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Working Paper Series

Intellectual Property: When is it the Best Incentive Mechanism?


  • Suzanne Scotchmer, Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley
  • Nancy Gallini, University of Toronto


  • Goldman School of Public Policy Working Paper (April 2007)


Intellectual property is not the only mechanism used in the American economy for rewarding R&D. Prizes and contract research of various types are also com- mon. Given the current controversies that swirl around intellectual property policies, we review the economic reasoning that supports patent and other intellectual property over the alternatives. For those economic environments where intellectual property is justified, we review some of the arguments for why it is designed as it is. We focus particularly on the issue of how broad awards should be and how much protection should go to the original inventor (as opposed to those who subsequently improve the invention). We emphasize that the ideal design of an intellectual property system depends on the ease with which rightsholders can enter into licensing and other contractual arrangements involving these rights.

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