Patent and copyrights are essentially a contract between the federal government and inventors and artists, which "heightens" the government's responsibility and "solemn promise" to protect those rights.
That is the central theme of a new paper, "The Public Contract Basis of Intellectual Property Rights," being released today (April 19) by free market think tank, The Free State Foundation, from authors Randolph May and Seth Cooper.
It is the latest in a series of papers on intellectual property rights, a key question in an age when digital copying and distribution make protecting those rights increasingly problematic.
The idea is that the natural right to property extends to the right to assign it by contract, akin to the natural right to establish governments by the consent of the individual through a social compact.
"Some scholars have wrongly inferred from the public contract concepts that IP rights do not rest on natural rights premises but instead simply reflect government policy preferences about what is useful to the public," they write. "That is an impoverished view concerning the relationship between contracts and IP rights."