Are All Patent Examiners Equal? The Impact of Examiner Characteristics

44 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2002 Last revised: 4 Dec 2014

See all articles by Iain M. Cockburn

Iain M. Cockburn

Boston University Questrom School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Samuel S. Kortum

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Scott Stern

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: June 2002

Abstract

Building on insights gained from interviewing administrators and patent examiners at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), we collect and analyze a novel dataset on patent examiners and patent outcomes. This dataset is based on 182 patents for which the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) ruled on validity between 1997 and 2000. For each patent, we identify a USPTO primary examiner, and collect historical statistics derived from their entire patent examination history. These data are used to explore a number of hypotheses about the connection between the patent examination process and the strength of ensuing patent rights. Our main findings are as follows. (i) Patent examiners and the patent examination process are not homogeneous. There is substantial variation in observable characteristics of patent examiners, such as their tenure at the USPTO, the number of patents they have examined and the degree to which the patents that they examine are later cited by other patents. (ii) There is no evidence that examiner experience or workload at the time a patent is issued affects the probability that the CAFC finds a patent invalid. (iii) Examiners whose patents tend to be more frequently cited tend to have a higher probability of a CAFC invalidity ruling. The results suggest that all patent examiners are not equal, and that one of the roles of the CAFC is to review the exercise of discretion in the patent examination process.

Suggested Citation

Cockburn, Iain M. and Kortum, Samuel S. and Stern, Scott, Are All Patent Examiners Equal? The Impact of Examiner Characteristics (June 2002). NBER Working Paper No. w8980, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=315330

Iain M. Cockburn (Contact Author)

Boston University Questrom School of Business ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA MA 02215
United States
617-353-3775 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
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Samuel S. Kortum

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Scott Stern

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02142
United States
617-253-3053 (Phone)
617-253-2660 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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