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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: December 2011

6 - Engineering a Deal

from Part II - Perspectives on the Problems of Anticommons and Patent Thickets


A recent explosion in the intellectual property (IP) literature focuses on a set of problems relating to an arrangement of property rights called an “anticommons.” The basic distinguishing feature of the IP anticommons is the existence of such a large number of IP rights covering a single good or service that the provision of that good or service is feared to be unduly taxed and retarded, if not outright prevented.

An often-discussed example of the anticommons problem is DNA-on-a-chip technology involving microarrays of thousands, or even tens of thousands, of individual pieces of DNA. Each piece of DNA may be covered by a different patent; and many of the patents may have different owners. It is feared that entering a business based on such a chip would require the business owner to identify, find, and then successfully transact with a staggering number of individual IP owners. Such transaction costs, combined with the risk that any one of the IP owners could hold out and compromise the entire operation, raise a number of problems for business and for the public at large. Because access to such a plethora of IP rights is required, those wanting to enter a line of business using DNA-on-a-chip technology fear that they cannot, and those seeking access to the products that such businesses would have produced are left wanting. The impact may be life threatening – preventing promising diagnoses and treatments targeted to patients having a number of specific genetic profiles.

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