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Understanding Locke’s Theory of Intellectual Property

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This article analyses the Lockean theory if Intellectual Property, the central theory that drives Intellectual Property Law protection regimes.

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Intellectual properties (IP) are mental creations including original works of authorship, innovations, symbols, logos, and trade names. Furthermore, the term “intellectual property rights” (IPRs) applies to these unique rights granted to owners to perform certain activities and to prohibit others from doing the same, allowing the owners to profit from their investments in their creations.

Legislators, policymakers, and practitioners debate a variety of ideas to explain IPRs. John Locke’s seminal work “Second Treatise of Government (1690)” is among the most prominent theories in the debate of IPR justifications. People own themselves and their labour, he said, and God had given the world to humans in general. When an individual works or makes use of things from the commons, the result becomes his property. This quote contains John Locke’s theory that justifies private property as a natural right:

“The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may claim, are properly his. Whatever he has taken from the states that nature has given and left it in, he has mixed his labour with it and joined something that is his own to it, thus making it his property.” All property emerges from the fact that individuals must produce the values needed for a flourishing human life, according to Locke’s Two Treatises of Civil Government. As a result, property rights determine the range of freedom that a person needs to construct, use, and dispose of these values.

Lockean Theory 

Humans were born fair and independent, according to Locke: able to just do what they wanted without having to ask permission from someone else, and equitable in the context that there was no inherent central authority of one individual over another. Locke’s political philosophy is built around the right to private property, which encapsulates how each man interacts with God and other men.

According to Locke, a man was created in a natural state where he had to answer only to the laws of nature. Men are free to do as they please in this state of nature, so long as they maintain harmony and the well-being of mankind as a whole. They have the right to self-preservation, but they also have the right to the things that will help them live and be happy.

Since all men own their bodies fully, Locke proposes that any result of their physical labour, therefore, belongs to them.6 As a result, when a man works on a good or material, he acquires ownership of it. The man who farms the land and produces food, for example, owns both the land and the food that his labour made.

The following are the key features of Locke’s property theory:

  • Individual property poses a problem for Locke’s theory, which seeks to resolve the question that the world belongs to “Mankind in general.” The existence of a commons was declared by natural law, but it also had to justify private ownership.
  • “Every man has a ‘Property’ in his own ‘Person’,” Locke concluded.
  • The title to a property is provided by the associated labour. Property is handled by the government, which also safeguards private property ownership or privileges.
  • He believes that labour contributes the worthy value to the land, which is referred to as the concept of the first appropriation;
  • Human beings have a natural right to take from nature to feed, drink, and create to survive, and they have a duty to God in doing so. As a means of self-preservation, humans manufacture and have rights to their products.
  • Labour improves a land’s quality and productivity, making it more profitable than it was previously as a natural wasteland. When an individual works, his labour becomes an entity, which then becomes property, resulting in the creation of a right in that property.
  • The right to a property is only clear and exclusive if it does not jeopardise someone else’s ability to construct equal types of property for himself, and the reason for this limitation is that “Nothing was created by God for Man to ruin or kill.”


It is vital to recognize that the John Locke theory is not absolute since it has two provisions (limitations). Because of the constant intrusion of technology on intangible matters, these provisos are necessary.

  1. “The Enough and as Good” Provision 

The first proviso states that ownership dependent on labour is permissible as long as one’s appropriation of a resource does not exacerbate another’s role. As a result, the award of a patent right to an inventor is justified because the public is not affected by the invention; rather, they profit from it. The proviso “enough and as good” refers to the commons, but it also refers to the natural limit on what each person can appropriate through labour due to human limitations.

  1. “The No Waste” Provision 

The second proviso prohibits spoilage: “one must not take more than one can use”. Owing to the nonexclusive existence of intellectual property, it can be claimed that it would never be able to fully satisfy this proviso. The perceived value of a product will decide how inefficient prohibiting third-party use will be. By restricting the size of holdings to the amount an individual may operate directly, this proviso ensures substantive equality.


John Locke placed a greater focus on the labour of people to add value to the property than on the natural value of the property. John Locke’s theory appears to be affecting capitalist societies all over the world in their quest for justifications in the name of freedom to trade and own. His philosophy also promoted the celebration of property rights and the defence of those rights as a component of social rights. While Locke’s theory is influential in some circles, it is not without criticism.

According to Locke’s labour theory, almost everyone can be granted IPRs, and many companies will enthusiastically embrace this theory because it would benefit them. Locke’s labour theory does not provide any guidance as to how this jointly owned property could operate in this situation. In another light, Locke’s labour theory can be somewhat discriminatory in that it appears to award IPRs to goods that are produced from a simple project while leaving others in a state of uncertainty. is now on Telegram. Follow us for regular legal updates and judgments from the Court. Follow us on Google NewsInstagramLinkedInFacebook & Twitter. You can also subscribe to our Weekly Email Updates. You can also contribute stories like this and help us spread awareness for a better society. Submit Your Post Now.

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