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Unpublished Paper
Social Innovation
ExpressO (2014)
  • Peter Lee

This Article provides the first legal examination of the immensely valuable but underappreciated phenomenon of social innovation. Innovations such as cognitive behavioral therapy, microfinance, and strategies to reduce hospital-based infections greatly enhance social welfare yet operate completely outside of the patent system, the primary legal mechanism for promoting innovation. This Article draws on empirical evidence to elucidate this significant kind of innovation and explore its divergence from the classic model of technological innovation championed by the patent system. In so doing, it illustrates how patent law exhibits a rather crabbed, particularistic conception of innovation. Among other characteristics, innovation in the patent context is individualistic, arises from a discrete origin and history, and prioritizes novelty. Much social innovation, however, arises from communities rather than identifiable inventors, evolves from multiple histories, and entails extending that which already exists from one context to another. These attributes, moreover, apply to much technological innovation as well, thus revealing how patent law distorts the object of its protection. Moving from the descriptive to the prescriptive, this Article cautions against extending exclusive rights to social innovations but draws on several IP-related insights for accelerating this valuable activity. Finally, it examines the theoretical implications of social innovation for patent law, thus helping to contribute to a more holistic framework for innovation law and policy.

  • innovation,
  • patent law,
  • intellectual property,
  • social innovation,
  • infrastructure,
  • crowdfunding,
  • peer production,
  • user innovation,
  • distributive justice,
  • technology
Publication Date
January 31, 2014
Citation Information
Peter Lee. "Social Innovation" ExpressO (2014)
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