CIRCA:James Wilson's "Ontology and the Regulation of Intellectual Property."


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Wilson, James. “Ontology and the Regulation of Intellectual Property.” The Monist 93.3(2010): 450-63.

Though conscious of the limitations of ontology, Wilson purports that ontological investigation is necessary and thus far absent from the current conversation on the regulation of intellectual property (IP). Wilson’s argument rests on the distinction between “tokens” and “types” where IP’s “ontological status” is one of types, meaning that they are nonrival goods and “not subject to degradation” (451). Unlike tokens – tangible property such as transportation that depreciate with use and are commonly restricted to one user – types involve physical property, such as a token copy of Great Expectations, but they also extend beyond that single token copy. The elusiveness of that extension complicates the regulation of IP. For instance, intellectual property regulation is subject to duration: the length of copyright or a patent agreement is paramount for considering IP violation (456). In addition to the question of duration, Wilson lists three other points of difference in the token-type distinction that further outline the nuances of the ontological disposition of types, these include: causation or causal history, novelty (457), and “specificity” of types and the question of relevance (458). In closing, Wilson calls for a distinction between rights (which are resolute) and social goals (which are promotional) to aid in finding and maintaining a balance or equality between the creator and prospective user of IP (459-61).
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