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Do intellectual property rights on existing technologies hinder subsequent innovation?

Date:
March 27, 2013
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
A recent study suggests that some types of intellectual property rights discourage subsequent scientific research.

A recent study published in the Journal of Political Economy suggests that some types of intellectual property rights discourage subsequent scientific research.

"The goal of intellectual property rights -- such as the patent system -- is to provide incentives for the development of new technologies.However, in recent years many have expressed concerns that patents may be impeding innovation if patents on existing technologies hinder subsequent innovation," said Heidi Williams, author of the study."We currently have very little empirical evidence on whether this is a problem in practice."

Williams investigated the sequencing of the human genome by the public Human Genome Project and the private firm Celera. Genes sequenced first by Celera were covered by a contract law-based form of intellectual property, whereas genes sequenced first by the Human Genome Project were placed in the public domain. Although Celera's intellectual property lasted a maximum of two years, it enabled Celera to sell its data for substantial fees and required firms to negotiate licensing agreements with Celera for any resulting commercial discoveries.

By linking a number of different datasets that had not previously been used by researchers, Williams was able to measure when genes were sequenced, which genes were held by Celera's intellectual property, and what subsequent investments were made in scientific research and product development on each gene. Williams' conclusion points to a persistent 20-30 percent reduction in subsequent scientific research and product development for those genes held by Celera's intellectual property.

"My take-away from this evidence is that -- at least in some contexts -- intellectual property can have substantial costs in terms of hindering subsequent innovation," said Williams."The fact that these costs were -- in this context -- 'large enough to care about' motivates wanting to better understand whether alternative policy tools could be used to achieve a better outcome.It isn't clear that they can, although economists such as Michael Kremer have proposed some ideas on how they might.I think this is an exciting area for future work."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Heidi L. Williams. Intellectual Property Rights and Innovation: Evidence from the Human Genome. Journal of Political Economy, 121:1; February 2013

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Do intellectual property rights on existing technologies hinder subsequent innovation?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 March 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130327144133.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2013, March 27). Do intellectual property rights on existing technologies hinder subsequent innovation?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130327144133.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Do intellectual property rights on existing technologies hinder subsequent innovation?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130327144133.htm (accessed April 19, 2014).

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