Volume 21, 2014
Buddhism and Intellectual Property Rights: The Role of Compassion
I offer the outline of a theory that justifies the concept of intellectual property (IP). IP is usually justified by a utilitarian claim that such rights provide incentives for further discovery and protect the innovator through a monopoly. I propose to broaden the protection offered by the IP regime. My argument is based on the concept of compassion (karuṇā), the aim of relieving suffering in all others. An analysis of how patented products originate shows that they typically depend not only on scientists in the laboratory, but on numerous factors and elements, many of which do not belong to the corporation in which the experiments are conducted. Because these elements have a necessary role in the discovery of inventions, they also deserve fair treatment. In practice, this could mean that the resulting patented product would be made more accessible to the general population and that the corporation would be more actively involved in society. In the long run, this could prove beneficial for all parties, including the patent holders themselves.