Scherer Paper on "The Political Economy of Patent Policy Reform in the United States"

OCTOBER 18, 2007

I’ve just noticed this interesting paper posted on Bessen’s Research on Innovation website at the end of September. Entitled, The Political Economy of Patent Policy Reform in the United States, its authored by F.M. Scherer, one the elder statesman of innovation and IP research. As the abstract puts it:

explores a paradox: the extensive tilt toward strengthened patent laws in the United States and the world economy during the 1980s and 1990s, even as economic research was revealing that patents played a relatively unimportant incentive role in most large companies’ research and development investment decisions. It proceeds by tracing the political and evidence-based history of several major initiatives: the Bayh-Dole and Stevenson-Wydler Acts of 1980, the creation of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in 1982, the Hatch-Waxman Act of 1984, changes in antitrust presumptions, and the inclusion of TRIPS provisions in the new international trade rules emerging in 1993 from the Uruguay Round. An excursion follows into the relatively sudden ascent of the term “intellectual property” as a form of propaganda. Suggestions for further policy reforms are offered.

This is a fascinating read, informed by the fifty years Scherer has been working in this field, and well worth the time taken to read its 52 pages. As just one example consider footnote 15 which reports the reaction of Professor Doriot (of Harvard Business School and the first High Tech VC group the American Research and Development Corporation) to their contemplated research on the importance of patents: “Hell, patents are simply instruments with which big companies bludgeon my startups.” How much, one wonders, has changed in the 50 years since?