Recent Patent Law Scholarship

By Jason Rantanen

Several interesting new articles are currently making the rounds.  Two particularly noteworthy ones are summarized below:

James Bessen, A Generation of Software Patents
Do patents benefit software firms? James Bessen examines this issue through both a survey of existing literature and a new empirical study.  Bessen finds that although the number of software-related patents has grown rapidly over the past decade, the share of those patents obtained by software firms has remained relatively small, and is largely accounted for by the activity of a small number of large software firms.  In other words, most software patents go to firms outside the software industry.  Bessen also provides data that brings into question the value of patents to startup software firms and examines changes in the probability that a software patent will be involved in litigation during the first four years of its patent life.

The complete article is available via ssrn here.

Mark Lemley, The Myth of the Sole Inventor
In his most recent major article, Mark Lemley challenges the canonical story of the lone genius inventor while proposing a novel justification for the patent system.  Professor Lemley first breaks down the idea that invention occurs independantly, created by a handful of extraordinary inventors, through a series of vignettes about famous inventions: the steam engine, steamboats, the cotten gin, and other classic examples of pioneering inventions.  Rather than lone inventors, Lemley argues, history is replete with examples of simultaneous invention, calling into question the traditional incentive justification for the patent system.  Nor do any of the other conventional justifications for the patent system work, Lemley suggests.  What is needed instead is a new theory, which he offers: patents encourage patent racing, which drives innovation to occur faster, and in a more diverse manner, than it otherwise would.

The complete article is available via ssrn here.  Written Description blog offers a more in-depth discussion of the article.