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Imperfect Property Rights


  • James Bessen

    () (Research on Innovation, Boston University School of Law)


In theory, property rights allow markets to achieve Pareto optimal allocations. But the literature on contracting largely ignores what happens when property rights are imperfectly defined and enforced. Although some models include weak enforcement or poorly defined rights or "anticommons," this paper develops a general model that includes all of these possibilities. I find that combinations matter: Policy prescriptions to remedy individual imperfections are sometimes inappropriate under other conditions. For example, stronger penalties for violating rights can decrease Pareto efficiency, contrary to a common view. Also, collective rights organizations, such as patent pools, sometimes worsen problems of overlapping claims.

Suggested Citation

  • James Bessen, 2009. "Imperfect Property Rights," Working Papers 0903, Research on Innovation.
  • Handle: RePEc:roi:wpaper:0903

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item


    property; markets; externalities; contract enforcement; regulation;

    JEL classification:

    • K11 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Property Law
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • L14 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Transactional Relationships; Contracts and Reputation
    • L51 - Industrial Organization - - Regulation and Industrial Policy - - - Economics of Regulation


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