Paths or Fences: Patents, Copyrights, and the Constitution
75 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2018 Last revised: 3 Jul 2019
Date Written: February 4, 2019
Congressional power over patents and copyrights flows from the same constitutional source, and the doctrines have similar missions. Yet the Supreme Court has approached these areas from distinctly different angles. With copyright, the Court readily employs constitutional analysis, building fences to constrain Congress. With patent, it emphasizes statutory interpretation, demarcating paths the legislature can follow, or deviate from (potentially at its constitutional peril). This Article uses empirical and quantitative analysis to show this divergence. It offers two potential explanations, one based on entitlement strength, the other grounded in public choice concerns. Next, the Article explores border cases where the Court could have used either fences or paths, demonstrating the effects of this pattern. It sets out criteria that the Court should employ in choosing between these approaches: countermajoritarian concerns, institutional competence, pragmatism, and avoidance theory. The Article argues that the key normative principle is that the Court should erect fences when cases impinge on intellectual property’s core constitutional concerns – information disclosure for patent and information generation for copyright. It concludes with two examples where the Court should alter its approach based on this principle.
Keywords: generativity, disclosure, inventor, author, fair use, avoidance, public choice, intellectual property, statutory interpretation, innovation, first amendment, constitution, copyright, patent
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