The Pull of Patents

26 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2009

Date Written: 2008


This essay makes two related contributions. First, it introduces the concept of “patent pull” to highlight an underexplored demand-side perspective on patents. Patents “pull” (private and public) investment to productive activities that would be less attractive in the absence of patents. Exploring the role of patents from the demand side reveals that beyond affecting traditional capital investment decisions, patents can have more subtle and perhaps pervasive impacts on organizations and institutions, including but not limited to universities. This essay focuses on university science and technology research systems. Second, this essay examines how university science and technology research systems perform economically as infrastructural capital. Specifically, it explains that a university science and technology research system is an integrated system of productive resources aggregated within a university setting and used to produce streams of research-related outputs, as well as other important outputs, e.g., educated citizens. The system is comprised of at least five different sets of related, complementary resources, including 1.) Human capital, including complementary networks of people such as professors, researchers, students, administrators, technicians, and other support staff; 2.) Governance capital, such as rules, norms, policies and other collective constraints that guide system participants’ behavior; 3.) Physical capital, such as land, facilities, and equipment, 4.) Intellectual capital, such as knowledge, information, and ideas; and 5.) Financial capital. Each of these capital resources is an essential component of the system. Although the bundle of such resources and manner in which they are bundled varies considerably across universities, all universities use these resources collectively and continuously to produce socially valuable human and intellectual capital. The essay raises some questions about the impacts of university patenting and commercialization on university science and technology research systems. It considers how the demand pull exerted in downstream commercial markets may affect the allocation of infrastructural capital. The examination is preliminary and intended to support further exploration and empirical study. While there have been plenty of empirical studies of university patenting behavior and the performance of technology transfer offices, there has been less attention paid to the allocation of infrastructural capital. The essay suggests a few avenues for further research.

Keywords: patent, demand, university research, technology transfer, infrastructure, infrastructural capital, intellectual property, commercialization

JEL Classification: H4, H54, I2, L3, O3, O34

Suggested Citation

Frischmann, Brett M., The Pull of Patents (2008). Fordham Law Review, Vol. 77, No. 5, p. 2143, 2008; Loyola University Chicago School of Law Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series No. 2009-0014. Available at SSRN:

Brett M. Frischmann (Contact Author)

Villanova University - School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States

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