Theses Doctoral

Intellectual Property and the Knowledge Economy’s Global Division of Labor: Producing Taiwanese Green-Technology Between the United States and China

West, Matthew Ellis

The social scientific study of globalization's increasing flows of commodities, financing, knowledge, media, and people has been a productive ground for investigating changing connections among geographically distant people and their consequences. In spite of this recent focus on movement and flows, however, I suggest that our knowledge of globalization is incomplete without an understanding of the infrastructures of stoppage that underlie and determine the ongoing shape and directionalities of that movement. This dissertation lays out an argument for patents as one such critical legal infrastructure of global stoppage that provides unique insight into the changing roles and challenges confronting China and Taiwan within global systems of production, consumption, creativity, and copying. The dissertation's ethnography of patents in practice is based on 20 months of fieldwork on the production of technological knowledge and property in it within a Taiwanese LED (light emitting diode) company that produces patents between Taiwan and the United States and products between Taiwan and China. I argue that the processes by which knowledge is extracted and translated from the lab to the law decouples the knowledge from its origins in machines, materials, and engineers. This decoupling enables patents to circulate separately from these and provides owners with new control over global flows of engineers, tangible commodities, and usable knowledge. Alongside my Taiwanese interlocutors, I argue that patents are best understood as weapons of competition: more similar to non-disclosure agreements or aggressive pricing tactics than copyright or other forms of “intellectual property.” As weapons, the deployment of patents encourages the production of new patents much more than it does technological innovation. As they are currently practiced, patents therefore enable flows, but do so only in particular directions. It is through this stoppage that high tech patents create and maintain global divisions of labor, profit, and environmental risk.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Cohen, Myron L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 13, 2015