The patent system underpins the business model of some of the fastest-growing companies. Used appropriately, it should support frontier technologies and nurture new firms. Used perniciously, it can stifle innovation and protect established technological behemoths. We analyze patent examination decisions at the American, European, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese patent offices and find evidence that patent attorneys have a surprisingly significant role in the patent system. Our results suggest that some forces within the examination system maintain the uneven playing field by allocating monopoly rights to inventors with better access to influential attorneys, rather than leveling it by favoring inventors with better, non-obvious ideas. Attorney quality is most important, vis-à-vis invention quality, in less codified and more rapidly changing technology areas such as software and ICT. Moreover, attorney quality is more important when invention quality is low.
Contact Person: Marina Chugunova