It’s become a truism in IP scholarship to introduce a discussion by acknowledging the remarkable recent rise in popular, scholarly, and political interest in our field. Thus readers will recognize a familiar sentiment in the opening line of Amy Kapczynski and Gaëlle Krikorian’s new book:
A decade or two ago, the words “intellectual property” were rarely heard in polite company, much less in street demonstrations or on college campuses. Today, this once technical concept has become a conceptual battlefield.
Only recently, however, has it become possible to put this anecdotal consensus to empirical test.
In December 2010, Google launched ngrams, a simple tool for searching its vast repository of digitized books and charting the frequency of specific terms over time. (It controls for the fact that there are many more books being published today.)
If you haven’t already played around with this tool to explore your own topics of interest, you should. While you’re at it, take a stab at explaining why writing on the Supreme Court rose steadily until approximately 1935 and has dropped just as steadily ever since!
Back to our topic, though. What does this data reveal about the prominence of intellectual property in published discourse?
I generated two graphs, both charting the terms “intellectual property,” “copyright,” “patent,” and “trademark.” First, the longview: