Innovation is unquestionably important to society. Intellectual property regimes seek to provide incentives for such innovation. Understanding the inter-working of intellectual property regimes and innovation may lead to conclusions that such regimes are not working well, or at all, in encouraging innovation.

When such failures are perceived, active communities form to address the shortcomings. Many communities have formed around issues such as free speech vs copyright; the importance of fair use; alternative licensing regimes such as Creative Commons or free and open source software; patent protection of software and business methods; and patents vs downstream innovation of critical pharmaceuticals.

While these approaches have been exceedingly important in bringing about needed change, many successful groups have devised strategies that balance the extent to which activists work within existing innovation systems in order to achieve their goals, with exploring the necessity of circumventing those systems. At the same time, the increased production of and focus on IP in all industries has catalyzed the emergence of IP obstacles in areas where IP has traditionally not been a consideration, thus creating new areas for activism.

It’s time to reexamine our approaches to improving global welfare by identifying new and existing IP-related challenges to activism, developing strategies for overcoming IP obstacles, and delivering practical solutions to spur social, political, environmental, scientific, technological and legal change.


The Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School is proud to present Innovate / Activate: An Unconference on IP and Activism. The inaugural Innovate / Activate unconference, co-sponsored by Google and the Yale Law School Information Society Project, brought together over 100 activists, academics, professionals, and students from around the world to collectively explore the ways in which IP influences global welfare.

Participants came from a wide range of practice, representing the unique perspectives of organizations from abroad, such as the Center for International Environmental Law in Geneva, the Institute for Science, Innovation, and Ethics in Manchester, and the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore; domestic institutions like IBM, the Open Video Alliance, and MIT OpenCourseWare; and student-led endeavors like Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, Students for Free Culture, and the Redactive Poetry Project.

The ideas, conversations, and relationships that arose over the course of the two days have already begun to inspire new action and collaboration. Taking the lessons learned from the unconference, students from New York Law School have created an IP and activism strategy guide, to be published by New Tactics in Human Rights.

An archive of the Innovate / Activate Unconference, including videos of all the presentations, is available at