Scholarship

An Empirical Evaluation of the Trademark Modernization Act at Houston/IPIL Santa Fe

This weekend I presented an updated empirical analysis of Trademark Modernization Act expungement and reexamination proceedings at the Annual University of Houston Institute for Intellectual Property and Information Law National Conference in Santa Fe. Many thanks to Professor Greg Vetter for the invitation, and to my co-presenters and other participants for their feedback. The final version of my findings will be published this fall in the Houston Law Review. In the meantime, here is the slide deck from my presentation, with some of the highlights from the paper.

A Heap of IP at Santa Clara (WIPIP 2024)

Today I presented my work in progress, “A Heap of IP: Vagueness in the Delineation of Intellectual Property Rights,” at the Works-in-Progress in Intellectual Property (WIPIP) Conference at Santa Clara University School of Law. This project seeks to connect philosophical literature on vagueness with the intellectual property law literature on claiming. Slides below; comments welcome.

Presentation: Knowledge as a Resource at WIPIP 2023

This past weekend at the 20th Annual Works in Progress in Intellectual Property Colloquium (WIPIP 2023) at Suffolk University in Boston, I presented yet another chunk of my long-running book project, Valuing Progress: A Pluralist Account of Knowledge Governance. This piece, Knowledge as a Resource, examines those characteristics of knowledge–particularly nonrivalrousness–that distinguish knowledge from other goods that are subject to evaluation under the criteria of distributive justice. Because knowledge can be shared without depriving the sharer of anything, norms of distributive justice that have developed in the context of rivalrous goods–norms such as reciprocity–generate paradoxes when we try to apply them to knowledge. This requires us to choose among competing and contestable values underlying and justifying those norms. With respect to reciprocity, for example, it requires us to decide whether reciprocity is grounded in the value of compensation for burdens borne or in the value of gratitude for benefits received. While the distinction between these two justifications can often be ignored for rivalrous goods–particularly where institutions like property rights and markets limit exchange to goods over which parties agree as to their value–it cannot be ignored for knowledge: we must choose one at the expense of the other. The inevitability of such choices among competing values is the overarching theme of the book.

Slides for Knowledge as a Resource can be found here:

New and Improved: The Canada Trademarks Dataset 2.0

Today I released a revised and updated version of the Canada Trademarks Dataset (v.2.0): an open-access, individual-application-level dataset including records of all applications for registered trademarks in Canada since approximately 1980, and of many preserved applications and registrations dating back to the beginning of Canada’s trademark registry in 1865, totaling over 1.9 million application records.

The original dataset, released on March 2, 2021 and described in my article in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, was constructed from the historical trademark applications backfile of the Canada Intellectual Property Office, current through October 4, 2019, and comprising 1.6 million application records. The revised dataset represents a substantial advancement over this original dataset. In particular, I have rewritten the code used to construct the dataset, which will now build and maintain a mySQL database as a local repository of the dataset’s contents. This local database can be periodically updated and exported to .csv and/or .dta files as users see fit, using the python scripts accompanying the dataset release. Interested users can thus keep their installation of the dataset current with weekly updates from the Canada Intellectual Property Office. The .csv, .dta, and .sql files published in the new release include these weekly updates since the closing date of the historical backfile, and are current through January 24, 2023.

Full details are available at the Version 2.0 release page on Zenodo.

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.

The Canada Trademarks Dataset

I’m happy to announce the publication (on open-access terms) of a new dataset I’ve been constructing over the past few months. The Canada Trademarks Dataset is now available for download on Zenodo, and a pre-publication draft of the paper describing it (forthcoming in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies) is available on SSRN.

As I’m not the first to point out, doing any productive scholarly work during the pandemic has been hard, especially while caring for two young kids and teaching a combination of hastily-designed remote classes and in-person classes under disruptive public health restrictions. I have neglected other, more theoretical projects during the past year and a half because I simply could not find the sustained time for contemplation and working out of big, complex problems that such projects require. But building a dataset like this one is not a big complex problem so much as a thousand tiny puzzles, each of which can be worked out in a relatively short burst of effort. In other words, it was exactly the kind of project to take on when you could never be assured of having more than a 20 minute stretch of uninterrupted time to work. I’m very grateful to JELS for publishing the fruits of these fleeting windows of productivity.

More generally, the experience of having to prioritize certain research projects over others in the face of external constraints has made me grateful that I can count myself among the foxes rather than the hedgehogs of the legal academy. Methodological and ideological omnivorousness (or, perhaps, promiscuity) may not be the best way to make a big name for yourself as a scholar–to win followers and allies, to become the “go-to” person on a particular area of expertise, or to draw the attention of rivals and generate productive controversy. But it does help smooth out the peaks and troughs of professional life for those of us who just want to keep pushing our stone uphill using what skills we possess, hopeful that in the process we will leave behind knowledge from which others may benefit. That’s always been my preferred view of what I do for a living anyway: Il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Now In Print: Legal Sets

2019-07-25 12.20.52Published Version Available Here

Tenure has its privileges.

Three years ago, I posted on this site that I had spent the year prior working up a lengthy, dense draft of a deeply theoretical piece that had grown out of my noodling over a relatively small doctrinal question in trademark law. This draft was well outside of my usual wheelhouse: technical, philosophical, and abstract. It marked the beginning of what has now become a sharp pivot in my scholarly career, into more self-consciously philosophical investigations of the rules we impose on the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

Initially journals reacted coolly–which I can’t fault them for; the piece is long by law review standards and the framework is more technical and less accessible than standard law review fare. I took some time to get feedback from more accomplished legal theorists than myself, I revised the draft, and ultimately it found a home at the Cardozo Law Review, whose student editors worked hard to improve the piece and have now published Legal Sets in their June 2019 issue (which includes a number of other interesting pieces). All told, that means this project took four years to move from the question that first got me working on it to a final, published article. I am deeply cognizant of the tremendous privilege I enjoy in being able to earn a living by dedicating such a significant chunk of my life to this type of work, and I hope I’m making good on that privilege.

This is the kind of work–and the kind of departure from familiar subjects and methods–that I never would have attempted pre-tenure. The risk of failure was great; the opportunity costs were high, and the need to produce measurable outputs to get me through the next gate on my career path was too pressing. But you know, at the risk of tooting my own horn, I think this article is pretty good, and despite its theoretical cast I think it makes a real contribution to a sounder understanding of how law works in practice. So I come away from the experience of writing this piece with a renewed gratitude for the privilege of academic freedom and job security, and a renewed sense that the general absence of such freedom and security from our economy (outside of the shrinking rarefied precincts of the tenure-track academy) is almost surely holding our society back from its full potential.

 

New Draft: Jefferson’s Taper

Read Jefferson’s Taper on SSRN

A little less than a year ago, I made a startling discovery about Thomas Jefferson’s famous observation on the nature of ideas, which (he argued) spread like fire from one person to the next without diminishing the possession of anyone who shares them. As I discovered, Jefferson copied this metaphor from a nearly identical passage in Cicero’s De Officiis–a work of philosophy that was once one of the world’s most widely-read books, but which today few people have even heard of.  As I mined out the implications of Jefferson’s unattributed borrowing, I came to conclude that we have been misreading him for almost a hundred years. Rather than making a proto-utilitarian argument in favor of a limited system of patent rights, Jefferson was instead making a natural law argument–exactly the type of argument that his modern-day detractors rely on to support their policy prescriptions regarding the scope of intellectual property rights. And in fact, gaming out the implications of Jefferson’s natural law argument leads to the conclusion that knowledge creators may actually have some obligations to share their knowledge, rooted in a particular pre-Enlightenment conception of natural law and distributive justice.

Doing the work of fleshing out these implications required me to immerse myself in some old and (to me) unfamiliar philosophical sources for much of the past year. The result is the most “scholarly” work of scholarship I think I’ve ever produced: Jefferson’s Taper, now in draft on SSRN, and hopefully coming soon to a law review near you. This was a ton of fun to research and write; I think it is going to surprise a fair number of people. Comments, as always, are most welcome.

New Draft: Law and Philosophy in IP

I’ve just posted a draft of a new paper to SSRN on law and philosophy scholarship in intellectual property. It is my contribution to a forthcoming handbook from Oxford University Press, edited by Irene Calboli and Lillà Montagnani, on methodologies in IP research. Here’s the abstract:

Intellectual property (IP) law and philosophy is an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship that applies insights and methods from philosophy to the legal, normative, theoretical, political, and empirical questions presented by the project of organizing and regulating the creation and dissemination of knowledge, technology, and culture. In this chapter, I outline four types of IP-law-and-philosophy scholarship, focusing specifically on the discipline of analytic philosophy (with appropriate caveats about the coherence of that discipline). These modes of scholarship can be categorized as (1) the jurisprudence of the IP system, (2) philosophical analysis of IP law, (3) applied philosophy in IP, and (4) normative theory of IP. Category (4) is obviously a special case of category (3), focusing specifically on applications of moral philosophy. Within each category, I provide illustrative examples of past scholarship and suggestions for further research.

As always, comments are welcome.

Jefferson’s Taper at IPSC 2018 (Berkeley)

In researching my in-progress monograph on value pluralism in knowledge governance, I made a fascinating discovery about the history of ideas of American intellectual property law. That discovery is now the basis of an article-length project, which I am presenting today at the annual Intellectual Property Scholars Conference, hosted this year at UC Berkeley. The long title is “Jefferson’s Taper and Cicero’s Lumen: A Genealogy of Intellectual Property’s Distributive Ethos,” but I’ve taken to referring to it by the shorthand “Jefferson’s Taper.” Here’s the abstract:

This Article reports a new discovery concerning the intellectual genealogy of one of American intellectual property law’s most important texts. The text is Thomas Jefferson’s 1813 letter to Isaac McPherson regarding the absence of a natural right to property in inventions, metaphorically illustrated by a “taper” that spreads light from one person to another without diminishing the light at its source. I demonstrate that Thomas Jefferson directly copied this Parable of the Taper from a nearly identical parable in Cicero’s De Officiis, and I show how this borrowing situates Jefferson’s thoughts on intellectual property firmly within a natural law tradition that others have cited as inconsistent with Jefferson’s views. I further demonstrate how that natural law tradition rests on a classical, pre-Enlightenment notion of distributive justice in which distribution of resources is a matter of private beneficence guided by a principle of proportionality to the merit of the recipient. I then review the ways that notion differs from the modern, post-Enlightenment notion of distributive justice as a collective social obligation that proceeds from an initial assumption of human equality. Jefferson’s lifetime correlates with a historical pivot in the intellectual history of the West from the classical notion to the modern notion, and I argue that his invocation and interpretation of the Parable of the Taper reflect this mixing of traditions. Finally, I discuss the implications of both theories of distributive justice for the law and policy of knowledge governance—including but not limited to intellectual property law—and propose that the debate between classical and modern distributivists is more central to policy design than the familiar debate between utilitarians and Lockeans.

Slides for the presentation are available here.