Founders On Patents: Madison On The Dangers Of Patents

James Madison is credited with introducing the Patent and Copyright Clause to the Constitution, and defended that clause in Federalist 43, stating “[t]he utility of this power will scarcely be questioned.”  But he was well aware that there were dangers to the power, writing in his own papers that the patent monopoly could produce more evil than good.

But it wasn’t just in his private papers that Madison referenced the potential problems patents can create.  In the letter to Congress in which he, as President, recommended the establishment of a separate patent office within the Department of State, he also noted those dangers, saying he recommended “further guards [be] provided against fraudulent exactions of fees by persons possessed of patents.”

As new members of Congress prepare to take their seats, they should consider carefully the advice given by Madison—that the utility of patents is unquestioned, but that abuses of patents can produce negative consequences outweighing that utility unless carefully constrained.

Joshua Landau

Joshua Landau is the Patent Counsel at the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), where he represents and advises the association regarding patent issues.  Mr. Landau joined CCIA from WilmerHale in 2017, where he represented clients in patent litigation, counseling, and prosecution, including trials in both district courts and before the PTAB.

Prior to his time at WilmerHale, Mr. Landau was a Legal Fellow on Senator Al Franken’s Judiciary staff, focusing on privacy and technology issues.  Mr. Landau received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.S.E.E. from the University of Michigan.  Before law school, he spent several years as an automotive engineer, during which time he co-invented technology leading to U.S. Patent No. 6,934,140.

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