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Navigating the Patent Thicket: Cross Licenses, Patent Pools, and Standard Setting

In: Innovation Policy and the Economy, Volume 1

  • Carl Shapiro

In several key industries, including semiconductors, biotechnology, computer software, and the Internet, our patent system is creating a patent thicket: an overlapping set of patent rights requiring that those seeking to commercialize new technology obtain licenses from multiple patentees. The patent thicket is especially thorny when combined with the risk of hold-up, namely the danger that new products will inadvertently infringe on patents issued after these products were designed. The need to navigate the patent thicket and hold-up is especially pronounced in industries such as telecommunications and computing in which formal standard-setting is a core part of bringing new technologies to market. Cross-licenses and patent pools are two natural and effective methods used by market participants to cut through the patent thicket, but each involves some transaction costs. Antitrust law and enforcement, with its historical hostility to cooperation among horizontal rivals, can easily add to these transaction costs. Yet a few relatively simple principles, such as the desirability package licensing for complementary patents but not for substitute patents, can go a long way towards insuring that antitrust will help solve the problems caused by the patent thicket and by hold-up rather than exacerbating them.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Adam B. Jaffe & Josh Lerner & Scott Stern, 2001. "Innovation Policy and the Economy, Volume 1," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number jaff01-1, Abril.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 10778.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:10778
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    1. Richard Gilbert & Carl Shapiro, 1997. "Antitrust Issues in the Licensing of Intellectual Property: The Nine No-No's Meet the Nineties," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 28(1997 Micr), pages 283-349.
    2. Samuel Kortum & Josh Lerner, 1997. "Stronger Protection or Technological Revolution: What is Behind the Recent Surge in Patenting?," NBER Working Papers 6204, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Shapiro, Carl, 1989. "Theories of oligopoly behavior," Handbook of Industrial Organization, in: R. Schmalensee & R. Willig (ed.), Handbook of Industrial Organization, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 6, pages 329-414 Elsevier.
    4. Michael L. Katz & Carl Shapiro, 1985. "On the Licensing of Innovations," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 16(4), pages 504-520, Winter.
    5. Michael L. Katz & Carl Shapiro, 1994. "Systems Competition and Network Effects," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(2), pages 93-115, Spring.
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