Patent Failure: How Judges, Bureaucrats and Lawyers Put Innovators at Risk

Intellectual Property and Patents

Article Snapshot


James Bessen and Michael Meurer


Princeton University Press, 2008


This book argues that the patent system now impedes innovation.

Policy Relevance

Patents may be a poor choice to encourage innovation. Patent reform is important to avoid harm to innovation.

Main Points

  • For many firms today, especially software firms, patent rights are too poorly defined to serve as predictable property rights.

  • The evidence showing that patents encourage innovation is weak, except in the pharmaceutical sector.
    • During the Industrial Revolution, evidence shows that patents supported some innovation, but also caused problems. 

  • Comparative studies of different nations show that stronger property rights encourage economic growth, but only weak evidence associates growth with patent rights.

  • Countries that have newly adopted patent rights under TRIPs do not show increases in domestic innovation, though foreign inventors may increase patenting.

  • Much innovation does not rely on patenting, and many innovations are not patented.

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