Chain Reaction: How Property Begets Property

54 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2007 Last revised: 8 Oct 2007


Classic theories for the evolution of property rights consider the emergence of private property to be a progressive development reflecting a society's movement to a more efficient property regime. This article argues that instead of this progressive dynamic, a more subtle and damaging chain reaction dynamic can come into play that traditional theories for intellectual and other property rights neither anticipate nor explain. The article suggests that the expansion of intellectual and other property rights have an internally generative dynamic. Drawing upon contemporary case studies, the article argues that property rights evolve in reaction to each other. The creation of property rights for some engenders the demand for related property rights by others. These demands and resulting recognition of property rights may have little to do with the value of the resource in question or efficiency concerns. Today's global economy makes the collateral creation of property rights more pronounced because changes in property rights in one country can trigger unanticipated changes in the property regimes of another.

The article offers three explanations for why property rights beget more property rights. The first draws on group behavior theory; the second focuses on a breach of a cooperative norm; the third flows from the right of exclusion. The chain reaction evolution of property rights helps explain why intellectual property rights have vastly expanded over the last several decades and continue to expand. It also sheds light on the increased transformation of spaces and tangible goods from open access or commons property to exclusive ownership regimes. The chain reaction theory of the evolution of intellectual and other property rights has considerable implications. It anticipates the development of unexpected, extensive and ultimately undesirable property regimes.

Keywords: Evolution of Property, Intellectual Property, Commons, Demsetz, Patent Paradox, Law and Economics, Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge, Anticommons, Global

JEL Classification: K11, K33, K00, C70, D23, D62, H41, 034

Suggested Citation

Safrin, Sabrina, Chain Reaction: How Property Begets Property. Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 82, p. 1917, 2007, Rutgers School of Law-Newark Research Paper No. 015, Available at SSRN:

Sabrina Safrin (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

NJ 07102
United States
973-353-3243 (Phone)

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