34 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2000
Date Written: January 2000
How could such industries as software, semiconductors, and computers have been so innovative despite historically weak patent protection? We argue that if innovation is both sequential and complementary--as it certainly has been in those industries--competition can increase firms' future profits thus offsetting short-term dissipation of rents. A simple model also shows that in such a dynamic industry, patent protection may reduce overall innovation and social welfare. The natural experiment that occurred when patent protection was extended to software in the 1980?s provides a test of this model. Standard arguments would predict that R&D intensity and productivity should have increased among patenting firms. Consistent with our model, however, these increases did not occur. Other evidence supporting our model includes a distinctive pattern of cross-licensing in these industries and a positive relationship between rates of innovation and firm entry.
JEL Classification: O31, O34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Bessen, James E. and Maskin, Eric, Sequential Innovation, Patents, And Imitation (January 2000). MIT Dept. of Economics Working Paper No. 00-01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=206189 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.206189