Intellectual Property Rights are Natural Rights
World Intellectual Property (IP) Day celebrates the role that strong Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) play in incentivizing innovation, attracting foreign direct investment, and supporting the high income and knowledge-intensive industries that flourish in the world’s most dynamic economies. While few dispute that protection of IPR is good economic policy, it is important to recognize intellectual property’s status as a fundamental natural right.
Freedom State Foundation scholars Randolph May and Seth Cooper recently published a detailed account of how the Founders linked intellectual property protections to natural rights and the social contract underpinning functional governance. In “The Public Contract Basis of Intellectual Property Rights” they trace how from the Federalist Papers to Supreme Court cases this notion has been reaffirmed again and again. It is a simple concept. Inventors create property in both its tangible and intangible forms, and the government has a duty to protect it.
These rights were considered so important to our Founders, that they enshrined them in the U.S. Constitution.
“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and discoveries”
U.S. Constitution Article I, Section 8
It is therefore fitting that a nation highlighting this natural right in one of its founding documents is also the nation that leads all others in its protection, creation and the fruits thereof. U.S. companies and educational institutions file more patent applications each year than their overseas peers, and American innovation underpins the most significant technological advances in the past century. Unfortunately, their success attracts counterfeiters who target U.S. consumers more than others, according to a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report.
May and Cooper remind us that we would not be celebrating IP Day if it were not for effective courts and John Locke. History and classical liberalism deserve an honored place in any proper celebration of World IP Day!