Do Patents, Trademarks and Designs Foster Happiness in Developed Countries? An Empirical Analysis

International Journal of Happiness and Development, 2014, Vol 1 No 4.

15 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2013 Last revised: 21 Jan 2014

See all articles by Estelle Derclaye

Estelle Derclaye

University of Nottingham, School of law

Date Written: October 8, 2013


Intellectual property rights are exclusive rights the law gives to authors and inventors to stimulate creativity and innovation. Intellectual property laws’ justification assumes that the more creations and inventions there are, the better off the population is. Therefore, the law promotes innovation and creativity without limits. This paper challenges this assumption by analysing empirically data on patents, trademarks and designs and on life satisfaction. It finds that there is no correlation between trademarks and designs and life satisfaction but a strong correlation between patents and life satisfaction. However passed a certain point, it is unclear whether more patents make people happier.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are property rights in products of the mind, namely creations (such as novels, plays, paintings, sculptures, photographs, music), inventions (such as pharmaceuticals, engines, mobile phones, solar energy technology), designs (furniture, clothing, car body panels) and trademarks (signs attached to goods or services to distinguish them from other goods or services such as words and logos). Copyright law protects creations, patent law protects inventions, design law protects designs and trademark law protects signs. Intellectual property laws’ main rationale in the European Union (EU) legal framework as well as its Member States’ laws and in most developed countries is utilitarian (Derclaye and Leistner 2011, p. 298-304). The law gives IPR to authors and inventors to incentivise them to produce works and inventions. These exclusive rights give authors and inventors the possibility to recoup their investment by ensuring that they are the only ones to be allowed to sell their creations and inventions on the market for some time. In other words, they have a legal monopoly on their endeavours for a limited period of time. Trademark rights are slightly different in the sense that they do not strictly function as an incentive to the companies or individuals who affix their trademarks on their goods or services. Their original and main function is to indicate origin and avoid confusion. They thus also have a consumer protection role. However, since the end of the 20th century, courts have recognised them an investment function as well. This function is nevertheless far less dominant than in the patents, designs and copyright laws because it only really concerns famous marks (think Coca-Cola or Chanel). However, it is not clear whether the extensive IPR activity in countries contributes not only to the economic life of a country, but also to increasing the happiness of its citizens as demonstrated in various happiness surveys. We can hypothesize that the more IPR a country has, the more opportunity for new products to come on the market in that particular country, thus increasing the level of happiness as people have more products to satisfy their needs and wants.

The study of happiness, despite being a popular subject to study at the moment, has a long history, especially when one considers discussions of ‘utility’ since the 17th century. The origin of the utilitarian rationale for IPR is Jeremy Bentham’s principle of utility also known as the greatest happiness principle. According to this principle (Bentham 1789), as humans seek pleasure rather than pain, policy-makers should maximise happiness and reduce suffering. The principle is also at the basis of welfare economics. However, over the years, economists came to assess feeling good or being happy by a single proxy i.e. income. Happiness evaluated in non monetary terms (for instance, spending time with family and friends, living in a nice environment) is not taken into account. The utilitarian rationale was in turn taken by the law and economics literature, and more precisely by the law and economists of IPR, to explain (Landes and Posner 1987 and 1989) and later on prescribe intellectual property laws (Landes and Posner 2003). Since economic growth is desirable because it makes people happy, the creations and inventions IPR incentivise and protect need to be promoted. And the more the better. However, research on happiness shows that beyond a certain level of material wealth, more of it does not make people happier (Easterlin 1974). The question thus arises also in relation to IPR. After a certain level, is too much intellectual property counterproductive for happiness? This paper addresses this question.

Keywords: intellectual property, happiness, life satisfaction, patents, trademarks, designs, copyright, developed nations, utilitarianism

Suggested Citation

Derclaye, Estelle, Do Patents, Trademarks and Designs Foster Happiness in Developed Countries? An Empirical Analysis (October 8, 2013). International Journal of Happiness and Development, 2014, Vol 1 No 4.. Available at SSRN:

Estelle Derclaye (Contact Author)

University of Nottingham, School of law ( email )

Nottingham NG7 2RD
United Kingdom


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