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December 14, 2004

Patents, Pt. 2

Last week I posted a brief rumination on the human and economic scales for weighing patent law. For anyone interested in expert opinion on patent law (although examined primarily on economic grounds), the Becker-Posner Blog for December 12 is a good start, especially Posner's contribution. Judge Posner has long been an important voice in intellectual property, arguing in scholarly and mass venues that we should balance proprietors' rights in copy with users' ever-shrinking fair use. Here he is in the 18 May 2003 New York Newsday (the piece is apparently no longer online):

Confusion of plagiarism with theft is one reason plagiarism engenders indignation; another is a confusion of it with copyright infringement. Wholesale copying of copyrighted material is an infringement of a property right, and legal remedies are available to the copyright holder. But the copying of brief passages, even from copyrighted materials, is permissible under the doctrine of 'fair use,' while wholesale copying from material that is in the public domain—material that never was copyrighted, or on which the copyright has expired—presents no copyright issue at all.

Fortunately, Posner's philosophy carries into his views on patent law: ". . . I am skeptical about the length of the patent term for pharmaceuticals." Unfortunately, he bases this argument entirely in economics. His work on plagiarism and intellectual property is also economically based, but it takes into account not only whether economic injury is inflicted on a proprietary author, but also whether injury to learning is inflicted when students and professors plagiarize. His blog entry on patent law, however, does not consider whether injury to life expectancy is inflicted by overzealous extensions of patent rights.

Posted by senioritis at December 14, 2004 08:46 PM


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