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Are All Patent Examiners Equal? The Impact of Examiner Characteristics

Author

Listed:
  • Iain M. Cockburn
  • Samuel Kortum
  • Scott Stern

Abstract

Building on insights gained from interviewing administrators and patent examiners at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), we collect and analyze a novel dataset on patent examiners and patent outcomes. This dataset is based on 182 patents for which the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled on validity between 1997 and 2000. For each patent, we identify a USPTO primary examiner, and collect historical statistics derived from their entire patent examination history. These data are used to explore a number of hypotheses about the connection between the patent examination process and the strength of ensuing patent rights. Our main findings are as follows. (i) Patent examiners and the patent examination process are not homogeneous. There is substantial variation in observable characteristics of patent examiners, such as their tenure at the USPTO, the number of patents they have examined and the degree to which the patents that they examine are later cited by other patents. (ii) There is no evidence that examiner experience or workload at the time a patent is issued affects the probability that the CAFC finds a patent invalid. (iii) Examiners whose patents tend to be more frequently cited tend to have a higher probability of a CAFC invalidity ruling. The results suggest that all patent examiners are not equal, and that one of the roles of the CAFC is to review the exercise of discretion in the patent examination process.

Suggested Citation

  • Iain M. Cockburn & Samuel Kortum & Scott Stern, 2002. "Are All Patent Examiners Equal? The Impact of Examiner Characteristics," NBER Working Papers 8980, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8980
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Ajay Agrawal & Iain Cockburn & John McHale, 2003. "Gone But Not Forgotten: Labor Flows, Knowledge Spillovers, and Enduring Social Capital," NBER Working Papers 9950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. repec:spr:scient:v:83:y:2010:i:2:d:10.1007_s11192-009-0108-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Agrawal, Ajay & Kapur, Devesh & McHale, John, 2008. "How do spatial and social proximity influence knowledge flows? Evidence from patent data," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(2), pages 258-269, September.
    4. E. Bacchiocchi & F. Montobbio, 2009. "Knowledge diffusion from university and public research. A comparison between US, Japan and Europe using patent citations," The Journal of Technology Transfer, Springer, vol. 34(2), pages 169-181, April.
    5. Régibeau, P & Rockett, K, 2003. "Are More Important Patents Approved More Slowly and Should They Be?," Economics Discussion Papers 2850, University of Essex, Department of Economics.
    6. Blanes, J. Vicente & Busom, Isabel, 2004. "Who participates in R&D subsidy programs?: The case of Spanish manufacturing firms," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(10), pages 1459-1476, December.
    7. Atal, Vidya & Bar, Talia, 2010. "Prior art: To search or not to search," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 28(5), pages 507-521, September.
    8. Agrawal, Ajay & Kapur, Devesh & McHale, John & Oettl, Alexander, 2011. "Brain drain or brain bank? The impact of skilled emigration on poor-country innovation," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(1), pages 43-55, January.
    9. Langinier, Corinne, 2006. "Pool of Basic Patents and Follow-up Innovations," 2006 Annual meeting, July 23-26, Long Beach, CA 21127, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    10. Bruno van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie, 2011. "The quality factor in patent systems," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 20(6), pages 1755-1793, December.
    11. Cesare Righi & Timothy Simcoe, 2017. "Patent Examiner Specialization," NBER Working Papers 23913, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Paul H. Jensen & Alfons Palangkaraya & Elizabeth Webster, 2005. "Patent Application Outcomes across the Trilateral Patent Offices," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2005n05, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
    13. Andrea Bonaccorsi & Grid Thoma, 2005. "Scientific and Technological Regimes in Nanotechnology: Combinatorial Inventors and Performance," LEM Papers Series 2005/13, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    14. de Saint-Georges, Matthis & van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie, Bruno, 2013. "A quality index for patent systems," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 704-719.
    15. Carlos Rosell & Ajay Agrawal, 2006. "University Patenting: Estimating the Diminishing Breadth of Knowledge Diffusion and Consumption," NBER Working Papers 12640, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. 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.
    17. Aditi Mehta & Marc Rysman & Tim Simcoe, 2006. "Identifying the Age Profile of Patent Citations," Boston University - Department of Economics - Working Papers Series WP2006-022, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    18. Josh Lerner & Amit Seru, 2017. "The Use and Misuse of Patent Data: Issues for Corporate Finance and Beyond," NBER Working Papers 24053, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Paroma Sanyal, 2005. "Peanut Butter Patents Versus the New Economy: Does the Increased Rate of Patenting Signal More Invention or Just Lower Standards?," Industrial Organization 0504013, EconWPA.
    20. repec:spr:scient:v:111:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s11192-017-2323-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    21. Webster, Elizabeth & Palangkaraya, Alfons & Jensen, Paul H., 2007. "Characteristics of international patent application outcomes," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 95(3), pages 362-368, June.
    22. repec:eee:tefoso:v:120:y:2017:i:c:p:271-283 is not listed on IDEAS
    23. 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.
    24. Hoetker, Glenn & Agarwal, Rajshree, 2005. "Death Hurts, But It Isn't Fatal: The Postexit Diffusion of Knowledge Created by Innovative Companies," Working Papers 05-0100, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Business.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • O3 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights
    • K3 - Law and Economics - - Other Substantive Areas of Law

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