Calculative Patents
Dan L. Burk
April 9, 2021 | 12:00pm EST | 17:00pm UTC

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Dan L. Burk

Patents are legal delinquents. A growing body of empirical evidence demonstrates that patents repeatedly fail to fulfill the responsibilities they have been assigned in fostering innovation. But I argue here that in their moments of misbehavior, we can catch a glimpse of the social roles patents play when no one is watching. Drawing on insights from the sociology of markets, I argue that patents are surreptitiously performing functions familiar from the grocery store, the vegetable stand, or the barbershop. I suggest that patents are calculative, not in the mathematical sense, but in the sociological sense of structuring and facilitating market relations. This approach to discovering the social roles of patents opens the door to a new examination of patent purposes, and to understanding some otherwise inexplicable characteristics of patent law.

About the Author

Dan L. Burk is Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, where he was a founding member of the law faculty.  An internationally prominent authority on issues related to high technology, he teaches and writes on patent law, copyright, and related topics.  He has taught at leading institutions across the globe, including the University of Toronto, Sciences Po (Paris), and Bocconi University (Milan).  He is the author of numerous papers on the legal and societal impact of new technologies and is consistently ranked among the most highly cited intellectual property scholars in the American legal academy.

Professor Burk holds a B.S. in Microbiology (1985) from Brigham Young University, an M.S. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (1987) from Northwestern University, a J.D. (1990) from Arizona State University, and a J.S.M. (1994) from Stanford University.