The Predictive Power of Patents

Paper by Sabrina Safrin: “This article explains that domestic patenting activity may foreshadow a country’s level of regulation of path-breaking technologies. The article considers whether different governments will act with a light or a heavy regulatory hand when encountering a new disruptive technology. The article hypothesizes that part of the answer to this important regulatory, economic, and geopolitical question may lie in an unexpected place: the world’s patent offices. Countries with early and significant patent activity in an emerging technology are more likely to view themselves as having a stake in the technology and therefore will be less inclined to subject the technology to extensive health, safety and environmental regulation that would constrain it. The article introduces the term “patent footprint” to describe a country’s degree of patenting activity in a new technology, and the article posits that a country’s patent footprint may provide an early clue to its willingness or reluctance to strenuously regulate the new technology. Even more so, lack of geographic diversity in patent footprints may help predict whether an emerging technology will face extensive international regulation. Patent footprints provide a useful tool to policymakers, businesses, investors, and NGOs considering the health, safety, and environmental regulation of a disruptive technology. The predictive power of patent footprints adds to the literature on the broader function of patents in society….(More)”.