Intellectual Property Deserves Protection, Merges Says

October 3, 2008

Intellectual property creators deserve to be protected by institutional systems, just like any other kind of property owner, said Professor Rob Merges at the Law School's Lester Zittrain Distinguished Lecture Tuesday.

Rob Merges

"Intellectual property really is, and should be, a form of property, and it is a good idea to think about it in that way," said Merges, director of the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Law and Technology.

Merges outlined the two kinds of IP systems: "user-center systems" regulate user access and "owner-center systems" protect the works of creators. He said the latter system was superior because the interests of the owner were too important to be left out.

"Intellectual property rights are better centered around the owner rather than the user," he said.

Responding to the common criticism that regulation stifles innovation, Merges said technologies ought to accommodate important social interests, which might require regulation. He drew an analogy to a car which could travel 400 miles per hour; while people might argue that "cars want to go fast," there was an obvious need to regulate speed to prevent harm to a third party.

He also stressed that protecting creators' right to consent to use of their works did not necessarily mean that they would not then choose to grant that consent.

"Property rights give the owner the decision, but they are a completely flexible system that is easily waived," Merges said.

Law School Professor Thomas Nachbar praised Merges' research and called him a pioneer in his field.

"Rob's work predates the recent explosion of interest in intellectual property rights," he said.

Merges is the author or co-author of three books and dozens of articles on the subject. His upcoming book is called "Justifying Intellectual Property."

He was the second speaker in the Lester Zittrain Distinguished Lecture series, which was inaugurated in 2004. The series is named after Lester Zittrain, a 1955 Law School graduate and prominent lawyer who represented, among others, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mean Joe Green.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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