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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: January 2010

1 - Introduction

Summary

Until fairly recently, the law of intellectual property – a term that encompasses patents, trade secrets, copyrights, and trademarks, among other things – was something of a backwater. Of interest mostly to specialists within these fields, it garnered little attention from the broader legal community. Most economists manifested a similar indifference to these issues. Only a few gave serious consideration to the design of patent rights and even fewer paid much attention to trademarks or copyrights. Indeed, some law-and-economics scholars doubted that economics had much to say about any of these bodies of law. Roughly within the last ten years, due in large part to the expanding role of high technology in our everyday lives, all of that has changed. The law of intellectual property – particularly patents and copyrights, but also trademarks and trade secrets and other related fields – has become a topic of major interest to lawyers, judges, and law professors. Many high-profile cases are making their way through the courts; new legislation is being introduced in many countries and international treaties are attempting to properly balance the incentives for investment against the need for access to the products of that investment, such as essential medicines. Economists have also taken up the challenge of modeling the consequences of high and low levels of protection and, to some extent, of testing these models against the empirical evidence.