Our technology-based, post- industrial society is dependent on creativity and innovation to drive advances in long-term economic and societal well-being. These advances are heavily influenced by legal structures that provide incentives for innovation. Intellectual property rights are a central part of these incentives and, until recently, protecting intellectual property was considered to be a cornerstone of innovation.
Yet this digital age has seen an extreme expansion of such protections in the form of patents, copyrights and trademarks. Should this expansion continue or is a new understanding of intellectual property needed? It is important to look at the fundamental reasoning behind intellectual property, to understand the role that free markets play in innovation and to form new perspectives to challenge the prevailing view of intellectual-property protection. Such studies can provide insight into how well positioned our society is to take advantage of the technological challenges of the future.
The Western system for protecting ideas, now called intellectual property, arose in the second half of the nineteenth century and is based on some independent concepts. The view from continental Europe is based on the rights of the individual, whereas the United States provides a more utilitarian view of intellectual property as a tradable commodity, anchored in the Constitution of the United States of America1.
Although systems for protecting intellectual property have been in place for some time, empirical research on its effects is a much younger field.