As background material, this post reviews the sizable body of empirical research analyzing the impact of patents on R&D investment and economic growth. Three future posts will present new empirical research featured in our book Patent Failure. The theme across all four posts is that patents often fail to perform effectively as property rights. [DDC: To work well as property, the right should be predictably valid; have discernible boundaries; and not have an overly fragmented ownership scheme.]
Economists cherish property rights that provide strong incentives for investment and trade, and that thereby contribute to economic growth. Potentially, patent rights could accomplish these three goals, and surely they sometimes do. Apparently though, it is hard to set up and maintain a patent system that works as property.
The rise of new market economies and strengthening of property rights around the globe in the last two decades provides economists with ‘natural experiments’ that help us evaluate whether and how much property rights contribute to investment and growth. The empirical results are impressive. Countries that expanded the role of markets and strengthened property rights have prospered from these choices. Economic historians find the same results hold going back to the Industrial Revolution.
Another look at my current interest: is IP (as currently constituted) really beneficial across developed and developing countries?
For more on this particular book and argument, see:
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