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Policy and Patentable Subject Matter

This lesson examines the public policy objectives driving and defining United States patent law. The first section explores the nature and logic of the regime's generally accepted core purpose - providing optimum incentives to invest in useful arts innovation. The next section discusses how that goal generates the basic doctrinal requirements for patentability (novelty, nonobviousness, utility, enablement/disclosure - patentable subject matter is covered separately in lessons on Patentable Subject Matter and Non-Obviousness). The lesson's final section concludes with a brief look at how other normative views of property entitlements affect patent public policy debate as well as client expectations.

Although some general familiarity with patent law may provide helpful background context, the lesson assumes no prior knowledge. The lesson can be used before class to prepare, afterwards to clarify/supplement class discussion or as a self-test for the final exam. And, who knows, it might even prove interesting for its own sake.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the lesson, the student will be able to:

  1. Explain the incentive theory underlying patent law.
  2. Identify the "quid pro quo" bargain of patent law.
  3. Describe the "net social benefit" goals of patent law.
  4. Explain the economic justifications for imposing limits on patent rights.
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