Abstract: Public Goods or Business Opportunities? Ideas, Intellectual Property Rights, and Business History

Gerben Bakker


This paper aims to offer, in essay style, a brief comparative, case-based reflection on the history of intellectual property rights and the implications for the development of business and the economy. It focuses on how a series of intellectual property rights transformed public 'knowledge goods' into partially private goods, often toll goods, which are nonrivalrous but excludable. This paper takes a broad view in that it discusses many different property rights over several centuries in Britain, the United States, and several other countries. It is able to do so by discussing a series of relevant cases. Having a broad exploratory character, and drawing informally and implicitly on institutional economics, it discusses cases from the history of various intellectual property rights such as the copyright, the trademark, the patent, image and design rights, and assesses their benefits and costs.