This chapter provides a history of intellectual property and an overview of the U.S. intellectual property system. It discusses patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and ownership of research data. It also examines some key pieces of intellectual property legislation, such as the Bayh-Dole Act, and intellectual property cases, such as Diamond v. Chakrabarty. And it discusses the moral and political foundations of intellectual property as well as some ethical controversies, such as patents on biological materials.
Note: Nothing in this chapter should be taken as a legal advice. The authors are not attorneys. Engaging an intellectual property attorney is recommended in the event of contemplating issues related to a patents, copyrights, or trademarks.
When most people think of their property, they imagine their house, their land, their car, their book collection—something that they can touch, see, feel, hear, smell, or taste. Many of the property rights that people have pertain to tangible objects located in time and space. But people also claim to own things that are not located in any particular time or space, such as a song, a poem, computer software, a play, a formula, or an invention. These kinds of intangible things that we claim to own are known as intellectual property (Foster and Shook 1993). In general, property rights are collections of rights to control some thing, such as a house. Someone who owns a house has a right to sell, rent, modify, paint, use, or tear down the house. People who have intellectual property have rights to control intangible objects that are products of human intellect (Garner 1999). For instance, if you have a copyright on a play, you are granted the right to prevent other people from performing the play without your permission. You also have the right to sell your copyright on the play.
Modern property right laws have their basis in Roman laws, which influenced the development of legal systems in Europe and the United States. Nations recognized property before the advent of the Roman Empire—Jewish laws dating to the time of Moses address property issues, for example—but the Romans developed what was at that time the world's most comprehensive and precise legal system. The U.S. Constitution draws heavily on the property rights theories of the eighteenth-century English philosopher John Locke.
Although the Western world has recognized property for thousands of years, intellectual property is a more recent development. While ancient Greek and Roman authors and inventors were concerned about receiving proper credit for their discoveries, they did not have intellectual property laws. Although the origins of patents are obscure, some of the world's first patents