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Do patents work? Thickets, trolls and antibiotic resistance

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  • Nancy Gallini

Abstract

This paper connects ideas from recent literature on the economics of intellectual property (IP) to address the question: Did the strengthening and broadening of IP rights from important patent policy changes in the US promote greater innovation? The analysis rests on the theory of cumulative innovation, which shows that if IP rights on a pioneer invention extend to follow‐on research and impediments to contracting exist, then strengthening patents can actually reduce overall innovation. Recent empirical studies are consistent with the theory: patents can significantly deter follow‐on research in “complex” technology areas where contracting is difficult (computers, electronics, telecommunications) but not in drugs, chemicals and human genes. I outline remedies from court decisions and antitrust policy for addressing inefficiencies from patent trolling, patent thickets and the anti‐commons of fragmented ownership. I then apply the analysis to the antibiotics market, drawing on recent research, to examine how patent and competition policies can be used to improve incentives for drug development in the battle against antibiotic resistance. The literature provides persuasive evidence that the policy changes overreached in broadening and strengthening IP rights and reveals important patent reforms for improving the effectiveness of patent systems in the US and Canada. Est‐ce que le régime de brevets est performant? Fourrés de brevets, chasse aux brevets, et résistance aux antibiotiques. Ce texte construit sur des idées qui ont émergé de la littérature économique récente à l’occasion des changements importants dans les politiques de brevets des États‐Unis. Est‐ce que le renforcement et l’extension des brevets découlant de ces politiques promeuvent un niveau exhaussé d’innovation? L’analyse se fonde sur la théorie de l’innovation cumulative qui montre que, si les droits de propriété intellectuelle (PI) sur une invention pionnière sont étendus à la recherche de suivi, et si des obstacles à la contractualisation existent, alors le renforcement du système de brevets peut en fait réduire le flux d’innovations. Des études empiriques récentes confirment cette théorie : les brevets peuvent décourager de manière significative la recherche de suivi dans les secteurs de technologie complexe où la contractualisation est difficile (ordinateurs, électronique, télécommunications) mais pas dans le monde des médicaments, des produits chimiques et des gènes humains. L’auteur esquisse le genre de remèdes proposés par les cours de justice, et les politiques antitrust pour corriger les inefficacités entraînées par la chasse aux brevets, les fourrés de brevets, et la tragédie des anti‐communs. L’auteur applique ensuite son analyse au marché des antibiotiques, à partir des résultats de la recherche récente, pour examiner comment les politiques de brevets et de concurrence peuvent être utilisées pour améliorer les incitations à développer de nouveaux médicaments dans le combat contre la résistance aux antibiotiques. La littérature spécialisée montre à l’évidence que les changements dans la politique publique sont allés trop loin dans l’élargissement et le renforcement des droits de propriété intellectuelle, et suggère des réformes dans le régime des brevets pour améliorer la performance de ces régimes au Canada et aux États‐Unis.

Suggested Citation

  • Nancy Gallini, 2017. "Do patents work? Thickets, trolls and antibiotic resistance," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 50(4), pages 893-926, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:canjec:v:50:y:2017:i:4:p:893-926
    DOI: 10.1111/caje.12312
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    Cited by:

    1. Gold, E. Richard, 2021. "The fall of the innovation empire and its possible rise through open science," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(5).
    2. Lawrence J. White, 2020. "A “Primarily Property” Presumption Is—Still—Really Needed for the IP/Antitrust Interface," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 56(4), pages 715-737, June.
    3. Hennessy, David A., 2018. "Managing Derived Demand For Antibiotics In Animal Agriculture," 2018 Annual Meeting, August 5-7, Washington, D.C. 274359, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association.
    4. Gątkowski, Mateusz & Dietl, Marek & Skrok, Łukasz & Whalen, Ryan & Rockett, Katharine, 2020. "Semantically-based patent thicket identification," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(2).
    5. Farasat A.S. Bokhari & Franco Mariuzzo & Weijie Yan, 2019. "Antibacterial resistance and the cost of affecting demand: the case of UK antibiotics," Working Paper series, University of East Anglia, Centre for Competition Policy (CCP) 2019-03, Centre for Competition Policy, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    6. Xiaodong Yuan & Xiaotao Li, 2022. "Pledging Patent Rights for Fighting Against the COVID-19: From the Ethical and Efficiency Perspective," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 179(3), pages 683-696, September.

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