IP and the Lens of Complexity

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article examines the intersection of intellectual property
and complexity theory. Complexity focuses on systems comprised of a
large number of interacting components. It explores the rules
governing their behavior and development, and is currently used to
analyze and explain a range of human, social, economic, and natural
phenomena. Its interdisciplinary insights apply to a host of systems
and networks: from biological and ecological systems, through the
social system, to the Internet and other communication networks.
Intellectual property is a natural candidate for applying
complexity analysis. Its subject matters interact to create networks that
abide by the rules governing complex systems. Cultural works
protected by copyright, trademark protected brands, as well as patent
protected technologies are all linked through members of society, in a
manner which forms two-sided networks susceptible to complexity
analysis. Among others, these networks obey the laws of innovation
diffusion, social influence, and herd behavior. Moreover, the
paradigms of "incentive" and "reward" that lie at the heart of
traditional IP theory are directed towards the social system, itself a
non-linear, complex system.
Concentrating on complexity as a social phenomenon, this
article demonstrates how specific notions of complexity can illuminate
particular norms and dilemmas in the various branches of intellectual
property: from patent's non-obviousness requirement, through
trademark dilution doctrine, to the puzzle of copyright and television
formats. The article further argues that complexity does not merely
provide new tools for solving old problems, but offers a new prism for
framing such problems, and can also shed new light on the traditional
meta-narratives of IP. It concludes that a complexity perspective can
enrich IP discourse with a non-reductionist theoretical outlook and
may bring intellectual property theory and doctrine closer to realworld settings.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)55-102
Number of pages48
JournalIDEA: The Intellectual Property Law Review
StatePublished - 2013


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