Quantum Game Theory and Coordination in Intellectual Property

42 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2010 Last revised: 19 Jul 2022

See all articles by Ted M. Sichelman

Ted M. Sichelman

University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: November 19, 2015


The inventive and creative works protected by intellectual property laws are typically characterized as public goods. As in the case of ordinary public goods, it is often difficult for inventors and creators to erect non-legal barriers to prevent the use of their works (non-excludability), and any such use generally does not deplete their works (non-rivalry). Thus, scholars have long used classical game theoretic models of public goods to describe the strategies of players in intellectual property (IP) games. These models contain two seemingly common-sense assumptions: one, that if there are a finite number of decisions a player can make for any single move, the player must make exactly one decision; and two, that if a player engages only in a single game, the player will break a pre-game commitment with another player to follow a mutually beneficial strategy if it is in that player’s self-interest.

Recent extensions to classical game theory using the theory of quantum mechanics -- known as quantum game theory (QGT) -- have dispensed with these two assumptions, yielding radical new results for many types of games. For instance, in the classical version of the prisoner’s dilemma, two prisoners will fail to cooperate even though it is in their mutual interest to do so. However, in the quantum version, the prisoners’ decisions are often “entangled” in a mutually beneficial way that overcomes the ostensible barriers of classical self-interest, leading the players to cooperate. In this regard, quantum game theorists have suggested that if some exogenous quantum mechanical mechanism -- like a quantum computer -- could be used to entangle players in a public-goods game, doing so would diminish or eliminate sub-optimal free riding.

This paper contends that there are endogenous effects analogous to those in quantum games -- specifically, quantum game-like results that emerge in the absence of external quantum computers -- in certain types of IP games that may act to reduce classically predicted free riding, duplicated development costs, and deadweight losses. In particular, instead of modeling underlying IP rights as classical entities, this paper follows the suggestions of several earlier scholars that legal rights are probabilistic and, at least metaphorically, quantum in nature. In so doing, it shows that rights, including IP rights, exhibit an inherent quantum structure that allows players to avoid making a single classical choice for each move. By allowing the government -- as a mechanism designer -- to engage in quantum-like strategies, ordinary players can exhibit forms of seemingly altruistic behavior and cooperation that are absent in classical models. The paper concludes by commenting briefly on how QGT might be applied more broadly to other areas of the law.

Keywords: quantum game theory, intellectual property, patents, innovation, public goods

JEL Classification: C7, O3

Suggested Citation

Sichelman, Ted M., Quantum Game Theory and Coordination in Intellectual Property (November 19, 2015). San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 10-035, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1656625 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1656625

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