Commentators have poured forth a loud and sustained outcry over the past few years that sees property rule treatment of intellectual property (IP) as a cause of excessive transaction costs, thickets, anticommons, hold-ups, hold-outs, and trolls, which unduly tax and retard innovation, competition, and economic growth. The popular response has been to seek a legislative shift towards some limited use of weaker, liability rule treatment, usually portrayed as “just enough” to facilitate transactions in those special cases where the bargaining problems are at their worst and where escape hatches are most needed. This essay is designed to make two contributions. First, it shows how a set of changes in case law over just the past few years have hugely re-shaped the patent system from having several major, and helpful, liability-rule-pressure-release-valves, into a system that is fast becoming almost devoid of significant property rule characteristics, at least for those small entities that would most need property rule protection. The essay then explores some harmful effects of this shift, focusing on the ways liability rule treatment can seriously impede the beneficial deal-making mechanisms that facilitate innovation and competition. The basic intuition behind this bad effect of liability rules is that they seriously frustrate the ability for a market-challenging patentee to attract and hold the constructive attention of a potential contracting party (especially one that is a larger more established party) while preserving the option to terminate the negotiations in favor of striking a deal with a different party. At the same time, liability rules can have an additional bad effect of helping existing competitors to coordinate with each other over ways to keep out new entrants. The essay is designed to contribute to the literature on IP in particular, as well as the broader literatures on property and coordination, by first showing how a seemingly disconnected set of changes to the legal rules impacting a particular legal regime like the patent system can have unintended and sweeping harmful consequences, and then by exploring why within the more middle range of the spectrum between the two poles of property rules and liability rules, a general shift towards the property side may be preferred by those seeking an increase in access and competition.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 547; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 547
Kieff, F. Scott, "Removing Property from Intellectual Property and (Intended?) Pernicious Impacts on Innovation and Competition" (2011). GW Law Faculty Publications & Other Works. 562.