Channeling the Fire of Invention: The Case for Intellectual Property Rights

Patent and other intellectual property rights unleash the power of human ingenuity and ignite human energies in productive directions. Abraham Lincoln concluded his famous, grand history of innovation, known as the Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions, by praising patent laws. These laws, Lincoln argued, brought about the last great advance in human creativity. They “added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.” Commenting on Lincoln’s now-famous metaphor, the late Michael Novak observed that Lincoln saw in the patent laws “an unprecedented blessing.” Lincoln understood that inventors have natural rights to their inventions insofar as the rest of us have natural duties not to appropriate the fruits of another’s labors. The genius of the U.S. Constitution is to empower Congress to specify and secure the natural duties that we owe to creators and innovators not to steal the fruits of their productive labor.

Recommended Readings

Adam Mossoff, Why Intellectual Property Rights? A Lockean Justification, Law & Liberty (May 4, 2015),

Adam J. MacLeod, Where Do Our Rights Come From? An Evaluation of American Patent Law, Starting Points Journal (October 22, 2018),

The Constitution of the United States,

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