Antitrust & Competition Policy Blog

Editor: D. Daniel Sokol
University of Florida
Levin College of Law

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Dysfunctions of the patent system and their effects on competition

Posted by D. Daniel Sokol

David Encaoua (Universite Paris I - Pantheon Sorbonne) and Thierry Madies (University of Fribourg) explore Dysfunctions of the patent system and their effects on competition.

ABSTRACT: In this paper the authors argue that the contemporary tensions between patents and competition no longer reside in the traditional trade-off between the exclusionary right given to an inventor to encourage innovation, and the welfare loss induced by the market power associated to this right. They rather consider that the three following distortions of the patent system create important conflicts between patents and competition on the product market, the technology market, and the innovation market. The first distortion concerns the existence of dubious or weak patents. Too many patents are granted to applications of bad quality, in terms of the usual patentability criteria. This increases the uncertainty attached to patents, reduces the credibility of the system and calls into question the justification of the patent as a protective mechanism. Second, the configuration of a patent, originally designed in the context of an isolated innovation, is not adapted to the context of sequential or intergenerational innovations, in which an innovation relies on earlier patented inventions. Even though sequential innovation calls for fine delimitations between successive generations of innovators, the strengthening of intellectual property, including the extension of the patentable subject matters opened the door to opportunistic behavior and adversely affected the needed flexibility to favor technological exchanges. Third, the emergence of complex technologies, in which the use of a large number of fragmented patents is necessary to produce a new product, implies the necessity to coordinate the various patent holders' behavior. The potential entrants in these complex technologies are struck by the coordinated behavior of the patent holders, and this is illustrated in different settings such as the pooling of complementary patents and the licensing of essential patents by the members of a Standard Se! tting Organization. Very often, patents serve to create ambushes or to capture unjustified rents through excessive license fees, which in turn create barriers to entry for new competitors in the innovation market. Two important consequences of these distorsions are derived. On the one hand, the resolution of these conflicts cannot rely exclusively on the application of the antitrust law. Even if these distortions seriously affect competition in the three markets of products, technology and innovation, antitrust rules are unable to resolve the specific effects rose from distortions of the contemporary patent system. On the other hand, the existence of these distortions leads to a very expensive judicial implementation of the patent system. The multiplication of the conflicts due to a strategic use of patents, particularly in the information and communication technology, in biotechnology and medicine raises the question of the adaptation of the legal status of patents to the contemporary technological developments.

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