Monday, March 23, 2015

Governing Knowledge Commons

Guest Blogger

Michael Madison

For the Innovation Law Beyond IP 2 conference, March 28-29 at Yale Law School

Empirical investigation into different modalities of knowledge production, distribution, access, and preservation has accelerated in recent years.  Much of the energy behind that effort emerges from the intuition that formal intellectual property law frameworks are inadequate and/or incomplete to describe what one observes in the world when examining the governance of innovation.  “Peer production” frameworks, and frameworks simply “beyond intellectual property,” are likewise inadequate and/or incomplete; broad, simple labels cannot themselves correct for the errors and omissions of IP as such and cannot capture the significance of diverse ground-level details.

Yet policymaking cannot proceed effectively if it tries to align law with micro-level experience, or if researchers advance policy arguments based on isolated case studies of innovation “beyond intellectual property.”  What is needed is an empirical strategy for investigating the mechanics of innovation systems that encourages both micro-level and system-level inquiry and invites comparing and eventually synthesizing lessons across diverse innovation domains, accepting linkages among commons-based production, user-innovation, IP-based production, and state-sponsored production.  Commons-based production, sometimes in part referred to as “peer production,” is widespread and heavily theorized, yet commons governance is under-researched.  One-off studies and anecdotes have been collected without a strategy for using that data to build a larger model of knowledge and innovation governance.

My colleagues Brett Frischmann, Kathy Strandburg and I proposed the first part of such a strategy in our 2010 paper, Constructing Commons in the Cultural Environment, and we refine that strategy and demonstrate its potential in Governing Knowledge Commons, the edited collection that is the subject of my presentation at the Innovation Law Beyond IP 2 conference.

The Governing Knowledge Commons book project is described as follows:

“Knowledge commons” describes the institutionalized community governance of the sharing and, in some cases, creation, of information, science, knowledge, data, and other types of intellectual and cultural resources. It is the subject of enormous recent interest and enthusiasm with respect to policymaking about innovation, creative production, and intellectual property. Taking that enthusiasm as its starting point, Governing Knowledge Commons argues that policymaking should be based on evidence and a deeper understanding of what makes commons institutions work. It offers a systematic way to study knowledge commons, borrowing and building on Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize-winning research on natural resource commons. It proposes a framework for studying knowledge commons that is adapted to the unique attributes of knowledge and information, describing the framework in detail and explaining how to put it into context both with respect to commons research and with respect to innovation and information policy. Eleven detailed case studies apply and discuss the framework exploring knowledge commons across a wide variety of scientific and cultural domains.

Governing Knowledge Commons serves as an introduction to the emerging “knowledge commons” research space, defined to include researchers in law, history, political science, economics, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, and other disciplines with expertise in processes and practices of innovation and creation.  I’m happy to note that several presenters at the Innovation Law Beyond IP conference either contributed case study research to Governing Knowledge Commons or have committed to contributing case studies to future collections of knowledge commons case studies edited by us and perhaps by others.  A volume focused on knowledge commons governance in medical research is planned next.

For more information on the knowledge commons research project, visit the virtual research network known as the Workshop on Governing Knowledge Commons.

Michael Madison is Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Innovation Practice Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. He can be reached at madison at


Older Posts
Newer Posts