четвъртък, 3 юли 2008 г.

Теория за фокусните точки

Една интересна статия на Майкъл Мартин относно счетоводните модели за оценка на интелектуалната собственост.

Reigniting the Engine of Growth with the Sparkplug of Invention

От Michael Martin.

Why do patents end up in litigation? Typically, people answer that it is the amount of money at stake. This answer is not wrong. Since the cost of litigation is relatively constant, people should be (and in fact are) more willing to pay lawyers to litigate claims that are very large compared to the cost of litigation. But this is not a full answer to the question. For this answer does not explain why patents specifically should end up in litigation more often. In fact, trillions of dollars in legal rights are exchanged everyday around the globe without litigation. By comparison, the amount of money at stake in patent lawsuits is relatively small.

The Theory of Focal Points

Economist Thomas Schelling is famous for advancing a theory of conflict and cooperation. According to Schelling, even when communication (and hence negotiated agreement) are difficult or impossible, two people can cooperate through a shared focal point. For example, if I told you to meet me in New York City tomorrow but for some reason I couldn't tell you where and when, we might still meet by going to a famous spot at noon, such as Grand Central Station or the top of the Empire State Building. Our shared vision of these famous spots is a focal point that permits us to coordinate.

The theory of focal points explains why some groups of people fight and some cooperate. When the focal point for a first group is mutually exclusive to the focal point for a second group, conflict emerges. When the focal point is shared or non-mutually exclusive, cooperation emerges. To some extent, all conflict between people can be viewed as a costly renegotiation of focal points.

With Schelling's theory in mind, let's revisit the question of patents. What are the focal points for the various parties involved in patent litigation? To simplify the question, suppose there are only two groups involved in patent litigation: "inventors" (or their employers) and "producers" (i.e., the people who sell products or services that practice a claimed invention). Ignore for now the detail that some inventors are also producers, and that some producers are also inventors.

When patents are litigated, the focal point for inventors is on obtaining a large royalty or payment for the right to practice the invention. By contrast, the focal point for producers is on paying a small (or no) royalty or payment to practice the invention. Although both inventors and producers seek profit, at the point in time when patents are litigated, these focal points are mutually exclusive because (at worst) both have incurred costs of R&D for developing the invention. Patent litigation thus becomes a zero sum game.

The Focal Point of Profit

At first glance, therefore, one might think that inventors and producers are doomed to conflict. Before rushing to that conclusion, however, it's worth noting that in some broader sense, at least, inventors and producers share a focal point -- namely, profit.

Profit is an unusually broad focal point. As Adam Smith is famous for pointing out, the voluntary exchange of goods and services creates profit. With profit the focal point, the problem of avoiding conflict between inventors transforms into a problem of identifying and promoting the circumstances in which the voluntary exchange of inventions for cash can take place between inventors and producers.

If such voluntary exchanges never occurred, we might have reason to doubt whether conflict between inventors and producers could ever be avoided. Fortunately, such exchanges do, in fact, occur. Thus, it can be inferred that the conflict arises over how what is exchanged (services and patent rights) should be valued.

Again, this might seem puzzling at first because, at least in principle, there should be no difference in how value is measured. At least within the United States, the same rules for accounting and reporting financial statements apply to both inventors and producers. In principle, the inventors and producers should be able to compare their financial statements, and reach some agreement over the value of an invention.

But since this never seems to occur, the most reasonable inference seems to be that the conflict arises from a difference in how we interpret accounting and financial statements. In fact, it is precisely here that the focal points of inventors and producers diverge. Having had the rare opportunity of working both in patent law and accounting, it has been my privilege to be one of the first to have noticed this. In short, a better theory of accounting would help resolve conflicts over patented inventions and restore a cultural norm of cooperation within patent law. Astute readers should note that, in addition to patent law, Venice was the birthplace of double-entry accounting in the 15th century.

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