From Patent Thickets to Patent Networks: The Legal Infrastructure of the Digital Economy

54 Pages Posted: 19 May 2014 Last revised: 8 Jan 2016

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 7, 2015


Scholarly and popular commentary often assert that markets characterized by intensive patent issuance and enforcement suffer from “patent thickets” that suppress innovation. This assertion is difficult to reconcile with continuous robust levels of R&D investment, coupled with declining prices, in technology markets that have operated under intensive patent issuance and enforcement for several decades. Using network visualization software, I show that information and communication technology markets rely on patent pools and other cross-licensing structures to mitigate or avoid patent thickets and associated inefficiencies. Based on the composition, structure, terms and pricing of selected leading patent pools in the ICT market, I argue that those pools are best understood as mechanisms by which vertically integrated firms mitigate transactional frictions and reduce the cost of accessing technology inputs. Appropriately structured patent pools can yield cost savings for intermediate users, which may translate into reduced prices for end-users, but at the risk of undercompensating R&D suppliers.

Keywords: Intellectual Property; Patents; Licensing; Networks

JEL Classification: K39, L22, L41, L63, O32

Suggested Citation

Barnett, Jonathan, From Patent Thickets to Patent Networks: The Legal Infrastructure of the Digital Economy (January 7, 2015). 55 Jurimetrics J. 1-53 (2014), USC Law Legal Studies Paper No. 14-23, USC CLASS Research Paper No. 14-22, Available at SSRN: or

Jonathan Barnett (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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