Patents as Credentials

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Description: By Jason Rantanen and Sarah E. Jack Abstract The conventional explanation for why people seek patents draws on a simple economic rationale. Patents, the usual story goes, provide a financial reward: the ability to engage in supracompetitive pricing by excluding others from practicing the claimed technology. People are drawn to file for patents because that is how these economic rewards are secured. While scholars have proposed variations on the basic exclusionary mechanism, and a few have explored alternate reasons why businesses seek patents, the question of whether individuals—human beings—seek patents for reasons other than the conventional economic incentive remains unexplored. As Jessica Silbey recently observed, human creativity is motivated by more than just the potential for immediate economic returns. But an individual’s motivation to create does not explain why that person would go through the trouble and expense of obtaining a patent absent the promise of economic gain. We offer an explanation for why individuals may seek patents beyond the promise of supracompetitive pricing: patents serve as credentials. Simply put, some human beings want to be recognized by society as inventors. But claiming to be an inventor without evidence is unlikely to persuade the masses—or perhaps even friends. Patents serve as powerful evidence that an individual meets the societal definition of “inventor.” Just as a doctoral degree in history might indicate that one is an intellectual, obtaining a patent shows that the person named on its face is a real-life, government-certified inventor. Regardless of whether a particular patent conveys an economically valuable mechanism of exclusion, the inventorship recognition alone may motivate some individuals to seek patents.

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