Summary of The Gridlock Economy

How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives

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The Gridlock Economy book summary
Ownership gone overboard: the solutions to creative stalemate.


8 Overall

9 Applicability

9 Innovation

8 Style


Michael Heller has provided an informative, thought-provoking contribution to the discussion of property rights. Using real-life examples, he demonstrates the disaster that happens when too many people own small portions of a resource. Like squabbling siblings who inherit the family home, one holdout can prevent anyone from using or selling it. No one benefits. That’s gridlock. Similarly, overuse or neglect often spoil unregulated, unprotected public resources: Licensing requirements prevent companies from developing new drugs because all the potential components are separately patented. Overzealous trademarking and copyrighting undermine the traditions of fair use, blocking artists’ creativity. Heller’s book is surprisingly entertaining for a work on intellectual property, real-estate law and economics. After you read it, you will never think about resources and ownership in quite the same way again. getAbstract recommends it to lawyers, artists, economists, research and development professionals, and anyone who’s been wondering why you rarely see the characters in a screen play singing the happy-birthday song when they blow out the candles. (Answer: It’s under copyright until 2030.)

In this summary, you will learn

  • What “commons” and “anticommons” are;
  • Why anticommons can prevent the development of social goods such as new medicines;
  • What “economic gridlock” is; and
  • How to identify and break up gridlock.


The “Commons” and the “Anticommons”
If everyone in a community decides to take advantage of a resource that the group holds in common, they may destroy it with overuse. Imagine a big-city parking lot with no gates or fees. You get there first and you have lots of room. You tell your friends...
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About the Author

Michael Heller, a professor at Columbia University, specializes in property and real-estate law.

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    Ahoy, warning: pirates ahead. Are your proprietary assets, from inventions to logos, well protected from thieves and copy-cats? Sail on for the complete update on trademarks, patents, copyrights and trade secrets.

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