The Inequalities of Innovation

52 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2018 Last revised: 30 Sep 2021

See all articles by Colleen V. Chien

Colleen V. Chien

Santa Clara University - School of Law; Stanford University - Department of Management Science & Engineering

Date Written: March 2, 2021


Over the last few decades, the United States has become more innovative, but also more unequal. As it does, the question of how two traditionally divergent topics – innovation and inequality – intersect has become increasingly relevant. To connect them, this paper considers three distinct inequalities with relevance to innovation: economic inequality, inequality of opportunity to innovate, and inequality of access to innovation – and overlooked tensions between and among egalitarian ideals about innovation. Turning to the role of the law, it examines how patents may both exacerbate the inequalities of innovation, by enhancing returns to “invention capital,” but also, alleviate them, by providing pathways to prosperity and supporting commercialization. Though the patent system cannot holistically address each of the inequalities of innovation, it has a distinct role to play in advancing a “many-winner” rather than “winner-take-all” innovation system. By centering and reporting on “invention equity metrics” like first time patenting, leveling the invention playing field, accelerating innovation to address underserved needs, and improving its intersections with public law, the patent system can promote equitable growth through invention.

Keywords: patents, innovation, inequality

JEL Classification: O34

Suggested Citation

Chien, Colleen V., The Inequalities of Innovation (March 2, 2021). Emory Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Colleen V. Chien (Contact Author)

Santa Clara University - School of Law ( email )

500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States
408-554-4534 (Phone)
408-554-4426 (Fax)

Stanford University - Department of Management Science & Engineering ( email )

473 Via Ortega
Stanford, CA 94305-9025
United States

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