Imperfect Information, Patent Publication, and the Market for Ideas
Executive Summary — The market for ideas improves the innovation process by promoting division of labor between upstream inventors and downstream developers. Frictions such as asymmetric information and search costs may hinder the smooth functioning of the market and delay, or even block, mutually profitable transactions between buyers and sellers. In this paper, the authors study the effects of an important disclosure mechanism, the publication of patent applications, on mitigating these frictions and, thus, facilitating transactions in the market for ideas. In particular, they employ an important policy change in the American Inventors Protection Act (AIPA), which required that U.S. patent applications filed beginning on November 29, 2000 be published 18 months after the application date. Findings show that post-AIPA patents, on average, are licensed 8.5 months earlier than pre-AIPA inventions. This shortening of the licensing lag is economically significant, given the 20-year duration of U.S. patents, and can translate to millions of dollars in profits and licensing revenues. Key concepts include:
- Disclosure through patent publication facilitates transactions in the market for ideas, potentially through reducing frictions such as information asymmetries, search costs, and costs of evaluating competing ideas.
- For inventors that choose to license, 18-month publication accelerates licensing by 8.5 months on average.
In this study, we investigate the role of an important information-disclosure mechanism-patent publication-in facilitating transactions in the market for ideas. We do so by analyzing the effects of the American Inventor's Protection Act (AIPA) of 1999, which required, as of November 29, 2000, that U.S. patent applications be published 18 months after their filing rather than at the time of patent grant. We develop a simple theoretical framework that yields predictions about the effects of AIPA on the timing of licensing. We then test the predictions using a sample of 339 licenses of biomedical inventions protected by patent applications filed between 1995 and 2005. Consistent with the predictions, we find that post-AIPA patent applications experience a sharp increase in the probability of licensing after 18-month publication, and, on average, are 18 percentage points less likely than pre-AIPA patent applications to wait until allowance to be licensed. Even for patent applications that are not licensed until allowance, 18-month publication shortens the time to licensing. Overall, for inventors that choose to license, 18-month publication accelerates licensing by 8.5 months on average. We conclude that information disclosure through patent publications plays an important role in facilitating transactions in the market for ideas.