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Briefcase: Intellectual Property

Guest Professor Sapna Kumar


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Professor Sapna Kumar is Co-Director of the Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law. We started by asking her what is intellectual property or “IP”?

"When we think of property, we usually think about land, our house, or our car. Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind," she explained. We use IP to protect a person’s idea for a new device, to prevent people from illegally downloading music or movies, or to protect a company’s brand name."

"I specialize in patent law, which protects inventions. For example, if I had an idea for a new type of car engine, I would file a patent so that competitors couldn’t copy my idea for the duration of the patent."

But, with so many advances in science and technology, Professor Kumar says new issues arise. "Under the Patent Act, patents are supposed to be awarded for ‘any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter.' Generally, one cannot patent something that occurs in nature, such as a gene that is found in our bodies, or a new plant that a scientist discovers. There has been heated debate regarding whether biotechnology inventions derived from things found in nature, such as vaccines and antibodies are patentable. Some groups are concerned that the current law is too restrictive and are lobbying for Congress to expand the law. Others are worried that too much patent protection will lead to consumers paying higher prices."