from the promote-the-progress dept
As I've pointed out multiple times, one of the big questions concerning whether or not intellectual property law should be strengthened or weakened is based on how you parse the clause in the Constitution that enables Congress to create the IP system:
"The Congress shall have Power... To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"By my reading, that means that if the act of securing exclusive rights for a limited time does not promote the progress of science and the useful arts, then it is not covered by the Constitution. That is, the first part of the clause is defining under what conditions (to promote the progress...) it is okay to do certain things (secure exclusive rights). Thus, any intellectual property system that is shown not to promote progress (or worse, to hinder it) is by definition unconstitutional. Others, however, read that first part "promoting the progress" as a sort of "preamble" discussion. Thus, their reading is that securing those exclusive rights for a limited time, by definition, "promotes the progress."
So, what does the Heller decision on guns have to do with all of this? Well, as some in our comments pointed out way back in March, the key to the Heller decision was how the court interpreted part of the clause: "Because a well regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State...." If it interpreted that as meaningless preamble, saying that the right to bear arms had nothing to do with "a well regulated militia" then it opens up some pretty serious questions about constitutional interpretation. As Patry notes, the court can now treat sections of the Constitution it doesn't like as preamble, rendering them meaningless.
Again, so whether or not you're happy with the way the court decided the Heller case, the fact that it has no problem deciding that a clause in the Constitution can be ignored as "preamble" could have very bad consequences for those of us pointing out that dangerous innovation-hindering intellectual property systems are against the Constitution. Hopefully, the courts would still recognize that this clause is relevant and not meaningless -- but they now have the necessary tools to claim that promoting the progress is meaningless and has no bearing on whether or not a particular intellectual property system is constitutional.