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When Do Applicants Search for Prior Art?

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  • Bhaven N. Sampat

Abstract

There is concern that patent examiners lack the resources, capabilities, and incentives to properly identify the prior art against which patent applications are evaluated and that, as a result, they issue a large number of low-quality patents. In this context, the extent to which applicants have incentives to contribute prior art is an important question. This paper uses data on examiner and applicant citations in U.S. patents to examine this question. The data show that applicants contribute a surprisingly low share of citations to previous patents and routinely fail to identify even their own previous patents. However, there are also stark differences across fields. Within fields, and even within firms, there is self-sorting: applicants contribute more prior art for their more important inventions. The results suggest that incentives to search for prior art vary across industries and inventions, which reflects underlying differences in the strategic reasons for obtaining patent protection. (c) 2010 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

Suggested Citation

  • Bhaven N. Sampat, 2010. "When Do Applicants Search for Prior Art?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(2), pages 399-416, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:v:53:y:2010:i:2:p:399-416
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ricardo J. Caballero & Adam B. Jaffe, 1993. "How High are the Giants' Shoulders: An Empirical Assessment of Knowledge Spillovers and Creative Destruction in a Model of Economic Growth," NBER Chapters,in: NBER Macroeconomics Annual 1993, Volume 8, pages 15-86 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Lanjouw, Jean O & Pakes, Ariel & Putnam, Jonathan, 1998. "How to Count Patents and Value Intellectual Property: The Uses of Patent Renewal and Application Data," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(4), pages 405-432, December.
    3. Scherer, F. M. & Harhoff, Dietmar, 2000. "Technology policy for a world of skew-distributed outcomes," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(4-5), pages 559-566, April.
    4. Manuel Trajtenberg, 1990. "A Penny for Your Quotes: Patent Citations and the Value of Innovations," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 21(1), pages 172-187, Spring.
    5. Jean O. Lanjouw & Mark Schankerman, 2004. "Patent Quality and Research Productivity: Measuring Innovation with Multiple Indicators," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 441-465, April.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Pierre Azoulay & Joshua S. Graff Zivin & Danielle Li & Bhaven N. Sampat, 2015. "Public R&D Investments and Private-sector Patenting: Evidence from NIH Funding Rules," NBER Working Papers 20889, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Lei, Zhen & Wright, Brian D., 2017. "Why weak patents? Testing the examiner ignorance hypothesis," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 43-56.
    3. Andrew Eckert & Corinne Langinier, 2014. "A Survey Of The Economics Of Patent Systems And Procedures," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 28(5), pages 996-1015, December.
    4. Yamauchi, Isamu & Nagaoka, Sadao, 2015. "Does the outsourcing of prior art search increase the efficiency of patent examination? Evidence from Japan," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 44(8), pages 1601-1614.
    5. Pierre Azoulay & Joshua S. Graff Zivin & Bhaven N. Sampat, 2011. "The Diffusion of Scientific Knowledge across Time and Space: Evidence from Professional Transitions for the Superstars of Medicine," NBER Chapters,in: The Rate and Direction of Inventive Activity Revisited, pages 107-155 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Adam B. Jaffe & Gaétan de Rassenfosse, 2017. "Patent citation data in social science research: Overview and best practices," Journal of the Association for Information Science & Technology, Association for Information Science & Technology, vol. 68(6), pages 1360-1374, June.
    7. Corinne Langinier & Philippe Marcoul, 2016. "The Search of Prior Art and the Revelation of Information by Patent Applicants," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 49(3), pages 399-427, November.
    8. David Hirshleifer & Po-Hsuan Hsu & Dongmei Li, 2017. "Innovative Originality, Profitability, and Stock Returns," NBER Working Papers 23432, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Cotropia, Christopher A. & Lemley, Mark A. & Sampat, Bhaven, 2013. "Do applicant patent citations matter?," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(4), pages 844-854.
    10. H. Kevin Steensma & Mukund Chari & Ralph Heidl, 2015. "The quest for expansive intellectual property rights and the failure to disclose known relevant prior art," Strategic Management Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 36(8), pages 1186-1204, August.
    11. Chen, Lixin, 2017. "Do patent citations indicate knowledge linkage? The evidence from text similarities between patents and their citations," Journal of Informetrics, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 63-79.
    12. NAGAOKA Sadao & YAMAUCHI Isamu, 2017. "Information Constraint of the Patent Office and Examination Quality: Evidence from the effects of initiation lags," Discussion papers 17040, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    13. repec:kap:jtecht:v:43:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1007_s10961-017-9564-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Yamauchi, Isamu & Nagaoka, Sadao, 2013. "Does the outsourcing of prior art search increase the efficiency of patent examination?," IIR Working Paper 13-12, Institute of Innovation Research, Hitotsubashi University.

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