150 Years of Patent Office Practice
An extensive theoretical literature has examined the impact of information problems on interactions between government bodies and private firms. One little-explored empirical testing ground is the patent system. This paper examines the administrative practices of patent offices in sixty countries over a 150-year period. I show that the usage of patent renewal fees and other mechanisms to grant discretion to patentees is consistent with theoretical suggestions. Nations where information asymmetries between government officials and patentees are likely to be more prevalent-larger countries, wealthier economies, and those where international trade is more important-incorporate discretionary features into their patent systems more frequently. I also find evidence that policymakers are more likely to restrict patent office officials' flexibility and to divide the responsibility for determining patentability between the patent office and the courts when information problems are likely to be severe.