Reciprocity Failures at IPSC 2022


Earlier this month at the annual Intellectual Property Scholars Conference, I presented a piece of my long-running book project, Valuing Progress. This piece deals with what I call Reciprocity Failures. Slides can be found here.

This part of the project is a window into its theoretical heart: the basic idea that when designing a legal or policy regime to govern the production and dissemination of new knowledge, we cannot have all the things we want. We have to choose, and accept that the choice will inevitably leave us disappointed in some ways. In the past, IP scholars have identified one such choice as a tradeoff between efficiency and fairness, or perhaps between incentives and access. But the challenges of value pluralism–the idea that values are plural and incommensurate–run deeper, to the very concept of fairness (or justice) itself. We may want to make sure that knowledge creators enjoy adequate material support in exchange for the knowledge they provide, and we may want to make sure that those who benefit from new knowledge contribute adequate resources to support its production, and we may want to make sure that those who contribute resources to the cause of knowledge production derive an adequate benefit therefrom. We may want to ensure that material support for knowledge creators is allocated based on desert rather than luck, and that access to new knowledge is not denied for arbitrary reasons. But even though all these goals may be implicated in our notions of fairness, we cannot serve them all at once. In pursuing any one of these diverse fairness-based values, we inevitably discard one or more others. This is a particular problem for knowledge governance regimes, because knowledge is both durable and cumulative–those who contribute to its production and those who enjoy its benefits may be separated by borders, or by culture, or even by lifetimes.

Valuing Progress got its start at IPSC several years ago when I thought it was just going to be an article. It has grown quite a bit since then, and parenting during the pandemic kept me from working on it much over the past few years. It feels really good to be flexing these muscles again after so long.