation-states to unify and increase their power and wealththrough the development of manufactures and the establishment of foreigntrading monopolies. The term patent, derived from the Latin
(to beopen), refers to an open letter of privilege from the government to practicean art (MMLJ, 1997, p. 122). The Venetian Senate enacted the first patentstatute in 1474 providing the maker of any ‘new and ingenious device ...reduced to perfection so that it can be used and operated’ an exclusivelicense of 10 years to practice the invention. Other nations followed suit andthe granting of limited monopolies for inventions, and later to publishersand authors of literary works, became the dominant means of promotinginnovation and literature (Hadfield, 1992; Merges, 1995b;
MMLJ, 1997).The philosophy of intellectual property developed in response to the use of monopoly power to spur innovation. Adam Smith (1776, pp. 277-278),while generally critical of monopoly power as detrimental to the operation of the ‘invisible hand’, nonetheless justified the need for limited monopolies topromote innovation and commerce requiring substantial up-frontinvestments and risk. Jeremy Bentham (1839, p. 71) went beyond this justification for intellectual property rights, providing a clear explication of the differential fixed costs borne by innovators and imitators:
[T]hat which one man has invented, all the world can imitate. Without theassistance of the laws, the inventor would almost always be driven out of themarket by his rival, who finding himself, without any expense, in possession of adiscovery which has cost the inventor much time and expense, would be able todeprive him of all his deserved advantages, by selling at a lower price.

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