chapter  13
16 Pages

Paper prototypes

WithALAIN POTTAGE

The techniques and institutions of patent law offer a ready-made intersection between law and science, one that has been quite extensively explored from various perspectives. Many of these explorations assume that intellectual property rights necessarily bring with them something like the powers of control and exclusion that lawyers ascribe to property. The assumption is that patents function as instruments for regulating access to scientific or technological knowledge. It is obvious that patents have effects, but in order to understand those effects one should be clear about what kind of object a patent is. The conventional understanding objectifies patents by construing them as instruments of broader social and economic forces. In fact, a patent (if one can use the noun form at all) is a complex assemblage of material, discursive, and cognitive elements: files, documents, indexing systems, bureaucratic practices and aesthetics, structural couplings to economic and scientific institutions and techniques, and so on. Accordingly, the better place to begin in developing a social-scientific account of the agency of patents is with the ‘knowledge practices’ that are immanent in this assemblage of elements (Riles, 2011). In other words, the agency of patent law should be construed not in terms of social forces of which law would be a dependent vehicle or instrument, but in terms of the emergent agency that articulates the composite ‘object’ of material and communicative elements and techniques. Of course, this quite considerably complicates the question of how law intersects with science in the medium of patent law, but it is better to acknowledge these complexities than it is to perpetuate the ideological narrative of ownership that has been retailed by more than two centuries of legal and economic commentary.