Intellectual property has been, for a long time, outside the radar of modern mainstream economic analysis. It was a domain of lawyers and legal specialists that had little to do with “economic” analysis. And when it did, it was mostly a framework condition that needed to be “in place” and “right” in order not to hamper innovative entrepreneurial activity.
Patents have been seen as mechanisms to guarantee excludability in the use of knowledge, and hence appropriability in intangibles. In theory, patents confer a temporary monopoly on the exploitation of the patented technology, in exchange for the disclosure of the relevant information necessary to replicate the technology, which will become freely available for production use to others than the patent owner when the patent expires.
As always, reality is much more complex than that.
Since the end of the 1990s, several changes contributed to making “intellectual property” an issue of rising concern for a growing number of stakeholders, such as economists, policymakers and civil society.
Globalization and rising trade openness revealed the persistency in the asymmetries between advanced, emerging and lagging economies and put pressure on the issues of knowledge generation, access and transfer. The new technological paradigms, such as information and communications technology (ICT), biotech and nanotech reshaped the ways of doing business and research, highlighting the relevance of the mechanisms that regulate access and transfer of knowledge and technology.