The Max Planck note concerns the International Patent Classification (IPC), created by the international Strasbourg Agreement of 1971 and administered by WIPO. The Classification
represents a hierarchically structured legal taxonomy in which technological and biological objects are classified into sections, classes, subclasses and groups. Although its primary activity is one of ordering scientific and technological objects, the patent classificatory scheme is mainly understood as a legal exercise.The note comments that
the IPC is engaged in a certain mode of (re-)production of scientific objects as legal properties (as inventions), as well as constituting relations between these different properties by placing them into a hierarchical order of past inventions. In a way, the IPC can be understood as a mapping exercise, which creates novel (the question is: legal, scientific, or both?) relations between objects on the basis of a legal perception of scientific "nature". In other words, the IPC represents an unofficial site of scientific classification; however, it is one which is put to nonimmediate, nonscientific use.Civilisation and its discontents, nu, as we stack concepts and creatures in a hierarchy of boxes.
The third interesting aspect about the IPC conjoins the preceding observations. IPC’s practice of cutting and intermediating between what is taken to be a novel (inventive) scientific object and objects already known to society as belonging to the legal category of "prior art" – in other words, the accumulated body of scientific knowledge generally known – exerts peculiar ontological effects. On the one hand, the IPC could be understood as a metaphor for the reality of different kinds of scientific objects. On the other hand, the metaphor could also be taken as a means: as ways by which a nonnegligible kind of scientific history and reality are generated.
Sherwin's article derives from
the ambition to taxonomize law and the different methods a legal taxonomer might employ. Three possibilities emerge.Given my biases I'm less interested in taxonomy generation for knowledge discovery (ie retrieval of what's been 'filed') and more interested in the construction of categories, although there's a dynamic involving identification of classes (eg the living/dead dichotomy implicit in the preceding post), identification of relationships between those classes, tagging of entities according to those classes and action on the basis of those tags, action that on occasion leads to reconstruction of the classes by the tagged or the taggers. Gadamerian hermeneutic circle, anyone?
The first is a formal taxonomy that classifies legal materials according to rules of order and clarity. Formal taxonomy is primarily conventional and has no normative implications for judicial decision-making.
The second possibility is a function-based taxonomy that classifies laws according to their social functions. Function-based taxonomy can influence legal decision-making indirectly, as a gatekeeping mechanism, but it does not provide decisional standards for courts. Its objective is to assist in analysis and criticism of law by providing an overview of the body of legal doctrine.
The third possibility is a reason-based taxonomy that classifies legal rules and decisions according to the moral principles or "legal principles" thought to justify them. Reason-based taxonomy of this type offers courts a set of high-level decisional rules drawn from legal data. Its objective is to guide courts in deciding new cases and evaluating precedents.
A predominantly formal taxonomy facilitates legal analysis and communication. A functional taxonomy can assist those who make and apply law by providing a purposive overview of the field. Reason-based taxonomy may be useful to lawmakers but is unhelpful when offered as a guide to adjudication of disputes.