How Much Do Patent Applicants Care About Patent Term? Cross-Industry Differences in Term Sensitivity

56 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2013 Last revised: 30 Jul 2015

See all articles by Neel U. Sukhatme

Neel U. Sukhatme

Georgetown University Law Center; Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy

Judd Cramer

Princeton University - Department of Economics

Date Written: April 29, 2014


Patents are monopolies granted to inventors in order to promote innovation, but they have a limited term because they also impose social costs. There is little empirical research on what constitutes an optimal patent term, or whether patent term should vary across industry categories.

We take a first step in studying these issues by examining cross-industry differences in patent term sensitivity. We take advantage of a change in law --- the passage of the TRIPS agreement in 1994 --- that caused patent term to be measured from the date a patent application was filed rather than the date the patent was granted, thereby reducing patent term by the amount of time an application was pending before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Using a new dataset, we determine what portion of this delay is attributable to applicants for 331,113 issued patents filed in 1994-1996. This shows, for the first time, how patent applicants in different industries sped up their prosecution behavior in response to the change in law, which gives us a measure of industry sensitivity to patent term change.

We predict, via a formal model, that patent applicants in industries with higher profits toward the end of patent term are the applicants most likely to speed up patent prosecution after TRIPS. Our results show that pharmaceutical patentees sped up patent prosecution significantly, which accords with prior theory on the primacy of patents in this industry. We find, however, that software patentees also significantly sped up prosecution, which is unexpected given prior theory suggesting patents are less important in spurring software development. Our patent delay measure is highly correlated with patent renewal rates across industries, suggesting our measure assesses the value of patents to applicants in different industries.

Additionally, our paper exploits another, separate aspect of the legal change that gave some firms longer patent term extensions vis a vis others. We perform an event study and find that firms receiving longer extensions tended to have higher market returns. We obtain similar results using a new empirical technique known as regression kink design, which addresses potential selection issues.

Our results provide support for our formal model, suggesting that patentees in industries most likely to receive higher profits near the end of patent term were the ones most sensitive to the change in patent term rules. More generally, our results suggest we have credibly estimated the value of patents across industries, which can guide further research on optimal patent term and the effect of patents on innovation.

Keywords: optimal patent term, cross-industry measures of patent term sensitivity, patent duration, TRIPS, regression kink design, market valuation of patent term

JEL Classification: K00, K29

Suggested Citation

Sukhatme, Neel U. and Cramer, Judd, How Much Do Patent Applicants Care About Patent Term? Cross-Industry Differences in Term Sensitivity (April 29, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Neel U. Sukhatme (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

Georgetown McCourt School of Public Policy ( email )

Old North, Suite 100
37th & O Streets NW
Washington, DC 20057
United States

Judd Cramer

Princeton University - Department of Economics ( email )

Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

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