Overview[edit | edit source]

Intellectual property law recognizes that for certain goods, market forces will not necessarily produce the most desirable outcomes from the perspective of society as a whole. These goods will tend to be produced in insufficient quantity or variety because producers are unable to fully realize the gains from investments in creating them.[1] In granting a limited monopoly via copyright or patent, government attempts to compensate for distortions arising from this market imperfection.[2]

The linkage between intellectual property rights and economic benefits to society as a whole has traditionally followed the logic that: 1) intellectual property rights increase innovators' ability to appropriate returns from their intellectual labors; 2) the resulting potential for increased private gains to innovators induces additional innovation; 3) because of increased innovation, additional benefits accrue to society as a whole.[3]The U.S. system of patents and copyrights is intended to strike a balance between holders of intellectual property rights and the public at large. This balance involves benefits and costs on both sides: legal protection for intellectual property imposes costs on a society, as well as benefits. These costs and benefits can be monetary (e.g., increased or decreased costs or royalties), or less tangible (e.g., social consequences of stimulated or stifled technological advances). The specifics of how this balance is maintained — the exact form, scope, and duration of intellectual property rights — may evolve in response to changes in technology, markets, or social values.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Some goods (like information) have the property of non-exclusivity once the good has been produced and publicly distributed, it is impossible (or prohibitively costly) to exclude any individual from benefiting from it, whether or not he or she pays. Furthermore, consumers' individual self-interests provide strong incentives not to pay for the good or to undervalue it, in hopes of getting access as "free riders."
  2. "The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." U.S. Constitution, art. I, §8, cl. 8.
  3. The economic philosophy behind the clause empowering the Congress to grant patents and copyrights is the conviction that encouragement of individual efforts by personal gain is the best way to advance public welfare through the talents of authors and inventors in Science and the useful Arts." Mazer v. Stein, 347 U.S. 201, 219 (1954).

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