Better Mistakes in Patent Law

46 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2011 Last revised: 3 Jan 2015

See all articles by Andres Sawicki

Andres Sawicki

University of Miami - School of Law

Date Written: August 23, 2011


This Article analyzes patent mistakes — that is, mistakes made by the patent system when it decides whether a particular invention has met the patentability requirements. These mistakes are inevitable. Given resource constraints, some might even be desirable. This Article evaluates the relative costs of patent mistakes, so that we can make better ones.

Three characteristics drive the costs of mistakes: their type (false positive or false negative), timing (early or late), and doctrinal basis (utility, novelty, nonobviousness, and so on). These characteristics make some mistakes more troubling than others.

This Article compares the costs of making mistakes of different types, at different times, and on different doctrinal bases. These comparisons produce some surprising results — for example, under certain plausible conditions, it will be better to wrongly refuse to grant a patent than to wrongly invalidate a patent that had already been granted. The conclusions here have important implications for persistent issues in patent law, including how closely courts should scrutinize the validity of issued patents and how the Patent and Trademark Office should allocate scarce enforcement resources.

Keywords: patent, intellectual property, error costs, law and economics

Suggested Citation

Sawicki, Andres, Better Mistakes in Patent Law (August 23, 2011). Florida State University Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 3, 2012, U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 570, Available at SSRN: or

Andres Sawicki (Contact Author)

University of Miami - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 248087
Coral Gables, FL 33146
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics