Error Costs & IP Law

30 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2013 Last revised: 2 Oct 2015

Date Written: January 7, 2014


A court in doubt about an ip statute’s scope can err in two ways. It can wrongly narrow the ip right’s reach, or wrongly broaden it. The latter error, however, is worse: A wrongly broadened ip statute effectively creates new property. To correct erroneous broadening, unlike erroneous narrowing, the legislature must thus eliminate a now-established property right. And that is very hard to do. Courts cannot, of course, avoid making at least some mistakes. Courts can, however, prefer the mistakes that are easier, not harder, for the legislature to correct. This essay explores this error-cost-based approach to ip statutes, as well as the more productive judicial-legislative dialogue that the approach promotes. The time is ripe for more effective interbranch dialogue on ip law, for the America Invents Act of 2011 — comprising some of the most significant changes to patent law since the 1952 Patent Act — comes fully into force in March 2013.

Keywords: intellectual property, decision theory, statutory construction

Suggested Citation

Miller, Joseph Scott, Error Costs & IP Law (January 7, 2014). University of Illinois Law Review, 2013; UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-11. Available at SSRN: or

Joseph Scott Miller (Contact Author)

University of Georgia School of Law ( email )

225 Herty Drive
Athens, GA 30602
United States
706-542-5191 (Phone)
706-542-5556 (Fax)

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