Right on Time: First Possession in Property and Intellectual Property

64 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2019 Last revised: 22 Jan 2022

See all articles by Dotan Oliar

Dotan Oliar

University of Virginia School of Law

James Y. Stern

William & Mary Law School

Date Written: February 25, 2019


How should we allocate property rights in unowned tangible and intangible resources? This Article develops a model of original acquisition that draws together common law doctrines of first possession with original acquisition doctrines in patent, copyright, and trademark law. The common denominator is time: in each context, doctrine involves a trade-off between assigning entitlements to resources earlier or later in the process of their development and use. Early awards risk granting exclusivity to parties who may not be capable of putting resources to their best use. Late awards prolong contests for ownership, which may generate waste or discourage acquisition efforts in the first place. While the doctrinal resolution of these timing questions varies in different resource contexts, the determination depends upon a recurring and discrete set of functional considerations. This Article applies its theory to assess a host of doctrinal features in our patent, copyright, and trademark laws, to analyze recent intellectual property law developments, and to suggest directions for reform.

Keywords: first possession, original acquisition, property, intellectual property, patent, copyright, trademark, trolls, Pierson v. Post, rule of capture, first committed searcher rule, priority, law and economics

JEL Classification: O31, O33, O34, O38

Suggested Citation

Oliar, Dotan and Stern, James, Right on Time: First Possession in Property and Intellectual Property (February 25, 2019). Dotan Oliar & James Y. Stern, Right on Time: First Possession in Property and Intellectual Property Law, 99 B.U. L. Rev. 395 (2019). , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3341635

Dotan Oliar (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-3219 (Phone)

James Stern

William & Mary Law School ( email )

613 S. Henry Street
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States
757-221-1341 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://jamesystern.wordpress.com/

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