The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation (Intro)

25 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2012 Last revised: 26 Sep 2012

See all articles by Kal Raustiala

Kal Raustiala

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

Christopher Jon Sprigman

New York University School of Law; New York University (NYU) - Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy

Date Written: June 1, 2012


From the shopping mall to the corner bistro, knockoffs are everywhere in today's marketplace. Conventional wisdom holds that copying kills creativity, and that laws that protect against copies are essential to innovation -- and economic success. But are copyrights and patents always necessary? In The Knockoff Economy, we argue that creativity can not only survive in the face of copying, but can thrive.

The Knockoff Economy approaches the question of incentives and innovation in a new way -- by exploring creative fields where copying is generally legal, such as fashion, food, and even professional football. These important but rarely studied industries reveal a nuanced and fascinating relationship between imitation and innovation. In some creative fields, copying is kept in check through informal industry norms enforced by private sanctions. In others, the freedom to copy actually promotes creativity. High fashion gave rise to the very term "knockoff," yet the freedom to imitate great designs only makes the fashion cycle run faster -- and forces the fashion industry to be even more creative.

The Knockoff Economy ranges from food to font design to football plays to finance, examining how and why each of these vibrant industries remains innovative even when imitation is common. There is an important thread that ties all these instances together -- successful creative industries can evolve to the point where they become inoculated against -- and even profit from -- a world of free and easy copying. And there are important lessons here for copyright-focused industries, like music and film, that have struggled as digital technologies have made copying increasingly widespread and difficult to stop.

By looking at markets that fall outside normal IP law, The Knockoff Economy demonstrates that not only is a great deal of innovation possible without intellectual property, but that intellectual property's absence is sometimes better for innovation.

Suggested Citation

Raustiala, Kal and Sprigman, Christopher Jon, The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation (Intro) (June 1, 2012). Oxford University Press, 2012; UCLA School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper No. 12-18. Available at SSRN:

Kal Raustiala

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )

385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-794-4856 (Phone)

Christopher Jon Sprigman (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
NY, NY 10012
United States

New York University (NYU) - Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy ( email )

New York, NY
United States

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