The Distributive Implications of Patents on Indivisible Goods
Patents raise the price and reduce consumption of the patented good, but the resulting deadweight loss is thought to be worth bearing when patent protection is required as an incentive to invention. The newly-invented good generates a residual surplus, making people better off than they would be if the good had not been invented. This well-known argument is usually framed in a context where people are identical, everybody's demand curve for the newly-invented good is the same and everybody shares to some extent in the residual surplus. However, when the newly-invented good is indivisible - like a heart transplant or the treatment of AIDS, where, in effect, a person consumes either one full unit of the good or none - the effect of a patent is to concentrate the entire benefit of the patented good upon the rich, leaving the poor no better off than if the good had not been invented.
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