Owning the Intangible: Possession, Theft, and (Mis)Appropriation of Ideas


Intellectual property, once primarily the purview of scholars and lawyers, has become a part of our everyday lives. Medicines known to native peoples for centuries are suddenly the property of multinational corporations. Artists are sued for the common practice of reusing materials and practices. Owners of legal copies of songs and videos are prevented from playing them on their computers, and are turning to Internet services to obtain free copies. Patients find that their cells or DNA are patented by hospitals. Discoveries funded by tax dollars become income streams for private companies. Even the links common to Web pages may be subject to some form of legal control. In this Tutorial, we will explore two forms of intellectual property law, copyright and patent, in the context of current cases and controversies in art, genetics, medicine, and the Internet. We will also ground our explorations in a practical task as we draft a potential patent policy for Grinnell.

Disclaimer: I usually create these pages on the fly, which means that I rarely proofread them and they may contain bad grammar and incorrect details. It also means that I tend to update them regularly (see the history for more details). Feel free to contact me with any suggestions for changes.

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Samuel A. Rebelsky, rebelsky@grinnell.edu