Does the US patent system as currently constituted hold up or push forward the commercialization of technological innovations?
Does the US patent system frustrate or facilitate the inventive activities and entrepreneurial processes central to economic growth?
The US patent system is a solution to a delicate balancing act where the complete absence of intellectual property rights or the overly broad specification of those rights can thwart innovation.
Inventors require the means to earn a return on the years spent perfecting an invention. Conversely, patents extending in perpetuity that require licensing and royalty payments would dissuade legitimate use and encourage excessive imitation. Further, a patent system providing property rights to the original patent holder for all future inventions that built on the original idea is non-optimal.
Such an unbalanced system would discourage innovation.
The US patent system addresses the need for balance by:
Providing a fixed-term property right for a specific and novel invention
Requiring, in turn, that the design features of the invention be widely disseminated so that they enter the public domain once the term of the patent expires
Permitting a patentee to exchange or license the patented invention
The Hoover Institution Working Group on Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Prosperity (Hoover IP²) is reviewing the premises of the US patent system and addressing questions of scope, specification, duration, and economic impact of that system.
Hoover IP²'s goals are to:
Build a dense network of scholars, from a variety of academic disciplines, who are engaged in research on the US patent system
Analyze the implications that may be drawn from those research results
Publish the resulting scholarship in peer-reviewed venues
Disseminate that scholarship to the larger public
Underlying the US patent system is a fundamental principle of economics first articulated by Adam Smith more than two centuries ago and empirically demonstrated countless times since:
Property rights, appropriately defined, give individuals and firms incentives to trade
Trade provides incentives to specialize
Specialization is essential for technological innovation
Academic research on the patent system tends to be insular and is specific to certain fields, most particularly law. Support from the Hoover IP² project aims both to broaden the number of researchers in the patent literature and to improve the quality of the causal inferences they draw.
The guiding principles of the Working Group are two-fold:
Hypotheses can only be “ruled out” or “ruled in” on the basis of reason and evidence.
Understanding the functioning of complex systems—such as the property rights system that structures the process of technological innovation—requires that the appropriate bodies of evidence and the analytic tools to assess them be drawn from multiple disciplines.
Of the broad range of vehicles by which scholars can disseminate their research, conferences are among the most efficient. At conferences, researchers are able to share their ideas, present their findings, and engage in scholarly debate with of their colleagues.
At Hoover IP² conferences, which draw participants from a variety of fields, invited researchers have the opportunity to present their findings to those with different theoretical perspectives and academic training and, thus, to test if their results are robust to alternative ways of looking at evidence.
By including scholars from a wide variety of disciplines (for example, business, economics, engineering, history, law, medicine and the life sciences, and political science), the Hoover IP² conferences will expand the number of researchers in the patent literature beyond the legal academy and encourage interdisciplinary scholarly research.
Researchers are invited, by the Hoover IP2 Steering Committee, to present their work on the basis of its academic quality, independent of any policy or normative implications.
The number of papers presented at any conference is limited, thus allowing ample time for their full presentation and for interactive discussion.
For each paper, there are two formal discussants—typically, one from academia and the second from the private sector or from the legal or policy making community.