Constitutional analysis of intellectual property14 April 2014
This article analyses the Constitutional Court’s treatment of property interests in the face of state regulation to gain an understanding of the type of state interference that is justifiable in terms of section 25(1) of the Bill of Rights. This is done by examining the Constitutional Court’s dicta relating to the meaning of deprivation and how these inform the meaning of property in the constitutional context. The methodology that the Constitutional Court has formulated to assess if state interference complies with the provisions of section 25 is explained to show the type of state regulation that has been found legitimate. We then consider how this understanding of constitutional property and the state’s legitimate exercise of its inherent police power interact in the setting of intellectual property by contrasting the various policy objectives underlying the different statutory regimes governing intellectual property. This theoretical analysis is then applied to two contemporary examples of feasible state interference with existing intellectual property interests, namely the proposed plain packaging measures which severely restrict the use of tobacco trade marks, and a fair dealing exception allowing the use of copyright works for the purpose of parody. These examples serve to illustrate the context and manner in which intellectual property interests may come before the Court and the necessary differentiation with which these interests should be treated. The appropriate judicial assessment of the true impact that state action could have on vested property interests is explained and contrasted with the balancing exercise that is employed at the earlier stage of policy making. This discussion is concluded by highlighting some of the interpretational issues that will arise and how some constitutional values could be curtailed in the absence of legislative intervention.