Journal of Evolutionary Economics

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 335–355 | Cite as

Property rights as a complex adaptive system: how entrepreneurship transforms intellectual property structures

  • David A. HarperEmail author
Regular Article


This article aims to provide some elements of an evolutionary theory of property rights. It applies a systems-based capital-theoretic perspective to explain the formation and transformation of property rights structures. The approach emphasizes how entrepreneurs create capital combinations by connecting capital goods—defined widely to include property rights, such as patents—in their production plans. Their actions change complementarity relations between property rights as used in production. We treat the property rights structure as a complex adaptive system that exhibits increasing structural complexity as it evolves. Entrepreneurs discover gaps in the property rights system. As they organize production to exploit profit opportunities, entrepreneurs regroup existing intellectual property rights (IPR) into new modules, such as patent pools, that encapsulate more complex combinations of basic building blocks of intellectual property. A patent pool constitutes an interpolation of a new meso level within the macro IPR structure. We apply our framework to the first of the patent pools for digital video compression technology used in digital television and DVDs.


Property rights Entrepreneurship Complexity Economic organization Capital Patent pools 

JEL Classifications

B52 B53 D02 D23 D24 K11 O34 P14 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

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