Book Review: The Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in Outer Space Activities

As I am sure readers can relate, being an IP enthusiast often means it’s difficult to watch, read, or listen to anything without considering the intellectual property angle. One of my favourite films so far this year was Hidden Figures [a drama about African American female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race]. This film was no exception to my IP considerations, and as I watched I pondered on the IP implications for space technology. Or the activities in space - is space a jurisdiction?!

Much to my delight, I was asked to review ‘The Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in Outer Space Activities’ by Tosaporn Leepuengtham, where I could find some answers.

This book is eye opening as to the development of outer space technologies. Within the first few pages, I was sure I’d been transported to the future, but as it turns out, space activities are extremely advanced! At the same time, the book highlights that space activities permeate our everyday [particularly IP] lives. For example, satellite broadcasting and telecommunications services require the operation of a satellite that is likely to be privatised, which involves patents, copyright, trade secrets…

Herein lies the crux of the debate in the book: the conflict between IP as private exclusive rights, and the fundamental principles of space law which are based on common heritage. Leepuengtham argues there is a tension between outer space law and intellectual property law, as the principle of space law aims to secure benefits for all mankind - whereas IP protects private property. Space development is useful and expensive and IP can facilitate remuneration for creators to encourage investment. However, the author questions, does the commercialisation of space activities hinder the development of their technologies? If it does, should rights holders of works and inventions created for, or in, outer space be made to relinquish their rights for the better of the common heritage of mankind?

To address these questions the book is set out in the following way. The first chapter addresses international space law and its implication to outer space activities. The second chapter considers international intellectual property rights instruments and their implications for outer space activities. The third chapter looks at patents in outer space, the fourth is the application of copyright law to outer space activities and finally private international law – much to my delight the final chapter of the book is dedicated to jurisdiction.

Although I respectfully disagree with Leepuengtham’s view of IP, because I believe that the protection of intellectual property generally encourages creativity and the production of culture to the benefit of society, the book provides much food for thought. The contrast between IP and the principles of space law are evident, as space law emphasises freedom of use and access, non-appropriation, and the common or shared ownership among states. Therefore, the privatisation of space activities through intellectual property conflicts with space treaty activities. Furthermore, the application of IP to space activities is not without its challenges. In particular, Leepuengtham highlights issues such as qualifying criteria, territoriality and applicable law. The books makes some insightful suggestions as to the future of IP in outer space in overcoming these challenges.

This book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in IP law, outer space law and private international law. Readers can view a downloadable chapter of the book online here!

Leepuengtham, Tosaporn. The Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in Outer Space Activities, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017. ISBN: 978 1 78536 961 2. Hardback, 249 pages. Price: £80.00 or £72.00 online available here.  
Book Review: The Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in Outer Space Activities Book Review: The Protection of Intellectual Property Rights in Outer Space Activities Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 Rating: 5


  1. Thank you so much for bringing this book to our attention. Sounds like a riveting read (for a law book!). These issues are facsinating, and add a new perspective to more mundane issues of user rights, artistic freedom, and freedom of access to cultural heritage here on earth. And the concept of jurisdiction. BTW:

    “A phone call from NASA to the digital artist Eyal Gever … gave rise to #LAUGH, a collaborative art project whose objective has been to produce the first work of art using a 3D printer in zero gravity at the International Space Station. Through the programme “Made in Space”, NASA aims to make human habitation in space possible in the near future, developing additive manufacturing technology in space to speed up space development and the ability of humans through these technologies. … To create artwork in space requires thinking in a universal way, without references to any specific culture or country… In the new edition of International Art and Technology Conferences which will take place in the Bizkaia Aretoa Building in Bilbao on 11th and 12th May 2017, some 14 international artists will be joining Eyal Gever to demonstrate the present and future potential of fusing Art, Science and Technology.”
    ‘What would you do if you had the chance to create an artwork in zero gravity?”

    Surely you or one of the Kats could hop over to Bilbao day after tomorrow, and give us a report?

    Amalyah Keshet

  2. Possibly the first consideration of the legal issues relating to the patenting of space technology was published circa 1960 as a short story in "Astounding Science Fiction" entitled "The Lagging Profession". Its author was "Leonard Lockhart", the nom-de-plume of a US Patent Attorney, and was one of a series of IP-related stories by him that the magazine published in the late 1950's - early 1960's. The story describes a visit by the real Arthur C.Clarke to the fictional patent attorney's office with a view to patenting his real invention of the geostationary communications satellite. The attorney was very enthusiastic until Clarke showed him a copy of the (real) October 1945 issue of "Wireless World" in which the technical requirements for launching a geostationary satellite had been worked out in great detail.

    After some reflection, the attorney regretfully informed him that, not only was the "Wireless World" disclosure sufficiently complete as to prevent the grant of a patent had one been filed then (1960), but also that, had he applied for a patent in 1945, under US law (as it was at the time the article was written), his patent would have been invalid for lack of an enabling disclosure, as at that time the technology to launch a satellite into orbit did not exist. The fact that it was pretty certain that the technology would be developed in due course, was irrelevant. Moreover, even if he had been able to get a patent in 1945, its term would probably have expired before the technology to implement it was developed.

  3. The link to the Bilbao conference seems to have disappeared somewhere in cyberspace or outerspace. Possibly both. Here it is:



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