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Communications of the ACM

Economic and business dimensions

Life of IP

Life of IP, illustrative photo

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates

"Intellectual property," Declared Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and the world's richest man, "has the shelf life of a banana." Perhaps. But what if innovation in molecular biology, preservatives, or packaging could give bananas the unrivaled durability of Hostess Twinkies? Those intellectual property life extenders would not only preserve value, they would render Gates's aphorism a stale anachronism.

The irony is that while any given intellectual property might be as perishable as a banana, IP protections are more like Twinkies. They last longer than might be healthy. The duration of such protections can—and do—privilege creators often at the cost of promoting progress in science and useful arts that the U.S. Constitutiona originally promised.1


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