The Lost “Art” of the Patent System

Patent systems emerged in the early modern period of the West to incentivize development and dissemination of skills-based artisanal innovations. This approach appears to have been adopted by the Framers in drafting the Intellectual Property Clause. Only later, in the Industrial Revolution, did ‘‘science’’ and ‘‘technology’’ begin to displace ‘‘art’’ as the perceived object of the U.S. patent system. This was in large part because of the emergence of the concept of ‘‘technology’’ itself as science-based innovation in artisanal and mechanized production. The loss of an ‘‘art’’-based concept of the patent system is arguably causing some of the confusion over the proper scope and nature of the patent system, especially with regard to upstream patenting. I argue that this loss is leading to over- and underinclusive senses of patent eligible subject matter as well as amnesia as to the long-standing importance of method patents. I offer suggestions on how to reorient the patent system back to a focus on (useful) ‘‘art.’’

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