AA3 – Networks



Tropical Mechanism Design

Project Heads

Project Members

Sylvain Spitz (HU) 

Project Duration

01.01.2019 – 31.12.2021

Located at

HU Berlin


We study the design of revenue-maximizing mechanisms for selling multiple items. Applying a duality framework, there is a one-to-one correspondence between optimal mechanisms and certain tropical polynomials and rational functions that we want to study via ideas from algebraic statistics.



The question of how to sell one item to multiple bidders in a revenue-maximizing auction is well understood since the work of Roger Myerson in the 1980s.  It is used in many applications and on online platforms such as eBay. But if we want to sell multiple items at once, the problem becomes substantially harder and not much is known about the optimal auction mechanism.



Typically, an auction mechanism asks the participants for their bids and then allocates the items to the bidders as well as a price they have to pay. This method is called a deterministic auction mechanism. In contrast, we could introduce a lottery for some (or all) items and, after collecting the bids, allocate the items to the bidders up to a certain probability. Observations suggest that in general a revenue-maximizing auction has to introduce such lotteries. All the more so it is interesting to find cases, in which a deterministic auction is optimal.

Giannakopoulos and Koutsoupias examined the case, where the valuations, that each bidder has for the items, are drawn according to an uniform distribution. They showed, that the optimal auction mechanism for this setting and up to 6 items is deterministic and they conjectured that this holds true for an arbitrary number of items. We will explore their conjecture as well as their approach by applying other methods, especially from tropical geometry. In fact, the utility function of a deterministic auction corresponds to a tropical polynomial. Moreover, we want to use the insights we get by this method, to better understand the general case.

Project Webpages

Selected Publications

Michael Joswig, The Cayley trick for tropical hyper surfaces with a view toward Ricardian economics, Homological and computational methods in commutative algebra, 107-128, 2017.

Paul Dütting, Felix Fischer, Max Klimm, Revenue Gaps for Static and Dynamic Posted Pricing of Homogenous Goods, arXiv:1607.07105, 2019.

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