Patents: Monopoly or Property Right a Testable Hypothesis

It is common for people and economists to state that patents are a monopoly.  Because patents are a monopoly, it is argued that they negatively affect the pace of innovation and slow down the diffusion of inventions.  The only redeeming feature of patents they concede is that if provides a profit incentive to invent, but then it inhibits follow on inventions and the dissemination of knowledge.  If this thesis is correct, it should be testable.  Let’s test this hypothesis.

If MONOPOLY

1) Countries with strong patent systems should innovate less than countries with weak patent systems.

2) Countries with strong patent systems should have slower dissemination of new technologies than those countries with weak patent system.

If PROPERTY RIGHTS

1) Countries with the strongest patent systems should innovate more than countries with weak patent systems.

2) Countries with strong patent systems should have faster dissemination of new technologies than those countries with weak patent system.

Let’s take a look at the facts, according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO),  the top ten most innovation countries and the bottom 10 countries for 2012 are:

Top 10

1. Switzerland

2. Sweden

3. Singapore

4. Finland

5. United Kingdom

6. Netherlands

7. Denmark

8. Hong Kong (China)

9. Ireland

10. United States of America

 

Bottom 10

132. Syrian Arab Republic

133. Pakistan

134. Cote d’Ivoire

135. Angola

136. Togo

137. Burundi

138. Lao PDR

139. Yemen

140. Niger

141. Sudan

 

In a report from National University of Singapore they show a chart of the Fraser index vs. Ginarte-Park index.  The Fraser Index is a ranking of economic freedom and the Ginart-Park index is a ranking of patent strength.  The chart shows an almost perfect correlation between the two.  For those of you who are not familiar with economic freedom indices, there are several and they all show that economic freedom correlates positively with economic growth, wealth, education access, health, longevity, the environment, civil rights, etc.

They also had a couple of charts for the countries with the strongest patent systems for four different years and those with the weakest patent systems.  I do not know all the countries that were included in this survey.

Top countries

1980 1985 1990 1995
U.S.A. 39.30 U.S.A. 39.06 U.S.A. 39.06 U.S.A. 42.75
Netherlands 28.20 Belgium 32.23 Belgium 36.22 Netherlands 41.36
Switzerland 28.12 Netherlands 31.47 Netherlands 35.22 Denmark 41.26
Germany 28.01 Switzerland 30.55 U.K. 33.57 Finland 41.01
Japan 27.14 Germany 28.73 Germany 33.14 U.K. 40.15
       

 

Bottom countries

1980 1985 1990 1995
Nicaragua 2.38 Nicaragua 2.38 Guyana 3.17 Niger 5.38
Peru 2.22 Bolivia 2.30 Pakistan 3.17 Guatemala 5.10
Guatemala 1.90 Guyana 1.69 Jordan 2.95 Nicaragua 5.00
Guyana 1.78 Guatemala 1.50 Guatemala 2.15 Rwanda 4.64
Jordan 1.72 Peru 1.31 Peru 1.73 Zaire 3.51

 

If we examine the first postulate, does it appear the most innovative countries have the strongest patent systems or the weakest patent system?  Which countries do you think have the strongest patent systems – the USA, Singapore, Switzerland or Niger, Pakistan, Sudan?  It is clear that the most innovative countries according to the WIPO survey have the strongest patent systems.  If we look at the charts from the National University of Singapore (NUS) we see those countries with the strongest patent systems are clearly the most innovative.  Although the WIPO data and the NUS data are from different time frames we see some overlap between those countries with the strongest patent systems (NUS) and the most innovative (WIPO) and the same is true for the weakest and least innovative.

If we examining the second postulate, does it appear that the countries with the most technology diffusion have the strongest patent systems or the weakest patent system?  Which countries do you think have the most technology diffusion – the USA, Singapore, Switzerland or Niger, Pakistan, Sudan?  It is clear that those countries with the strongest patents have the most technology diffusion.

The macroeconomic evidence does not support the thesis that patents are a monopoly.  The data shows the exact opposite of what this theory predicts.

 

The empirical evidence is overwhelming that patents are a PROPERTY RIGHT not a MONOPOLY.

 

I have written extensively on whether the defining characteristics of a patent are consistent with the definition of a monopoly or the definition of property rights.  For instance see:

Monopoly/Rent Seeking vs. Property Rights/Intellectual Property.

This post explains the characteristics of a monopoly and a property right and poses three questions to show the difference.  Patents fit all the characteristics of a property right and none of a monopoly.  Note that professional license, such as a law license has some of the characteristics of a monopoly.

More on the Myth that Patents are Monopolies.

This post contains a number of quotes from philosophers explaining that patents are not monopolies.

 Property Rights, Possession and Objects

This post explains the difference in the concepts of property rights, possession, and objects.  Most economists and patent detractors confuse these concepts.  The origin, definition, and legal basis of property right are explained.

 The Myth That Patents are a Monopoly

This post compares the definition of a monopoly to the rights obtained with a patent.  It shows that the rights obtained with a patent do not confer a monopoly.

 

The only way to suggest that patents are a monopoly is define “market power” so broadly that any property rights confer market power.  I admit that I reject this argument.  A property right is not a monopoly and this is an attempt by people with a political agenda to attack the concept of property rights.

PATENTS are PROPERTY RIGHTS under the law, by definition, and according to all statistically significant macro-economic evidence.  People who suggest otherwise are pushing a political agenda or do not understand the definition of the words monopoly and property rights.