Ian McMillan Authored an Article Published in The Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence

July 26, 2022

Ian McMillan authored the article “Unilateral Acquisition and the Requirements of Freedom: A Kantian Account of the Judicial Exceptions to Patent Protection”, published online by Cambridge University in the Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence.


For obscure reasons, courts exclude some statutorily patentable inventions (‘judicial exceptions’) from patent protection. These exclusions have been criticized for impeding innovation, contrary to the purpose of patent law. I argue that freedom requires these exclusions even if they impede innovation. Patents, like property, can be unilaterally acquired, limiting others’ freedom without their consent. Kant explains why, to reconcile property with equal freedom, only rivalrous objects in acquirers’ first possession can be unilaterally acquired. States can rightfully authorize unilateral acquisition of only these objects. Drawing from Kant, I explain how patent protection conflicts with equal freedom unless patented inventions involve inventive uses of rivalrous objects external to human bodies. Enabled by inventive concepts, these uses would be impossible without these concepts, and are thus in the first possession of their inventors. I then show how the most recent United States Supreme Court judicial exception decisions limit patent protection to inventive uses of rivalrous external objects.

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