Patent litigation insurance and R&D incentives
A major policy concern regarding patenting activity is related to the actual enforceability of the patents granted by Patent Offices. The risk of facing elevated legal costs to defend patent rights can affect ex-ante incentives to invest in R&D. This paper analyses whether the availability of insurance policies that cover legal expenditures for patent litigation could increase the appropriability of the innovation. We model a situation in which an incumbent innovator is endowed with a valid patent and an entrant imitator can either directly enter the market or try to apply for a patent, hoping that an error will be made by the Patent Office. The incumbent can accommodate the entrant, file a suit to a civil court or offer a settlement agreement. We model the presence of heterogeneity in the risk that the patents will face an error by both patent examiners at Patent Offices and judges at civil court. We analyse the changes in expected profits for the innovator when given the possibility of buying an insurance policy which will cover legal costs in the event of trial. We compare the cases in which (i) coverage is voluntary and the insurer can discriminate perfectly between risky patents; (ii) coverage is voluntary and the insurer cannot discriminate between patents, and (iii) coverage is compulsory. The model highlights a set of peculiar strategic characteristics of insurance for legal expenditures which contribute to singling out the reasons underlying the underdevelopment of this market. We suggest that the crucial reason for such a failure is not adverse selection; consequently, we challenge the benefits of making coverage compulsory.
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