Optimal Rules for Patent Races
journal contributionposted on 01.05.2009, 00:00 by Kenneth L. Judd, Karl Schmedders, Sevin Yeltekin Sleet
There are two important rules in a patent race: what an innovator must accomplish to receive the patent and the allocation of the benefits that flow from the innovation. Most patent races end before R&D is completed and the prize to the innovator is often less than the social benefit of the innovation. We study the optimal combination of prize and minimal accomplishment necessary to obtain a patent in a dynamic multistage innovation race. A planner, who cannot distinguish between competing firms, chooses the innovation stage at which the patent is awarded and the magnitude of the prize to the winner. We examine both social surplus and consumer surplus maximizing patent race rules. We show that a key consideration is the efficiency costs of prizes and of monopoly power to the patentholder. Our results indicate that races are undesirable only when efficiency costs are low,firms have similar technologies, and the planner maximizes social surplus. In all other circumstances, the optimal policy spurs innovative effort through a race of nontrivial duration. Races are also used to filter out inferior innovators.