Patent News

Jun. 24, 2016

George Mason University CPIP Blog: How Strong Patents Make Wealthy Nations, by Devlin Hartline and Kevin Madigan

This post originally appeared in the George Mason University CPIP blog on June 24, 2016.

How did the world’s wealthiest nations grow rich? The answer, according to Professor Stephen Haber of Stanford University, is that “they had well-developed systems of private property.” In Patents and the Wealth of Nations, forthcoming this summer in the CPIP Conference issue of the George Mason Law Review, Haber explains the connection: Property rights beget trade, trade begets specialization, specialization begets productivity, and productivity begets wealth. Without a foundation of strong property rights, economic development suffers. But does the same hold true for intellectual property, particularly patents? Referencing economic history and econometric analysis, Haber shows that strong patents do indeed make wealthy nations.

Before diving into the history and analysis, Haber tackles the common misconception that patents are different than other types of property because they are monopolies: “It is not, as some IP critics maintain, a grant of monopoly. Rather, it is a temporary property right to something that did not exist before that can be sold, licensed, or traded.” The simple reason for this, Haber notes, is that a patent grants a monopoly only if there are truly no substitutes, but this is almost never the case. Usually, there are many substitutes and the patent owner has no market power. And the “fact that patents are property rights means that they can serve as the basis for the web of contracts that permits individuals and firms to specialize in what they do best.”