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Grounds of the Immaterial

A Conflict-Based Approach to Intellectual Rights Niels van Dijk, Postdoctoral Fellow, Research Group on Law, Science, Technology & Society, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
This book applies a novel conflict-based approach to the notions of ‘idea’, ‘concept’, ‘invention’ and ‘immateriality’ in the legal regime of intellectual property rights by turning to the adversarial legal practices in which they occur. In doing so, it provides extensive ethnographies of the courts and law firms, and tackles classical questions in legal doctrine about the immaterial nature of intellectual property rights from a thoroughly new perspective.
Extent: 328 pp
Hardback Price: $145.00 Web: $130.50
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 978 1 78643 249 0
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  • Law - Academic
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • Law and Society
  • Legal Philosophy
  • Legal Theory
This book applies a novel conflict-based approach to the notions of ‘idea’, ‘concept’, ‘invention’ and ‘immateriality’ in the legal regime of intellectual property rights by turning to the adversarial legal practices in which they occur. In doing so, it provides extensive ethnographies of the courts and law firms, and tackles classical questions in legal doctrine about the immaterial nature of intellectual property rights from a thoroughly new perspective.

The book follows the legal proceedings of disputes in patent, copyright and trademark law as they circulate from the sites of enterprises, through the offices of law firms, the court registry, the courtroom and the judge’s office, until they finally arrive at judgment. In this way, the central matters of a dispute are gradually transformed into immaterial works, inventions, or signs through the ceaseless ‘material’ operations of legal practices. This analysis sheds light on how seemingly abstract philosophical notions are rendered workable as concrete legal concepts with important consequences.

Grounds of the Immaterial offers an inventive and refreshing take on intellectual property rights which will be valued by academics and students in philosophy, legal theory, legal anthropology and intellectual property.


‘Niels van Dijk’s exploration of the way legal practitioners answer traditional philosophical questions such as “what is an idea?” is deeply inspirational. It leaves no place for rivalry between law and philosophy, but engages a mutual becoming in which each practice retains, or even rediscovers its vital thrust. The book will move readers, whether they are philosophers or legal practitioners, to a deeper appreciation of the capacity of their respective practice to invent its own questions and define its own problems.’
– Isabelle Stengers, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Contents: Introduction I. Legal Theory: From Intellectual Property To Informational Goods 2. Interlude ~ Turning to Legal Practice: Outlines Of A Transversal Approach 3. Grounds of Inventions at the Law Firm: Proceedings of a Technological Dispute 4. Legal Pointillism in Court:
Towards the Composition of Judgment 5. Conclusion: Immaterial Performances in the Life of the Legal Dispute 6. Coda ~ Philosophy and Law: A Conflictive Encounter Index