1st Nov 2019 | 22:08
LEGAL ISSUES BEHIND PROPERTY (AND PATENT) LAW
Legal obligations are designed to construct a strict and straightforward set of regulations that make it easy for people to conform to and abide by. Such regulations should remove assumptions and dubious claims. Alas, it is not a perfect world and there is so much we can ask for from law, and in particular property law is one such example where there are debates over where the lines are drawn.
The obvious place to begin is with the definition of property law. Property law can simply be defined as ‘the area of law that governs what people own. It’s the area of law that says who can own land and personal items, how they can use them and with what conditions.’1 Property law, under most legal systems, cover tangible assets but not necessarily intangible ones, but a broad definition like property means that the right of ownership can extend to absolutely anything. Looking at this description of property law, it could be said that all legal systems and all parts of the law have property law attached to it, which is an incorrect assumption that has been made, since not every legal system contains ‘a category that corresponds to property’2. The definition also gives the impression that where intangible assets are considered under property law, it covers all forms of such assets. In reality, there exist legal systems that specify certain intangible assets which are or are not covered under the realm of property law. Stocks, bonds and torts are all examples of assets that legal systems will partially cover or will not cover entirely.
Another issue that arises, rooted from the vague definition, is from boundary issues within property, and often it is the choice of the owner of the property to set the boundaries for which an asset extends and to what extent the owner has rights to the property. Particularly in the west, we can ascribe this to the concept of ‘tendency to agglomerate’.3 Ambiguities within property law enable the owner of a property to exacerbate their power over a product and exercise sole rights over the product, prevent others from using, or even laying imprints, on the product, and even gaining ‘immunity from change by anyone of those same rights’.4 The boundaries and rights that property law hopes to gain can in turn hand owners that same privilege of setting the boundaries and exercising their rights.
Since we are discussing issues surrounding property law, it would be useful to expand this topic into intellectual property law, a branch of property law that is well-documented, debated and publicised. As a means of protecting original ideas and fostering innovation, intellectual property branches from property law and, most importantly, can cover any intangible asset, or multiple. One of the issues that are worth discussing is whether this regulation is desirable when seeking to encourage development; as such, the rest of this article will examine this form of property law to pick out where this can lead to development, and where it has its limits.
Firstly, this security of sole ownership encourages competitors to develop technologies and products on their own, and use original, independent thinking to bring about the next great ideas. Alongside this security is the reward of profits being earned and guaranteed to return to owners from original thinking. This demonstrates one of the advantages that the definition and agglomeration of property law can provide – a reward for owners without competitors crossing the boundary and staking any sort of claim to such earnings or profits. Patent holders, as a result of intellectual property, can license their products or their technologies to other developers should they wish to, mitigating the risk of limiting the development of it should the patent holder choose to pursue with their technology further and especially when other developers can introduce their ideas to improve the technology or product in their way.
The most recent point brings me to one of the drawbacks of intellectual property, and subsequent patent laws and licenses. Although holders can license the technology to other developers, this does not allow them to improve existing designs or use some of their technology as component parts (as mentioned before, there is ‘immunity from change by anyone of those same rights’).5 Such licenses are also extremely costly that many developers would not have the capacity to afford regardless, and such costs would unlikely be worthwhile if their own designs or inputs are limited – the developers become a means of modifying and developing the works of patents, not themselves. The restrictive nature of property law is justified, yet is a continued hindrance to development, particularly if the agglomeration of property law is intensified so much so that holders will claim patents on technologies that so much so have marginal similarities to the technologies that patent holders use. Patent holders can exercise their rights and identify any similarity in another developer’s product as a modification of their own. Agglomeration and the subjectivity of the boundary line mean that there are issues within property law that cause problems for legal theorists, developers and lawyers themselves.
Property law is not the form of law that puzzles such entities. Throughout this month, there will be a closer examination of various forms of law, the issues within wordings and interpretation, and what they mean for the wider world (in this article, we looked at what patent laws mean for innovation and product development). Uncovering and breaking down these different aspects of the law will give us a clearer idea of certain issues that need to be resolved in the future.
1Legal Career Path (2019) What is Property Law?, Available at: https://legalcareerpath.com/property-law/ (Accessed: 30th October 2019).
2Alexander, G., Donahue, C. (2019) Property Law, Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/property-law/Objects-subjects-and-types-of-possessoryinterests- in-property (Accessed: 30th October 2019).
5Alexander, G., Donahue, C. (2019) Property Law, Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/property-law/Objects-subjects-and-types-of-possessoryinterests- in-property (Accessed: 30th October 2019).
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