Thursday, October 18, 2012

The evil of patents

The litigation saga between Apple and Samsung over minute and obvious details of their respective phones makes good entertainment but has little economic value. In fact, it highlights all that is wrong with the current state of the patent system. Sadly, textbooks still teach how temporary monopolies are beneficial for innovation, yet evidence is now overwhelming that they hurt the production of innovation, the use of innovation and well-being in general. I have blogged a few times about some cases and discussed some research in this regard.

Michele Boldrin and David Levine have written a nice summary on where we stand on the usefulness of patents. They have written a very good book about the topic a few years ago (buy it or download it for free, the authors are consistent with their message). The new working paper provides a shorter breviary with the main arguments for and (mostly) against patents, with a few updates from the literature and case studies. The major point is that despite a huge increase in the number of newly granted patents, there is no evidence of increases in R&D expenditures or total factor productivity. In fact, there is a growing consensus that technological progress is slowing down and we should get used to slower growth in the economy. Patent law and practice is at least partly responsible for this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For example, even though the Wright Brothers were American, by the time the US entered WWI they ended up having to buy planes from the french. Why, you ask? Simple, american makers had been locked in patent litigation for close to two decades, while the Europeans had just gone on and made airplanes....