Entrepreneurial Companies and the Patent System

I love my life.  I get to work on fascinating things with really smart people.  And every day is different.  Plus I’m married to an awesome woman (but that’s a different post.)

I spent the afternoon at the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.  I’m on an advisory board for a new study on "Entrepreneurial Companies and the Patent System" being supported by the Kauffman Foundation.  Tomorrow I’m speaking on a panel on the Symposium on Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship.

It was a very productive afternoon.  We spent several hours discussing the research project on Entrepreneurial Companies and the Patent System that is being led by Stuart Graham and Ted Sichelman.  One of the areas Stuart and Ted are concentrating on are software patents.  Doing real quantitative research on the impact of software patents is critical as much of the academic literature (economics, legal, and social science) is crap.  The discussion was a robust one that I think was helpful to Stuart and Ted.

As I’ve been slowly making my way through the academic literature, what I’m realizing is that there are very few people that have effectively synthesized the issues from an economics, legal, and entrepreneurial point of view.  There is a preponderance of anecdotal data and an overarching concern about "treating different things differently" (e.g. the perception that software and bio / pharma have to operate under the same rules.) 

In addition, there are massive selection bias and survivor bias in much of the research.  It’s not that the studies were necessarily poorly conceived (although some are); rather it’s incredibly difficult to get good data on the companies in any sample since so many of them are early stage, have failed, have been acquired, have had significant turnover, or have changed strategies.  The cost of real data acquisition (non-anecdotal) is high and requires a real understanding of the underlying companies and market segments being studied.

It’s just messy stuff.  While messy stuff is fun to study, it can also be frustrating.  I’m impressed that the BCLT folks have put together a diverse advisory board – including a number of non-academic practitioners – to help them think through the best approach to this study.  I’m off to dinner to hang out more with these interesting people and get a few more cracks in about my view of the invalidity of software patents.