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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Walker

Book Club of One: Book Report 4

Eyeglasses on top of a stack of books.

As capstones to my reading, these two texts helped to frame some key concepts that would move my nonprofit intellectual property questions forward.

I was out of my comfort zone with Lessig’s The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World and Landes and Posner’s The Economic Structure of Property Law. And for entirely different reasons.

In The Future of Ideas, Lessig sets his criticisms of extending and expanding the US rights to exclusion in copyright in the computer and software code domain. He talks about other issues, but the impact of copyright law on knowledge, equity, and the drag that longer exclusion periods create for new innovation are discussed in an industry I have never worked in. I could engage with the concepts, but I had no sense of the reality of what he described.

I had just finished reading Open Innovation, which seemed to say that Lessig’s argument is one possible extreme outcome given their insight that the nature of innovation itself was changing, particularly in technology-based industries. However, set among the justice lenses of Intellectual Property and Theories of Justice, Lessig’s larger argument about the nature of knowledge and social context were compelling.

I should have gone to law school AND practiced math more regularly are the most personal learning points from The Economic Structure of Property Law. It’s a book that delivers on its title. You get a full immersion into how Property Law plays out in economic terms. The book focuses on a variety of property forms, but I focused on the chapters related to intellectual property.

I don’t think the goal of Landes and Posner was to convince the general public about the economic value of property. It’s a look at the drivers of how capitalism can extract value from intellectual property. That information, in turn, influences how we debate policy on intellectual property law. It was fascinating because what is economically (or mathematically) optimal is not always how owners choose to exploit or enforce their property rights. Marshal Phelps, a master at understanding the economic value of intellectual property for IBM and Microsoft, instead chose a strategic lens for intellectual property management and leverage.

Bigger questions without answers: How do property owners balance strategy and pure economics? In the nonprofit sector, how would mission and organizational values play into the decision? If critics of intellectual property rights generally support ownership rights, if not exclusion rights, what value does intellectual property have?

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