A value theory of intellectual property rights

Heesang Jeon


Based on an abstract logical theory on the relation between value and knowledge, more concrete and complex, and constructive, theories of knowledge can be built in accordance with Marx's method of moving from the abstract to the concrete. Some of the important aspects of such an undertaking can be summarised as follows: First, a value theory of knowledge, not a use value theory, is offered. This is not to deny the importance of the dimension of use value, given that use value is the precondition for value. However, in capitalism, production is, above all, for capital accumulation (surplus value production), with use value production and its growth only being the by-product of value production. The roles of knowledge in value production and their consequences for capital accumulation have to be clarified before the relations between knowledge and use value production can be satisfactorily studied. Second, as the analysis incorporates more concrete and complex elements, so should the distinction between knowledge and commodities be developed and reproduced at more concrete and complex levels. For example, whilst intellectual property rights allow for, and facilitate, the commodification of knowledge, it should not be seen as blurring the distinction between knowledge and commodities in any way, but as a historical and concrete form of the distinction. Third, intellectual property rights are brought into the analysis at relatively concrete and complex levels, where the distribution of surplus profit and the capitalisation of intellectual property are discussed. Fourth, however, this should not be taken as limiting the role of intellectual property rights to appropriating (part of) surplus profit arising from knowledge. The effects of intellectual property rights on capital accumulation across the circuits of capital should be identified and analysed, especially to show how they both accelerate and decelerate capital accumulation, without collapsing different levels of abstraction. Fifth, there can be no general theory of intellectual property rights, because they have different roles and effects in different industries. For example, copyright is essential in the recorded music industry and patents in the pharmaceutical industry to the extent that the existence of these industries relies on intellectual property rights, although patents play at best a minor role in the aircraft industry, especially with respect to competition within the industry. It is, then, crucial for an analysis of intellectual property rights in an industry to examine how intellectual property rights and competition interact with each other.

intellectual property rights - marx - value theory