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Is the Time Allocated to Review Patent Applications Inducing Examiners to Grant Invalid Patents? Evidence from Microlevel Application Data


  • Michael D. Frakes

    (Northwestern University and NBER)

  • Melissa F. Wasserman

    (University of Illinois)


We explore how examiner behavior is altered by the time allocated for reviewing patent applications. Insufficient examination time may hamper examiner search and rejection efforts, leaving examiners more inclined to grant invalid applications. To test this prediction, we use application-level data to trace the behavior of individual examiners over the course of a series of promotions that carry with them reductions in examination time allocations. We find evidence demonstrating that such promotions are associated with reductions in examination scrutiny and increases in granting tendencies, as well as evidence that those additional patents being issued on the margin are of below-average quality.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael D. Frakes & Melissa F. Wasserman, 2017. "Is the Time Allocated to Review Patent Applications Inducing Examiners to Grant Invalid Patents? Evidence from Microlevel Application Data," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 99(3), pages 550-563, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:tpr:restat:v:99:y:2017:i:3:p:550-563

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    Cited by:

    1. Schankerman, Mark & Schuett, Florian, 2020. "Patent Screening, Innovation, and Welfare," Discussion Paper 2020-024, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    2. de Rassenfosse, Gaetan & Higham, Kyle, 2019. "Decentralising the Patent System," SocArXiv qzmf8, Center for Open Science.
    3. Langinier, Corinne & Marcoul, Philippe, 2020. "Monetary and implicit incentives of patent examiners," Journal of Economics and Business, Elsevier, vol. 110(C).
    4. Francis, Bill B. & Kim, Incheol & Wang, Bin & Zhang, Zhengyi, 2018. "Labor law and innovation revisited," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 94(C), pages 1-15.
    5. Tetsuo Wada, 2018. "The choice of examiner patent citations for refusals: evidence from the trilateral offices," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 117(2), pages 825-843, November.
    6. Corinne Langinier & Philippe Marcoul, 2019. "Subjective performance of patent examiners, implicit contracts, and self‐funded patent offices," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 40(3), pages 251-266, April.
    7. Bhaven N Sampat & Kenneth C Shadlen, 2018. "Indian pharmaceutical patent prosecution: The changing role of Section 3(d)," PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, vol. 13(4), pages 1-19, April.
    8. Righi, Cesare & Simcoe, Timothy, 2019. "Patent examiner specialization," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 137-148.
    9. Schankerman, Mark & Schuett, Florian, 2020. "Patent Screening, Innovation, and Welfare," Other publications TiSEM 9e661f68-5210-4ca7-8b2f-6, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    10. Bryan, Kevin A. & Ozcan, Yasin & Sampat, Bhaven, 2020. "In-text patent citations: A user's guide," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(4).
    11. Tetsuo Wada, 2020. "When do the USPTO examiners cite as the EPO examiners? An analysis of examination spillovers through rejection citations at the international family-to-family level," Scientometrics, Springer;Akadémiai Kiadó, vol. 125(2), pages 1591-1615, November.
    12. Lemus, Jorge & Marshall, Guillermo, 2018. "When the clock starts ticking: Measuring strategic responses to TRIPS's patent term change," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 796-804.
    13. Michael D. Frakes & Melissa F. Wasserman, 2020. "Investing in Ex Ante Regulation: Evidence from Pharmaceutical Patent Examination," NBER Working Papers 27579, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Kovács, Balázs, 2017. "Too hot to reject: The effect of weather variations on the patent examination process at the United States Patent and Trademark Office," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(10), pages 1824-1835.
    15. Okada, Yoshimi, 2020. "The Screening Function of International Search Authorities under the Patent Cooperation Treaty: Evidence from the Japanese Government’s Policy Change in 1999," IIR Working Paper 20-13, Institute of Innovation Research, Hitotsubashi University.
    16. Schankerman, Mark & Schuett, Florian, 2020. "Patent Screening, Innovation, and Welfare," Other publications TiSEM 71ffc853-44e7-4117-ac82-4, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
    17. Arts, Sam & Hou, Jianan & Gomez, Juan Carlos, 2021. "Natural language processing to identify the creation and impact of new technologies in patent text: Code, data, and new measures," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(2).
    18. Michael D. Frakes & Melissa F. Wasserman, 2017. "Knowledge Spillovers and Learning in the Workplace: Evidence from the U.S. Patent Office," NBER Working Papers 24159, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Yanfeng Zheng & Qinyu (Ryan) Wang, 2020. "Shadow of the great firewall: The impact of Google blockade on innovation in China," Strategic Management Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(12), pages 2234-2260, December.

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