Competition authorities in the USA and Europe tend to have a different approach to firms that have a dominant market position by virtue of their ownership of specific intellectual property, such as software codes. Thus companies such as Microsoft can exploit network economies, thereby making it hard for rival firms to compete. After all, if most people use Windows, there is an incentive to keep using it so as to be compatible with other users. Similar arguments apply to the ownership of physical property, such as ports, airports, railways and power lines, where the owners may choose to deny access to competitors.
So should companies such as Microsoft grant rivals access to their intellectual property? Would such access increase competition, or would it be a disincentive for rivals to innovate? The following article from The Economist considers the issue and refers to a recent paper by Sir John Vickers, former head of the Office of Fair Trading and now Warden of All Souls College, Oxford and President of the Royal Economic Society. He argues for a mid-way course between Europe and America – more interventionist than in the USA, but less rigidly regulated than in the EU.
What’s mine is yours The Economist (28/5/09)
Competition Policy and Property Rights, John Vickers Oxford University , Department of Economics, Discussion Paper Series (26/5/09)
‘Intel inside’ could be outside the law
- Explain what is meant by ‘network economies’ and give some examples.
- What are the arguments for and against requiring companies to give rivals access to their intellectual property?
- If companies are required by the competition authorities to give others access to their intellectual property, should they be allowed to charge their rivals for using such property, and, if so, how would the authorities determine the appropriate amount?