Intellectual Property and the End of Work
56 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2017 Last revised: 30 Aug 2018
Date Written: July 14, 2018
The conventional wisdom is that intellectual property (IP) is good for jobs. Indeed, according to legislators and the U.S. patent office, IP “creates jobs.” But this is not quite right. The purpose of IP is to increase the amount of innovation in the economy. Yet a significant subset of the innovations protected by IP, from self-service kiosks to self-driving cars, are in fact labor-saving. They reduce the amount of human labor required to complete a task. Therefore, to the extent IP is successful at incentivizing innovation, IP actually contributes to job loss. More precisely, IP contributes to what this article terms technological un/employment: job loss, and job creation, resulting from technological change. Commentators concerned about the “end of work” have suggested using taxation to slow down the pace of automation and provide aid to displaced workers. But this article yields another surprising insight: IP law itself could be designed to effectuate similar goals, either alone or in coordination with the tax system. For example, rather than taxing businesses that employ robots, legislators could deny patents on robots, or tax IP owners and use the proceeds to fund social programs like a universal basic income. IP’s relationship to technological un/employment, and the implications for public policy, seem obvious in hindsight. Yet the connection has been overlooked. Lawyers and academics who study IP must pay more attention.
Keywords: Intellectual Property, Employment, Technological Unemployment, Patent Trade Secret, Externality
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