Improvising Intellectual Property in Saigon

David A. Bergan · 22 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 441


How does intellectual property become part of the structure of social practice? The traditional answers are enforcement, education, and incentivized self-interest. This Article challenges that understanding by examining the social field of young engineers in Vietnam. In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, intellectual production is not only about producing the legal commodity we call intellectual property. For many young engineers working with multinational companies, it is not about producing a product at all. It is about improving their position in society. Relying on over a year of qualitative, ethnographic fieldwork from 2012 to 2014, this Article develops a critique of intellectual property scholarship that limits its own remit to the maximization of such product or access to it. Whether such intangible objects as patents, trade secrets, and copyrights are protected by law or left unprotected, the legality of their protection is embedded in social practices that transcend jurisdictional limits. Research participants in this city formerly known as Saigon report the extent to which intellectual property concepts already structure their practice, while at the same time they describe the legal system of Vietnam as socially distant and potentially hostile. They are engaged in improvising a practice with respect to intellectual objects, and in the process they participate in the construction of legality around these objects and around themselves.