Continuing the project that began with the publication in September 2015 of our book, “The Constitutional Foundations of Intellectual Property – A Natural Rights Perspective,” we are continuing our exploration of foundational principles of intellectual property through an ongoing series of papers. The most recent, “Liberty of Contract and the Free Market Foundations of Intellectual Property,” was published on July 29.

This is an excerpt from the “Introduction and Summary” of the new paper:

“The value of copyrights and patent rights is secured and maximized through market exchanges – both outright sales of exclusive rights and through licensing agreements. It is often the case that creative artists or inventors can maximize their economic returns by assigning their rights to more highly capitalized entrepreneurs or commercial enterprises that may be better situated to use, reproduce, or sell the creative works or inventions. Meanwhile, by all estimates patent licensing agreements generate well over a hundred billion dollars annually for American enterprises. And licensing of music, movies, and other copyrighted works through digital media technologies collectively generates billions of dollars each year.

In considering the astonishing economic value of intellectual property and its future potential in the digital age, we need to be mindful of the free market foundations of intellectual property rights in the United States. And in considering the importance of market exchanges and licensing agreements involving intellectual property as drivers of economic growth and innovation, we need to be mindful that liberty of contract is an indispensable component of the free market foundations of intellectual property rights.

Specifically, there is a close connection between American constitutionalism and the free market enterprise system. To be sure, the U.S. Constitution does not formally institute capitalism as the nation’s economic system. However, the Constitution contains several provisions particularly favorable to free market enterprise. Just as significantly, legal and policy developments of the 19th and early 20th centuries built upon the Constitution’s entrepreneurial, market-friendly foundation. 

This paper considers intellectual property in the context of American constitutionalism and the emergence of free market capitalism and, more particularly, the role played by liberty of contract protected by the Constitution. It focuses on the interstate commercial marketplace and the U.S. copyright and patent systems as they developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Building on the Constitution’s framework and the work of the First Congress, the developments of the first several decades that followed established intellectual property as a form of exchangeable capital in a competitive interstate commercial marketplace. Although often overlooked, the protections accorded to copyrights and patent rights proved particularly conducive to free market economics, and they performed an important role in advancing art and innovation in the United States during the first 150 years under the Constitution.”

There’s much more by way of explanation in the paper, along with the sources upon which we rely in support of our contentions. We hope that the brief excerpt above will entice you to take a look at the entire paper. And for further reading, perhaps even to buy our Constitutional Foundations of Intellectual Property book.