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From protecting texts to protecting objects in biotech and software. A tale of changes of ontological assumptions in intellectual property protection

Bonaccorsi, A.   Calvert, J   Joly, P.

Economy and Society   40 (4) 611-639

November 2011   (Version of record first published November 2011)

Both software and agricultural inventions have recently become patentable. Previously, software was protected by copyright, while agricultural inventions were protected by plant breeders’ rights. Here we argue that legislation on intellectual property is shaped by ontological considerations (i.e. ideas about the object to be protected), and we propose that the introduction of patenting in software and biotechnology marks a change from protecting a text to protecting an object. However, this change rests on outdated assumptions about the relationship between structures and functions in both fields. Such an ontological perspective gives us a deeper understanding of recent transformations in intellectual property regimes.