70 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2017 Last revised: 7 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 20, 2018
The conventional wisdom is that intellectual property is good for innovation and good for jobs. But this is not quite right. In reality, a significant subset of the innovations protected by intellectual property, from self-service kiosks to self-driving cars, are labor saving, and in many cases also labor displacing innovations—meaning they drastically reduce the need for paid human labor. Therefore, to the extent intellectual property is successful at incentivizing innovation, intellectual property actually contributes to job loss. More specifically, intellectual property contributes to what this article terms “technological un/employment”—the simultaneous creation and elimination of jobs resulting from technological change. The normative question is what to do about this. Commentators like Bill Gates suggest using the tax system to slow down the pace of automation and provide aide to displaced workers. But this article yields another surprising insight: intellectual property law itself can be designed to effectuate similar goals, either alone or, more likely, in coordination with the tax system. At the least, intellectual property is guaranteed to play a prominent role in society’s current technological un/employment moment, both as part of the problem and as part of the solution.
Keywords: Intellectual Property, Employment, Technological Unemployment, Patent Trade Secret, Externality
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