If you’re interested in the relationship between ideas, interests and institutions, the development of intellectual property law provides a fascinating (somewhat self-referential) case study. The intellectual debate has been running hard against strong IP  for a long time, and changes in technology have not only made copying and reproducing all kinds of material much cheaper and easier, but have revealed, on a scale much larger than before, the benefits that can be realised from free access to ideas.
Meanwhile the extension of IP rights, and the expansion of powers to protect them has rolled on as if none of this was happening, at national (DMCA), bilateral (as a standard condition of US-driven free trade agreements) and global (TRIPS) level.
However, there are some positive countervailing developments, one of which has a summer fellowship attached (over the fold).
As this suggests, the US courts and the Patent Office seem to be getting less receptive to the idea that application of routine methods to identify the genes associated with particular proteins creates an ownership claim over those genes.
And in Australia, proposed changes to IP laws will raise patentability standards and protect experimental uses of patented items. Admittedly, these changes mostly serve to bring Australia into line with other countries, but in the past, the ratchet effect has always gone the other way.
And, if you’re a PhD or ABD looking for some work over the summer, you can be part of this.
Peer to patent is a project that
harnesses the power of citizen-experts to assist patent examiners by searching for, identifying, and annotating prior art relevant to pending patent applications. A first Peer to Patent pilot was launched in June 2007. During the first year the project participants (peer reviewers) assisted in the prior art searches on 40 patent applications, generating 173 items of prior art. These items of prior art were the basis of rejection in over ten of the patent applications considered.
They’re offering a three-month summer Fellowship, details here.
fn1. In its crude form, the claim we all see when we hire a DVD, that reproducing or reusing someone else’s “intellectual property” is an act of theft akin to stealing a car. Less crudely stated, but still equivalent, the claim that converting copyright and patent protections from temporary rewards for notable innovators to permanent property rights over intellectual outputs of any kind (including retrospective extension of such rights to existing intellectual outputs) will stimulate innovation.