The study also includes the caveat that corn may be the exception to the influence of the patent system, as federal property rights play a more prevalent role in the ubiquitous crop, as well as with soybeans and cotton.
"The interesting question is, 'Why do firms patent these new strains of corn?' " Heald said. "Some agricultural economists would say that patents allow a firm to capture a certain segment of the market, but people who study varieties of patented corn say that it's more of a phenomenon of defensive patenting, where you patent something because you don't want to be sued by someone else when they try to patent the exact same thing. Since patent suits can be expensive, it's easier and safer to patent what you produce."
But to become a player in the corn market, you may need as big of a patent portfolio as the competition, Heald says.
"There's also the sense and this has been borne out in other industries, such as computer technology that you want to create this huge arsenal of patents that you can wield as a big club in the market," he said. "If that's true, then, ironically, it may be inefficient to have patent protection, if the public gets too much of this sort of game-playing and legal jockeying.
"So the interesting question is, do you really need patent protection to stimulate new kinds of corn? That, of course, is going to turn on how expensive it is to create a new strain, and how easy to appropriate the technology."
|Contact: Phil Ciciora|
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign