Mitigating 'anticommons' harms to research in science and technology

Paul A. David


There are three analytically distinct layers of the phenomenon that has been labeled 'the anticommons' and indicted as a potential impediment to innovation resulting from patenting and enforcement of IPR obtained on academic research results. This paper distinguishes among 'search costs', 'transactions costs', and 'multiple marginalization' effects in the pricing of licenses for commercial use of IP, and examines the distinctive resource allocation problems arising from each when exclusion rights over research inputs are distributed among independent owners. Where information use-rights are gross complements (either in production or consumption), multiple marginalization—seen here to be the core of the 'anticommons' – is likely to result in extreme forms of 'royalty stacking' that can pose serious impediments to R&D projects. The practical consequences, particularly for exploratory scientific research (contrasted with commercially-oriented R&D) are seen from a heuristic analysis of the effects of distributed ownership of scientific and technical database rights. A case is presented for the contractual construction of 'research resource commons' designed as efficient IPR pools, as the preferable response to the anticommons.

Keywords: anticommons, R&D, multiple marginalization, IPR licensing, patent hold-ups, royalty stacking, distributed scientific databases, copyright collections societies, contractual commons

JEL Classification Codes: L24, O31, O34, O38

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