Life, Liberty, and the Protection of Intellectual Property: Understanding IP in Light of Jeffersonian Principles

A “Jeffersonian mythology” has overstated Jefferson’s role in shaping the constitutional contours of patent and copyright protection. To the extent Jefferson expressed anti-IP views in private letters during America’s founding period, there is little to no evidence that his sentiments regarding patents or copyrights had any bearing on the Constitution. Jefferson was absent for the ratification of the Constitution and the drafting of the Bill of Rights. It is self-evidently the case that the Constitution authorizes IP protection. The fact that the Constitution expressly confers on Congress the power to protect copyrights and patents suggests that Jefferson’s few scattered criticisms of IP were, in principle, rejected in the Constitution’s formation. Neither Jefferson’s opposition to IP nor the influence of those sentiments on our founding document should be overstated.

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