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Intellectual Property and Biodiversity: When and Where are Property Rights Important?

  • Mare Sarr

    (School of Economics, University of Cape Town)

  • Tim Swanson

    (Department of Economics, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)

An important issue in the life sciences industries concerns the nature of the incentive mechanism that should govern the production of innovation within this R&D sector. We look at the specific problem of coordinating the supply of inputs across very different agents - North and South - that must each supply inputs in order to generate innovations from the industry. The current arrangement in this industry provides for a single property right at “end of the pipeline”, i.e. where marketing of the innovation occurs. This property rights scenario raises two problems, one of efficiency and one of equity. The key question asked here pertains to the number and placement of property rights that should be instituted to address this property rights failure. Should one establish new property rights in traditional knowledge alone; property rights in genetic information alone; or in both? We demonstrate that in a world in which traditional knowledge and genetic information are complements in the production of R&D, a resolution of the property rights failure in genetic information also may resolve the allocation failure in traditional knowledge even in the absence of a distinct property right. The reason is that traditional knowledge of the nature of private information is comparable to a trade secret. Traditional knowledge holders may use this informational advantage to improve their benefit by capturing some informational rent. A new property right is important to enable bargaining and coordination to occur across the industry, but a single property right is probably sufficient to enable coordination between the two agents.

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Paper provided by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in its series Working Papers with number 2011.79.

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Date of creation: Nov 2011
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Handle: RePEc:fem:femwpa:2011.79
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  1. Francine Lafontaine & Margaret E. Slade, 1998. "Incentive Contracting and the Franchise Decision," NBER Working Papers 6544, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Lerner, Josh & Merges, Robert P, 1998. "The Control of Technology Alliances: An Empirical Analysis of the Biotechnology Industry," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(2), pages 125-56, June.
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  4. Sarr, Mare & Goeschl, Timo & Swanson, Tim, 2008. "The value of conserving genetic resources for R&D: A survey," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(2), pages 184-193, September.
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  8. Simpson, R David & Sedjo, Roger A & Reid, John W, 1996. "Valuing Biodiversity for Use in Pharmaceutical Research," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(1), pages 163-85, February.
  9. Rothaermel, Frank T., 2001. "Complementary assets, strategic alliances, and the incumbent's advantage: an empirical study of industry and firm effects in the biopharmaceutical industry," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(8), pages 1235-1251, October.
  10. KINUKAWA Shinya & MOTOHASHI Kazuyuki, 2010. "Bargaining in Technology Markets: An empirical study of biotechnology alliances," Discussion papers 10020, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
  11. Costello, Christopher & Ward, Michael, 2006. "Search, bioprospecting and biodiversity conservation," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 615-626, November.
  12. Hart, Oliver & Moore, John, 1990. "Property Rights and the Nature of the Firm," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(6), pages 1119-58, December.
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