Innovation and Patent Harmonization: Does One Size Fit All?

The multi-lateral movement to harmonize patent law and procedure across nations has a long history and notable achievements including the Paris Convention and the TRIPS agreement. However, surprisingly little empirical research has explored how harmonization works in practice, how well it fosters trade and whether it fosters innovation. The need for such research seems especially important today because recent efforts at harmonization have been substantially directed toward developing nations where both trade and domestic innovation are often critical to economic growth. Tensions between harmonization and innovation are, perhaps, most clearly revealed in China, where government policy has fostered rapid growth in both patenting and R&D spending.

This workshop looks at both legal and empirical economics scholarship and legal practitioner experience on patent harmonization and innovation. The workshop will cover the effect of harmonization in both advanced countries, such as the US, and in developing nations, with a particular focus on China. Some of the questions we hope to discuss:
  • To what extent has TRIPS actually harmonized patent systems? How significant are remaining differences in law? Do subsidies for patenting, patent litigation, and patent practices pose barriers to trade that undermine patent harmonization? And what about other government policies that affect investment in R&D, government procurement, and standard-setting?
  • What role has patent harmonization actually played in increasing trade? What role has it played in increasing FDI? Has increased patenting actually raised trade barriers?
  • What kind of innovation is best for economic development? How important are: 1.) imitation/adaptation of foreign technologies, 2.) incremental improvement of mature technologies, and 3.) innovation in truly frontier technologies? And how does harmonization affect these different types of innovation in developing nations?
  • How are differences in national innovation systems reflected in patenting behavior? For example, how does the role of technology entrepreneurs differ between nations and how is this reflected in the quantity and quality of patenting by small entrepreneurs and other groups? How has TRIPS affected domestic innovation in different technologies in developing nations?
  • To what extent do private parties find solutions to overcome inadequate harmonization (e.g., contractual enforcement of property rights; extra-territorial litigation)? To what extent do private parties find ways to overcome detrimental effects of harmonization on domestic innovation?