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Are All Patent Examiners Equal? The Impact of Examiner Characteristics

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  • Iain M. Cockburn
  • Samuel Kortum
  • Scott Stern

Abstract

Building on insights gained from interviewing administrators and patent examiners at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), we collect and analyze a novel dataset on patent examiners and patent outcomes. This dataset is based on 182 patents for which the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled on validity between 1997 and 2000. For each patent, we identify a USPTO primary examiner, and collect historical statistics derived from their entire patent examination history. These data are used to explore a number of hypotheses about the connection between the patent examination process and the strength of ensuing patent rights. Our main findings are as follows. (i) Patent examiners and the patent examination process are not homogeneous. There is substantial variation in observable characteristics of patent examiners, such as their tenure at the USPTO, the number of patents they have examined and the degree to which the patents that they examine are later cited by other patents. (ii) There is no evidence that examiner experience or workload at the time a patent is issued affects the probability that the CAFC finds a patent invalid. (iii) Examiners whose patents tend to be more frequently cited tend to have a higher probability of a CAFC invalidity ruling. The results suggest that all patent examiners are not equal, and that one of the roles of the CAFC is to review the exercise of discretion in the patent examination process.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8980.

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Date of creation: Jun 2002
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Publication status: published as Cohen, Wesley and Steven Merrill (eds.) Patents in the Knowledge-Based Economy. National Academies Press, 2003.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8980

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  1. Bronwyn H. Hall & Adam B. Jaffe & Manuel Trajtenberg, 2001. "The NBER Patent Citation Data File: Lessons, Insights and Methodological Tools," NBER Working Papers 8498, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Richard C. Levin & Alvin K. Klevorick & Richard R. Nelson & Sidney G. Winter, 1988. "Appropriating the Returns from Industrial R&D," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University 862, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  3. Griliches, Zvi, 1990. "Patent Statistics as Economic Indicators: A Survey," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 28(4), pages 1661-1707, December.
  4. Josh Lerner, 2005. "150 Years of Patent Office Practice," American Law and Economics Review, Oxford University Press, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(1), pages 112-143.
  5. repec:fth:harver:1473 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. Jean O. Lanjouw & Josh Lerner, 1997. "The Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights: A Survey of the Empirical Literature," NBER Working Papers 6296, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Wesley M Cohen & Richard R Nelson & John P Walsh, 2003. "Protecting Their Intellectual Assets: Appropriability Conditions and Why U.S. Manufacturing Firms Patent (Or Not)," Levine's Working Paper Archive 618897000000000624, David K. Levine.
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