The classification of patents as public rights solely given their statutory provenance is profoundly mistaken. Modern courts and commentators have misconstrued one heuristic used by earlier courts as part of a broader inquiry in distinguishing between private rights and public rights. It was only a heuristic because all legal rights share mixed origins in both statutes and judicial decisions, including both property rights in land and in inventions. This Article surveys these well-known sources of property rights in both statutes and judicial decisions, revealing that conflating “common law” with private property rights is more legal myth than historical fact. As cases proliferate at the intersection of patent law, administrative law, and constitutional law, it is a fundamental error to classify patents as public rights in relegating these vested private property rights to the vagaries of administrative processes and decrees.
Iowa Law Review
November 9, 2018