Stronger Protection of Technological Revolution: What is Behind the Recent Surge in Patenting

Intellectual Property and Patents

Article Snapshot


Samuel Kortum and Josh Lerner


NBER Working Paper No. 6204, 1997


This paper looks at the reasons for a surge in patents in past decades.

Policy Relevance

Policymakers should not assume that a surge in patents means the system is now too friendly to patent holders: evidence suggests the surge is linked to more practical research.

Main Points

  • Starting in late the late 1980s, there was a huge surge in the number of patents filed, only tapering off in the last few years.


  • Some link this surge to the establishment of the Court of Appeals of the Federal Circuit by Congress in 1982, which hears all patent appeals. But no evidence supports this view.


  • Most of the growth in patents, about 70 percent, came from fields other than software and biotech.


  • Early on in the surge, spending on R&D increased, but the surge continued as spending fell.


  • The most likely explanation is that R&D became more focused on practical applications.

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