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The article introduces readers to the recent proliferation of federal prize contests, which sovereigns have employed, albeit sporadically, since the mid-sixteenth century to incentivize breakthrough innovation. In the past decade, the federal government’s use of prize contests has skyrocketed, which makes sense in an era of constrained government resources. Prize contests offer seemingly unlimited potential to break through existing technological barriers at less expense than traditional innovation incentivizing tools such as contracts, grants, and patents. But that upside potential comes at a cost.

For every ebullient prizewinner, there are potentially innumerable “losers,” many of whom feel wronged, exploited, or, at worst, cheated by their government. Disgruntled contestants do not always walk away quietly. Although the government is zealously promoting prize contests, it is failing to provide any obvious means of obtaining due process - or any meaningful review - of agency administration of those contests. The article suggests that the government’s aggressive promotion of prize contests without anticipating and facilitating dispute resolution represents an exercise of head-in-the–sand denial. Accordingly, the article considers potential jurisdictional arguments that disappointed contestants may deploy to litigate prize disputes against the federal government. It also calls upon Congress to intervene to eliminate - or at least truncate - costly and inefficient jurisdictional litigation over prize contest disputes by mandating where and how prize contest disputes will be resolved.

GW Paper Series

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-5; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2015-5

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