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IP Reveries – An Introduction


Quote from Socrates "Let the questions be the curriculum"Intellectual Property Rights – a fascinating ‘subject’ that inadvertently touches upon so many aspects of our day to day life, whether we’re conscious of it or not. A few decades ago, even most lawyers wouldn’t have been able to clearly explain what a patent is. Fast forward to today, and while there’s still plenty of misunderstanding – patents, copyrights, trademarks, inventions, innovations, 4th industrial revolution, etc have all become buzzwords! Simultaneously, the ever growing division between “pro-IP” and “anti-IP” people have polarised views to such a large extent that it has become increasingly difficult to question another’s position, without being forced into a camp – a theme Shamnad touched upon frequently. Is there space for a genuine discussion around the whats, whys, whens and hows underlying the IP system? For asking questions such as – why does “pro-IP” often get translated to ‘easy grant of patents’ instead of ‘a better IP system’? Is IP a rule or an exception, in a free-market society? What implications do the colonial origins of the IP regime have in a post-colonial world, if any? What type of incentives do people look for, and what trade-offs can we make to give those incentives? What role does IP play in the larger ‘knowledge economy’? And for that matter – where does one even ask these questions? Legal academia desires formal strait-jacketed, peer-reviewed answers, not open-questions, with variable perspective-based answers (especially if they in turn give rise to further questions!). And classrooms often do not have time or mind-space to allow for wandering discussions, when they have a time-bound syllabus to teach. 

After several long discussions over several of these types of questions – two of us (Lokesh and myself) decided to take a shot at a different format. An imaginary classroom, in a (hopefully weekly) series called “IP Reveries”, where the aim is to question, rather than to answer. To give space to ask questions via both a professor attempting to guide the class, as well as through students trying to understand the subject. If we were talented enough, we could’ve perhaps tried to create it as a play-script, but as you’ll see, it is more just an imagined conversation, where we also take ‘creative liberties’ in inserting connected readings, and jumping between topics. While we’ve been working on this for quite a while, it’s a convenient coincidence that we’re ready to go just in time for World IP day on April 26th!

Our primary aim has been to have fun while ‘scripting’ out all sorts of questions around IP, for ourselves and to ensure that the reading doesn’t become a set of boring queries for the reader! There’s a general attempt to focus on questions that may often be taken for granted, as well as to give voice to many of the ‘too small to ask’ questions that many may have had while thinking about the subject, be it in class, academia, court, policy discussions, or late night discussions/arguments with friends, etc. Due to their nature, these may sometimes be a little longer than our usual posts. We hope that the narrative style makes it easy enough to read though.

As is currently planned – our first few sets of posts will focus on an extremely basic set of questions – that of whether there should be any significance attached to the words ‘intellectual’, ‘property’, and ‘rights’, in this particular set of government policies that we bring under the umbrella of “IPR”. After all, these words certainly do carry a rhetorical weight, which in turn often lays out an initial framework for how “IPR” is contextualised in our minds, when we start to learn about the subject. Once we’ve put out the first set of ‘classes’, we intend to diversify what we cover in future posts, currently planned at approximately once a week. While the initial set of classes will look at some basics, theory and history of IP, the plan is that if we are able to, we will eventually start using this space to also discuss especially interesting case-laws, or policy changes as well, including with guest authors. 

Disclaimers: All the characters are fictitious, and it should be said up-front – we don’t necessarily endorse any of the arguments or positions that may be outlined in this series, by any of the characters. They are primarily meant to facilitate discussions and meant more as a way of putting arguments out to think, rebut, critique, or mould into their own. Some dialogues are added merely for the snark value, to add some amusement into the class. Wherever possible, we have tried to link useful pieces to give ‘further readings’ on a point, but we may also use hyperlinks for other purposes, such as linking to a tangential point that we think may be interesting as side-reading. In case you find something worth highlighting or discussing with respect to a particular idea/topic/argument, please comment and let us know. 

Acknowledgements:

Two notable works that primarily inspired our interest to explore this dialogic series as a method of communication, are the works of two brilliant law professors cum legal artists – Prof. Shamnad Basheer’s “Artificial Invention: Mind the Machine!” and Prof. Keith Aoki’s “Pictures within Pictures”. Of course, these are just two conscious recollections that we believe have shaped our views on this. Special mention also goes to the present and former SpicyIP team members, and comments on the blog, who with the regular back and forths over email, have been channeling this dialogue-esque approach for the past several years now. A big thanks also to all those who read earlier versions of this and provided their feedback. And of course, thanks to the innumerable ideas/papers/people(s)/interactions that have consciously or subconsciously led to the ideas we’ve reproduced in the series. 

To read Prof. Basheer’s work, see here and watch his talk on storytelling in law. For Prof. Aoki see here and here. Interested readers of “IP-fun” can also look at “Commons Right” (a poem by Prof. Basheer and John Daniel), “Open Access-Style” (a poem by Prof. Basheer), “Theft! A History of Music” (a graphic novel by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins), and “Bound By Law” (a graphic novel by James Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins, and Keith Aoki). (If readers are aware of more stuff like that, do let us know through comments.)

Without further ado – click here to move on to the first class!

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