Historicizing changing uses of intellectual property

On one contemporary view, intellectual property law is antithetical to the goals of improving food security and poverty reduction. From this perspective intellectual property is a tool deployed by corporations to attract funding and capture revenues. Hand-in-hand with this view is the assumption that historically intellectual property has never been concerned with public good type goals. In order to open up a space in which we can think more creatively about the role that intellectual property might play in promoting social equity, sustainable development and agriculture the project will challenge the idea that such goals are alien to intellectual property law. This will be done by highlighting situations where intellectual property law has already played a role in promoting the public good. This will include an examination of US Patent Office practice in the nineteenth century, when hundreds of thousands of seeds were disseminated free of charge to farmers in order to counter food shortages in America. It will also include an analysis of the reasons why many countries excluded food and food processing from the remit of patentable subject matter. The researchers will also synthesis developments in other areas where intellectual property has been used to promote public good goals (notably in relation to health and national emergencies).

patent exemptions
Image credit [Banksy]