NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Knowledge Spillovers and Learning in the Workplace: Evidence from the U.S. Patent Office

Michael D. Frakes, Melissa F. Wasserman

NBER Working Paper No. 24159
Issued in December 2017
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

Using application-level data from the Patent Office from 2001 to 2012, merged with personnel data on patent examiners, we explore the extent to which the key decision of examiners—whether to allow a patent—is shaped by the granting styles of her surrounding peers. Taking a number of methodological approaches to dealing with the common obstacles facing peer-effects investigations, we document strong evidence of peer influence. For instance, in the face of a one standard-deviation increase in the grant rate of her peer group, an examiner in her first two years at the Patent Office will experience a 0.15 standard-deviation increase in her own grant rate. Moreover, we document a number of markers suggesting that such influences arise, at least in part, through knowledge spillovers among examiners, as distinct from peer-pressure mechanisms. We even find evidence that some amount of these spillovers may reflect knowledge flows regarding specific pieces of prior art that bear on the patentability of the applications in question, as opposed to just knowledge flows regarding general examination styles. Finally, we find evidence suggesting that the magnitude of these peer examiner influences are just as strong, or stronger, than the influence of the examination styles of supervisors.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w24159

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