This paper analyzes the setting of national patent policies in the global economy. In the standard model with free trade and social-welfare-maximizing governments à la Grossman and Lai (2004), cross-border positive policy externalities induce individual countries to select patent strengths that are weaker than is optimal from a global perspective. The paper introduces three new features to the analysis: trade barriers, firm heterogeneity in terms of productivity and political economy considerations in setting patent policies. The first two features (trade barriers interacting with firm heterogeneity) tend to reduce the size of cross-border externalities in patent protection and therefore make national IPR policies closer to the global optimum. With firm lobbying creating profit-bias of the government, it is even possible that the equilibrium strength of global patent protection is greater than the globally efficient level. Thus, the question of under-protection or not is an empirical one. Based on calibration exercises, we find that there would be global under-protection of patent rights when there is no international policy coordination. Furthermore, requiring all countries to harmonize their patent standards with the equilibrium standard of the most innovative country (the US) does not lead to global over-protection of patent rights.
intellectual property rights patents TRIPS harmonization