Private Goods: an Introduction to Intellectual Property

Instructor: Jenny Logan
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Intellectual property law creates and defines one of the most important sources of capital in contemporary life. As Amy Kapczynsky puts it, “Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are the deeds to the property of the informational age.” But what exactly do we mean by intellectual property? How did legal theories of property as natural rights give way to our modern system of patents and copyrights, which some scholars have referred to as “the new enclosures”? When ideas become legal “things,” owning them confers the right to leverage huge settlements, destroy rival companies, exclude and punish others, and otherwise control the public use of intangibles. The ownership of intellectual property has far-reaching, concrete implications for everything from green development in the Global South to vaccine apartheid the world over. What are the existing laws and structures that create and protect IP? What might a world without our current system of intellectual property look like, how might we get there, and why might this be necessary to our common flourishing and survival? 

In this course we will explore the history and development of intellectual property law within the English, US, and international legal traditions. Beginning with feudal title, Lockean theories of ownership and possession, and the uses of law to enclose land for the extraction of value, we will work our way through early modern instruments and theories of property to our modern technologies of property such as patents, trademarks, copyrights, and trade secrets, asking: how does intellectual property law determine our access to (and the development of) things that matter critically to our politics, society, and our individual life chances? Looking to case studies—ranging from the ownership of both digital and genetic code to international trade agreements—we will consider what distinguishes a “bundle of rights” from a “thing,” what makes a legal assemblage, and the legal doctrine that managed to conjure “property in thin air.” Readings will be drawn from a wide range of scholarship, law, and legal opinion, including works by John Locke, Margaret Davies, Amy Kapczynsky, William Fisher, Jesse Goldstein, Ruth Okediji, Kevin Gray, and Lawrence Lessig, among others. 

Course Schedule

Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
September 15 — October 06, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open