Publication Date


Series Number

02-WP 293


In this paper, we review the economic effects of intellectual property rights and specifically address the economics of the patent system. The production and dissemination of new knowledge is fraught with market failures because knowledge is a public good. Patents provide a second-best solution to the resulting appropriability problem. We review the main benefits and costs of the patent system, focusing on the role that patents play in providing incentives for innovation, in promoting the dissemination of knowledge, and in helping technology transfer and commercialization of new technology. From a more normative perspective, we address the questions of what the features of an optimal patent system are and whether the patent system is socially desirable. We examine the problem of the optimal length and scope of patent protection, both for the case of a single innovation and for the richer case of cumulative innovations. Finally, we review the issues related to how the patent system influences the market structure and research and development investments.

Publication Information

This working paper was published as Langinier, Corinne and GianCarlo Moschini, "The Economics of Patents: An Overview," in Intellectual Property Rights and Parenting in Animal Breeding and Genetics, edited by Scott Newman and Max Frederick Rothschild (Oxford, England: CABI Publishing, 2004).