Designing a successor to the patent as second best solution to the problem of optimum provision of good ideas


Book Section

© Cambridge University Press 2012. This chapter reviews welfarist arguments for government intervention to optimize the provision of good ideas that arise from their nature. It shows that, paradoxically, these same considerations provide reasons to think that, as a solution to the good idea-optimization problem, the patent will increasingly fail to be effective. This ineffectiveness is accelerated by technological developments as well. The problem that welfarism thus faces is to provide a new institution or regime that encourages the optimum provision and utilization of good ideas that will avoid the difficulties which the patent must inevitably impose and which technological developments are hastening. An examination of the reward system of pure science, however, suggests such a solution, and the chapter goes on to sketch ways in which this solution pure science uses can be implemented more broadly. The near-public goods character of good ideas and argument for intellectual property rights The welfarist argument for intellectual property rights is based on the near-public goods properties of good ideas. In a competitive market among economically rational agents that lacks property rights in good ideas, there must inevitably be an undersupply of good ideas: discovering and testing good ideas is costly and risky. Consider the obvious example of crop rotation. Establishing its enhancement of agricultural yields takes several growing seasons, during which some fields are removed from production altogether. No one has an incentive to undertake the experiment, but everyone has an incentive to watch others undertake it and copy the early adopters should the innovation work. But if no one has the appropriate incentive, there are no early adopters and crop rotation is unlikely ever to be invented. Ergo, the absence of property rights in good ideas leads to underinvestment in and undersupply of them.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Rosenberg, A

Published Date

  • January 1, 2012

Book Title

  • New Frontiers in the Philosophy of Intellectual Property

Start / End Page

  • 88 - 109

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9781107009318

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1017/CBO9780511920837.004

Citation Source

  • Scopus