Property Rights and Property Rules for Commercializing Inventions

58 Pages Posted: 26 Jul 2000

See all articles by F. Scott Kieff

F. Scott Kieff

George Washington University - Law School; Stanford University - Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; McKool Smith


Several recent commentators have criticized trends in the patent system by suggesting that the goals of the system can be better achieved through a variety of approaches that avoid or mitigate the monopoly-type impact of property rights. Suggested alternatives include the use of cash rewards, buy-outs, and liability rules, as distinct from property rules. This paper uses the important contributions made by these commentators to reveal shortcomings in any view of the patent system that focuses only on incentives to engage in inventive activity. The paper offers a new view of the patent system that embraces property rights and property rules as core elements of the patent system. According to this view, property treatment is essential for the subsequent commercialization activity that is necessary to get embodiments of nascent inventions into the hands of consumers and for efficiently identifying which inventions are worth the costs of government intervention in the first instance. The recently suggested alternatives fail to address these important goals of the patent system and would actually frustrate them. In addition, the current system already addresses many of the concerns raised by such commentary. The paper reveals how property rights and commercialization motivated the creation of our current patent system and explains many controversial trends in the system, including those that sparked the recent critical commentary, as well as those in other intellectual property regimes such as trademarks.

Suggested Citation

Kieff, F. Scott, Property Rights and Property Rules for Commercializing Inventions. Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 85, Pp. 697-754, 2001. Available at SSRN: or

F. Scott Kieff (Contact Author)

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