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Created: 2000-04-26
Last Modified: 2000-5-04
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New Economy Forum Briefing

J. Bradford DeLong

May 2000


Intellectual Property

  • The E-conomy is an "idea economy."
    • What does that mean? That the question of intellectual property becomes central.
  • Ideas and "information goods" have peculiar characteristics
    • marginal costs that approach zero
    • problems of transparency (in order to buy it I should know what the information or idea is; once I know it, in many cases, there is no need to buy it)
    • non-rival possession. (If you have a hamburger, I cannot have it. But if you know something, and I learn it, you still know it. Once I know it, I no longer have an incentive to compensate you to teach me.)
    • Together, these characteristics conspire to make market solutions problematic.
  • Idea considered as property are legal constructs that pose knotty policy problems.
    • We want the ideas to circulate in an intellectual commons. Otherwise how do we have progress either in technical forms or in the arts?
      • But if my ideas are available to you without cost, my economic incentive to generate those ideas is reduced.
    • How do we balance incentives to generate new ideas while at the same time sustaining the intellectual commons--the ability of others to use ideas as building blocks for new ideas?
  • Five debates appear over and over.
    • What should be covered by intellectual property?
    • Whow owns intellectual property? Do I own information about myself, or is it ownned by those who electronically track my activities?
    • How strong should intellectual property rights be?
    • By what mechanism should they be protected?
    • What to do with the international dimension?


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Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720-3880
(510) 643-4027 phone (510) 642-6615 fax

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